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Q&A with Andy Stofleth: from the Marine Corps to WVU IMC to disaster recovery in the Bahamas

Andy Stofleth

Andy Stofleth meets Bahamian Prime Minister and Minister of Health to discuss the RO plant at Rand Memorial Hospital.

Andy Stofleth’s path has been winding like a river, but one thing has remained constant – the current keeps pulling him toward a career in service.

Stofleth (M.S. IMC, 2017) is currently the executive director of SBP Bahamas and was recently recognized by Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis for contributions to retrofit the Rand Memorial Hospital and four clinics across the Bahamas with water purification systems following Hurricane Dorian. Stofleth joined SBP, a long-term disaster resilience and recovery nonprofit, in 2018 as the Director of Communications before transitioning to his current role in 2020. Stofleth and his team established a public-private partnership with the Bahamas Public Hospitals Authority, CDC Foundation and Water Mission to scope, design and build each system to not only produce enough clean water for each hospital and clinic, but the surrounding community in future emergencies. For the last 18 months, Stofleth and partners have invested their time, resources and passions to complete this long-term recovery program.

Stofleth was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008. His post-military career has been dotted with government work, a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Eastern Kentucky University, a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from WVU and positions with two other corporations before landing at SBP.

Here, Stofleth talks about the journey that led to his current role with SBP Bahamas.

Why did you decide to pursue higher education following your military service?

Initially, I didn't. After completing my service in 2008, I naturally gravitated to something familiar and began working for the Department of Defense for four years. This gave me some much-needed time to readjust, but it was never a final destination for me. Over time, I knew I needed to make a change, but I had grown comfortable and had grounded myself (i.e. purchased a house and had two dogs). The prospect of change was quickly met with a million excuses of why I couldn't flip the switch and make a move. Then I had a wake-up call in 2011. After months of unexplained illness and many trips to the hospital for testing, I was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. For a 25-year-old who had survived two combat tours in Iraq, it shattered my “invincibility complex.” I started asking myself lots of hard questions about what I was doing and what direction I wanted my life to take. Like any project, once time becomes a concern, you really start to push to make things move along. In the end, it was my own mortality that served as the push I needed to take the next step. I called the VA to access my GI Bill and enrolled in undergraduate studies within the month.

While your path is non-linear and includes work for several companies/organizations, they all seem to center around service. Did you purposefully look for work that served a greater purpose, and if so, why?

Some people know exactly what they want in life, be it a desired profession, a family or wealth. I've always been more malleable. Life is fluid to me. You can never quite know what's around the bend, but if you keep following the current, you'll certainly be in a better position to see sooner than you think. When I find the current pulling me in a different direction, instinctively, my gut reaction is to try and swim back to safety. The reality is that while the new direction may have obstacles and hazards, it also can be filled with new opportunities.

When I first entered the workforce some 20 years ago, I didn't set out on a career in service, but at various points in the journey I felt something pulling me to action. As I was graduating high school, 9/11 happened and I felt myself drawn into service. During my undergraduate experience, my goal was to keep my head down, get good grades and then transition back into the workforce. This plan quickly went bust as I found myself supporting many community organizations helping veteran initiatives and small businesses. From there it only became easier to find the need. Lending my time and skills to support worthwhile endeavors became the new normal. I worked full-time, went to school full-time and volunteered to create impact in areas that had meaning to me.

How did you land at SBP and what has been your experience with the organization?

I was an apt communicator and excelled in roles where there was a balance of strategy and creative. I loved small team dynamics. So, when an opportunity to head communications at a national disaster recovery non-profit became available, I dove in headfirst. Any time you can align your passions and skills in an innovative space that also provides an overwhelming sense of purpose, your engagement, creativity and potential will go through the roof.

Then came Hurricane Dorian in 2019. We'd been tracking the storm for almost a week, sharing resources in coastal communities, when the storm stalled over the Bahamas for three days. SBP had never responded to an international disaster before, so I initially left for the Bahamas for five days to help bear witness to the need in order to support our storytelling and fundraising efforts. Almost two years later, I still haven't left. Five days turned into two weeks and before I knew it, I had been on the ground for two months doing a completely different job. At first, I told myself, "This is just until we get things set up," but soon I realized that I was doing all the things an executive communicator could want. I was forging new partnerships, advising the government, filming PSAs, fundraising and managing multimillion dollar programs. I wasn't developing talking points and shaping the brand, I was living it. I had more autonomy and as a result, felt a greater sense of ownership over the work.

Andy Stofleth and Volunteers
Stofleth and staff pose during a supply run in the early days after Hurricane Dorian.

How has education, particularly your M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications, supported your line of work?

The role of a non-profit executive is multifaceted. You manage people, programs and projects – stakeholders, fundraising, reporting and production in a very fast-paced response and recovery environment. Some of the standout courses would be Public Affairs as it has helped me support our advocacy and government advising work; Creative Strategy & Execution, as I'm constantly scoping new projects and then packaging them to share with funders; and Internal Brand Communications, as disaster recovery organizations are always in a state of change, so internal communications can help your team be in a better position for the next disaster.

We have a partnership with the Defense Information School and just launched a special IMC cohort for those students. What advice do you have for military personnel or veterans who might be considering a master’s degree?

I've never heard anyone say, "I wish I had less education." IMC is applicable beyond the traditional public affairs and marketing functions. Great leaders need to be great communicators and I can think of no better end state than pairing your diverse skills and experiences with an advanced degree in IMC.