Academic Matchmaker

March 4, 2014
By Hannah Spicher 

The only university Wright Culpepper ever applied to, twice, was the University of South Carolina.

“I have two degrees from USC, and although I grew up in Georgia, Columbia was always my home away from home,” he says. Now Culpepper is working on behalf of the university to assist academic departments in attracting prospective graduate students to USC.

“I see my role as being a conversation-starter between prospective graduate students and academic departments. If I can direct prospective students to particular programs and provide them with a basic knowledge of funding and academic opportunities at USC, then I will consider my efforts a success,” he says.

Culpepper, who joined The Graduate School last year as the assistant director of recruitment and special events, started his career as an epidemiologist.

“A year and a half ago I was researching Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks!” he says. After completing a Master of Science in Public Health, Culpepper worked for several years at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. However, when the opportunity came for him to represent his alma mater and move back to Columbia, he jumped at the chance.

“I enjoy helping people transition into graduate school,” says Culpepper. “And I think my experience as a researcher has enabled me see the bigger picture of what a graduate education can do.”

This includes the concurrent development of research expertise as well as broader, transferable skills.

 “Graduate students here are part of a large community, and have access to many resources that only a large research institution like USC can provide. But they also make up a much smaller group in their home department— their research cohort,” says Culpepper. “My job is to be the face that introduces these two facets: the larger university and Columbia communities, along with the smaller research-focused academic community. My goal is to start the conversation, but it is the academic departments that make the biggest impact on prospective students.”