Renee Conte Kopkowski ’91

Renee Conte Kopkowski ’91 can point to the exact spot where she fell in love with Clemson.

“I remember standing under the bridge by Daniel Hall, where English was at the time, and thinking, ‘I love this place!’” she says.

Kopkowski was the first Tiger in her family, and she fully embraced the campus experience. She was a member of Central Spirit and a founding member and later vice president of her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, and she spent countless hours tutoring in the Writing Lab.

“The most important thing I learned in college was how to navigate relationships,” she says. “I had a cohort of friends who were my English major buddies, and that really taught me you need people who you can relate to, who are like-minded and who you can bounce things off of.”

After graduating, Kopkowski has led a successful career in communications and public relations, holding various communications leadership roles over 10 years for the likes of Mars, Incorporated, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Georgia Tech. But her path wasn’t always clear.

Starting out, Kopkowski gravitated toward television. She returned home to Florida after graduation and took a position in internal communications with a local hospital system. When her employer learned more about her senior-year internship at WSPA in Spartanburg, South Carolina, her role changed to media relations. Before long, she was co-founding a boutique public relations firm and moving on to corporate roles.

“It’s been a winding road, and I think I’m a perfect example of how you can follow where your passion is, dig in, work hard, and it takes you to the next thing and opens the next door,” she says.

This year, the next door opened. Kopkowski started a new adventure in the Ivy League as vice president for public affairs and communications at Yale University, where she serves as the chief communications officer and guides campuswide internal and external communications strategies.

As she reflects on her career, she measures her success by the people she has brought together and the teams she’s built. However, the life accomplishment of which she is most proud is her family, which also started at Clemson. She met her husband, Christopher Kopkowski ’92, on campus, and they have two daughters, Emma and Samantha.

While serving on an advisory board for Elon University, where her oldest daughter attended college, she began to consider a career transition to higher education. Her years in university administration and the experience of parenting two college students have given her plenty of wisdom to share with students beginning their own college careers. She attributes some of the best advice she’s heard recently to a convocation speech by former Elon University president Leo Lambert.

“He said something like, ‘You have an entire buffet in front of you; you are very privileged to be where you are, and you have all of these opportunities. Do not make a bologna sandwich!’” she recalls. “It resonated because it is about the full experience.

“The degree is important, but the education is more important.”

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