School of Communications presents Colleen Penhall ’98 with Outstanding Alumna Award
The vice president for corporate social responsibility at Lowe’s returned to campus April 12 and was recognized during Lambda Pi Eta’s induction ceremony.
by Emmanuel Morgan ’19
Colleen Herndon Penhall ’98 said she remembers being in the exact spot as current Elon University seniors 20 years ago, anxious about graduating and what lied ahead.
Now, as vice president for corporate social responsibility at Lowe’s, she serves as a senior communications executive for the FORTUNE 50 home improvement company. But her rise didn't happen overnight.
As she accepted the School of Communications Outstanding Alumna Award April 12, she charged the newly inducted members of Elon’s chapter of Lambda Pi Eta communications honor society in Oaks 212 to be innovative. The communications world has changed significantly since she entered the workforce.
But Penhall said her ability to constantly learn helped guide her to where she is now.
“You have to think of your career as a lattice and not a ladder anymore and how you get the experience you need for every project, every assignment,” Penhall said. “You want to take roles and assignments that are going to help your lattice.
“I want to encourage you to do the best job you can today in the role that you have and learn as much as you can.”
Photos of the award presentation are available on the school’s Flickr account.
Penhall graduated from Elon in 1998 and worked for Bank of America and Altria Group prior to landing at Lowe’s in 2011. In her current role, she serves as one of the company’s top executives, overseeing corporate sustainability, community relations and Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation.
And she said it was her preparation that ultimately won her the job.
When Penhall applied at Lowe’s, she said she spoke with current employees, who then brought her into the breakroom and handed her a copy of the company’s newsletter. When it was time for her interview, she said she was well-researched and confident, and she credits that for launching her career path there.
“I can tell you that’s what got me the job, just that little bit of extra to show them that I’m the one for this,” Penhall said. “Your resume will help get you in the door but your reputation is what matters most.”
Penhall is only the seventh person to receive the school’s Outstanding Alumni Award. Others include Jo Craven McGinty ’85, who won a Pulitzer Prize as an editor for The New York Times, and acclaimed filmmaker Laith Majali ’05.
Penhall said her time at Elon, including serving as an orientation leader and other extracurricular activities, prepared her for leadership post-graduation. Communications Dean Paul Parsons, who introduced Penhall at the ceremony, said students should take initiative to succeed as she did.
“The future will belong to those who make things happen, as opposed to just showing up. You are the ones who will make things happen," he told the students. “Elon is a place where things happen. In the end, this school will be known for the student experiences we provide, the outstanding teachers we bring to Elon, the professional connections we make, and the quality of our alumni.
"My simple advice to you is to think each day, or at least occasionally, that you ought to make things happen in your work and in your life."