Facilitating Fulfillment

Fellowships Office writing mentor brings experience as a reporter, student advocate.

Erik Potter stands near a window in the MU Arts and Science building
Erik Potter, an award-winning writer and editor at the University of Missouri for the past seven years, joins the MU Fellowships Office. Photo by Nicholas Benner

In 2012, Erik Potter arrived in Columbia as the proverbial “trailing spouse.” But in his time at the University of Missouri, the seasoned storyteller has relished the role of leader.

His wife, Victoria Vieira-Potter, took a job as an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, so Potter caught on with the MU Office of Publications and Alumni Communication writing for MIZZOU magazine. A 2015 assignment introduced him to Tad Bartimus, Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow and founder of Talk Story, Write Story. It turned out to be an auspicious interview.

“In the middle of the conversation, she said ‘You’d be good at this, I can already tell,’ ” Potter recalls of Bartimus’s mentorship program that pairs professional writers with high schoolers applying for scholarships. “It was the most rewarding thing I have ever done professionally.”

Over two years, Potter enthusiastically coached a pair of local teenagers. Using his background in newspaper and magazine writing, he helped them articulate their strengths and unearth personal gems.

Erik Potter reacts positively to Vy Lee's big news.
Erik Potter erupts enthusiastically as his mentee, Hickman High School student Vy Lee, shares her big scholarship news. Photo by Sam Lawson

Both students landed full-ride scholarships.

“The notion of Talk Story, Write Story is, if you can talk out your story, you can then write it down,” says Potter, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s in public affairs reporting at the Springfield campus. “Once you can communicate that, you can convince people to invest in you. You can convince a stranger why you care and why it’s important.”

Potter’s duties in the MU Fellowships Office will be similar — help undergraduate and graduate students apply for nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships. He first familiarized himself with the process through a feature story about the office for which he interviewed director emeritus, Tim Parshall. Rachel Newman, interim director of the Fellowships Office, took over in July.

“Serving as an effective fellowship advisor takes commitment to student mentorship, writing and editorial skills, and the ability to develop relationships with people across campus,” Newman says. “In addition to having all of these skills, Erik wants to do this work at the University of Missouri. He will be an invaluable member of our team.”

Having written for The Post-Tribune in Merrillville, Indiana; The Enterprise in Brockton, Massachusetts; and MIZZOU; Potter is experienced at “distilling the issue.”

“Newspaper writing is fantastic for teaching you how to find that one thing you want people to understand and get it across fast,” says Potter, who won a pair of regional reporting awards during his time in New England. “People don’t have all day and you don’t have all the space in the world.”

Most recently a writer and editor for the MU Division of Student Affairs, Potter has also hosted a podcast, written speeches for former interim Chancellor Hank Foley and edited countless marketing pieces for the university.

“When people say ‘Mizzou pride,’ it’s not just ‘rah-rah’ for the football team — although it’s that, too,” Potter says. “People care a lot about this place. We are proud of Mizzou. Proud to be of Mizzou. And we care about making this place as great as it can be.

“That’s infectious.”