July 28, 2022

Black History Spotlight: Carolene Goodwyn-Harris Helping Students to See Their Future

By B&SC Blog Team

Black History Spotlight: Carolene Goodwyn-Harris Helping Students to See Their Future

As the market high school coordinator for Bryant & Stratton College’s Hampton and Virginia Beach campuses, Carolene Goodwyn-Harris is tasked with helping high school students see the future.

Each day Harris shows students what Bryant & Stratton has to offer, but more importantly, she coaches them through the process of using those programs to carve out a clear and exciting career path. She calls it the game changer moment.

“I’m sharing with them where I’ve been and what they have to look forward to,” Harris says. “My experiences have afforded me the opportunity to share with them what companies, what businesses and particularly what education, can do for them long term.”

Harris knows well what those businesses, companies and education can do for a growing young professional after experiencing her own meteoric rise in a career within the fashion and cosmetics industry.

Harris began her rise to the top as the first African American female Division Merchandise Manager for Leggett Stores Inc., a longtime department store franchise based in Virginia that was purchased by the Belk chain in the late 1990s.

To serve as the first in that role, Harris says, was both overwhelming and delightful.

“It gave me this sense of joy that I could really make a difference,” she says.

She also knew the world was watching.

“Every time I went from one level to the other, there was pressure for me to make sure I was doing the right thing, that I was representing well, and that my work really mattered,” she says.

It is a lesson that she passes on to high school students she speaks with each day.

“I’m a firm believer that people are always looking at you. I want you to know that other youth were able to look at me and see who they could be as well,” she says.

Harris was also the first African American female to serve as a buyer for Leggett’s corporate operation before Fashion Fair Cosmetics snapped her up for its Chicago Corporate Team. There she served as regional manager and then international marketing manager.

It was new territory. A new path. Harris has advice for students setting out upon both.

“Be authentic. Reach back to your past experiences and make sure that you bring all of you to the table,” Harris says.

She is inspired by poet Dr. Maya Angelou who Harris says also delivers an air of authenticity in all she says and does.

“She speaks truth and she’s very authentic and she has truly made a difference in many people’s lives,” Harris says of the author.

By being authentic, Harris explains, we bring to each new position or job our true selves with all our abilities, skillsets, and desires to learn more. Too often, she says, new employees hold back.

“We think that we have to wait and learn it all when they train us when we have already come with a skillset,” she said.

“If you do your research, you will find out what a company is looking for and it only makes it that much easier for you to assess yourself and then determine what skillset you have that can make a difference,” she says. “Just trust yourself and trust your skills.”

That is what Harris did when Fashion Fair Cosmetics sent her to South Africa for three months to launch the brand to a new market. Harris was responsible for every aspect from distribution to marketing. This, she says, is where she spread her wings.

Her success in South Africa led Harris to Newport News and Spiegel catalog companies where she managed the Merchandise Liquidation Operations, also the first African American female to do so.

Later, Harris served as the Director of Operations for a real estate and construction company, where she says she again put her previous skills to work while gaining a closer look at the company’s operation functions.

Now, she uses all those experiences to help launch high school seniors on a bright path forward.

She is reminded every day of how important her work is.

“I have to tell you; I get goosebumps when they tell me that they’re the first ones in their family to go to college. And you have a parent sitting there cheering them on and saying, ‘I really want something different from my child’,” Harris says.

“It really does make you feel even more determined to get them where they’re trying to go,” she says.

And with each student she coaches, she sees an opportunity for that student to then lead those who come after.

“They too can be a wonderful window of opportunity for someone else to look through and see that they can accomplish goals as well,” she says.

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