By Sherri Killam-Williams
Before she became president and CEO of the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media, Phylis Eagle-Oldson was a board member. Through her work on the board, she became acquainted with Ms. Bowen and a believer in her life’s work: fostering an environment in which students could develop into highly qualified media professionals.
“Emma was so passionate about providing opportunities and bringing balance to the industry, and that stays constantly in my mind,” Ms. Eagle-Oldson said.
No stranger to the media industry, Ms. Eagle-Oldson started her career in 1971 with the cable television management-consulting firm of Malarkey, Taylor & Associates.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, she worked with the National Cable Television Association, serving as VP of administration and finance from 1985 until joining the Bowen Foundation in 1999. As president and CEO of the foundation, Ms. Eagle-Oldson does everything from writing grants to meeting with CEOs of partner companies to conducting board meetings to recruiting students to making copies.
“I have a terrific staff that does all of these same things,” she said. “We work as a team to get it done.”
Ms. Eagle-Oldson’s enthusiasm about her job extends to the students who participate in the Bowen Foundation program.
“Once a company has an Emma Bowen Foundation student, they always want more. It’s music to my ears,” she said proudly. She described a recent instance in which a Washington company had one internship available. Ms. Eagle-Oldson sent five applicants, and the company ultimately hired two of them as interns. “We have great kids in the pipeline. We just need to make sure they get the opportunity.”
The Bowen Foundation, established in 1989, now has 175 students in internships across the country. Internships typically last for five years, and students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average and earn good work reviews from their employers to remain in the program.
Not all of the Bowen Foundation interns are from low-income families , but some of the students come from pretty tough environments, Ms. Eagle-Oldson said. The Bowen Foundation’s program gives them the opportunities and respect they might not otherwise get.
“If you can help open doors, create opportunity and put them in touch with people who open careers, you’ve done something,” she said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Ms. Eagle-Oldson said her years at NCTA provided a solid training ground for the administrative and budgetary skills she needed to do the job. “Combine that with the Rolodexes and you know a lot of people to call for help,” she said.
Ms. Eagle-Oldson calls herself a “para-Air Force brat.” Her father was a civilian contractor for the Air Force and the family moved often during her childhood years. She and her three brothers attended schools in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and Europe.
Ms. Eagle-Oldson and her husband, a university professor, live in Annapolis, Md. She enjoys traveling, reading, gardening and cooking.