On the run-- Communications director helps Cooley raise its national profile

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

An accomplished runner, little more than a month away from her fifth Boston Marathon, Terry Carella admits to being a "Type A" personality.

Perhaps even an "A-plus."

As Director of Communications for Cooley Law School, which has the highest law student enrollment in the country, Carella can be credited with helping put the once upstart school on the map through some of the marketing initiatives she has coordinated.

And some of those promotional ideas have come while she is out pounding the pavement, piling up the training miles in preparation for yet another marathon experience.

"I like to believe that I do some of my best 'thinking' when I'm out running," says Carella, nearing her 12th year as Director of Communications for the law school with campuses in Lansing, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. "There certainly is plenty of time to ponder when you're on a 20-mile training run."

One idea that was hatched while she was running seemed particularly apropos--convince the executive team at Cooley to sponsor a 5-kilometer race each summer, billing it as a community event designed to support educational programs in the greater Lansing area. The Cooley Law School "Race for Education" will mark its 11th year on June 11 in downtown Lansing, as upward of 1,000 participants, volunteers, family, and friends are expected to gather for a 5-km race as well as a 1 mile children's run around the State Capitol.

The beauty of the event, says Carella, is that it underscores the intrinsic values of education and recreation.

"We have awarded more than $80,000 to various educational programs and schools since we started the event," Carella says. "It has been a great extension of our mission to serve the community in a variety of positive ways."

Each race participant, according to Carella, has a potential stake in the event proceeds, earning the opportunity to nominate a school or educational institution of his or her choice with the winning recipients to be selected through a random drawing.

"Each year it's my pleasure to contact these schools to let them know that they have won hundreds or thousands of dollars that they weren't expecting," says Carella.

Winning Race for Education schools have used the money in a multitude of ways, including purchasing playground equipment, buying library books or new computers, and "many, many other programs that otherwise would have been cut," Carella says.

"Schools can easily understand that the more people they can get to nominate their school, the greater their school's chance of winning," says Carella, ever the marketing specialist. "We also really like how this event brings fitness, family, and education all together."

One day, Carella even hopes to enter the race herself. As race director, entering the 5-km jaunt is not one of the job's perks. Instead, she spends race day consumed with the minutiae of directing a well-run (no pun) event.

"Some day, hopefully sooner than some of my race committee members think, I'll get to run it," Carella says with a wink.

In the meantime, she will be more than content prepping for her next marathon. The venerable Boston event, a 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Beantown on April 19, is looming large now. She hopes to better her previous best Boston time of 3:36, an impressive 8:15 per mile pace over a course spiked with "Heartbreak Hill."

Carella, a product of Lansing Catholic High School and Michigan State University, figures to be more than up to the task. Last May, she turned in a 3:28 clocking at the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City. She will toe the Bayshore starting line again this spring, just six weeks after her test at Boston. This fall, she plans to run the New York Marathon again. Last November, Carella made the trek around New York's five boroughs in 3:35.

"It was a lot hillier than I expected," she says of the Big Apple race. "There are five bridges to go over and each one has a steady grade. It's a tough course, harder than Boston in my mind."

Yet, maybe not as hard as the Disney World Marathon near Orlando in January. Goofy was there, and so was a bit of bizarre weather.

"It was 27 degrees at the start and people from Florida were dressed in moon suits to stay warm," Carella says with a laugh. "That plus the fact that the start of the race was at 5:40 in the morning made it especially challenging. The areas around the water stops were coated with ice, which made the footing difficult. It wasn't what you would expect of a marathon in Florida."

For Carella, expecting the unexpected is just part of the charm of her job at Cooley. Last month, school officials announced that Cooley had purchased the naming rights to the ballpark for the Lansing Lugnuts, a minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The move should brand the Cooley name to an even wider student audience.

"We are excited about the marketing possibilities, locally, statewide, and on a national level," says Carella. "I believe that we are one of the few or only educational institutions to be involved in such a naming opportunity."

Similarly, Cooley was a pioneer in using billboard advertising to attract students, according to Carella.

"We were ahead of the curve, so to speak, in that regard," she says of the billboard campaigns. "Now, you see college after college using it as means to promote their respective institutions."

The value of education was imparted to Carella at an early age by her parents, Barbara and Charles, both of whom live in the Lansing area. Her father spent his career in automotive engineering, while her mother had a background in teaching and library science before retiring from MSU's Botany and Plant Pathology Department.

While working full time, Carella earned an associate's degree from Lansing Community College in 1982, obtaining her bachelor degree in advertising from MSU two years later. She received her master's in advertising from MSU in 2001. Carella spent nearly a decade working for a Lansing ad agency doing production and account work, then three years in marketing with a credit union before joining Cooley.

"It has been a great place to work," Carella says of the largest law school in the country. "It is a place where new ideas are welcomed and encouraged."

Her husband, Michael, and three daughters can appreciate Carella's commitment to lifelong learning, as is reflected in their respective academic resumes. An endocrinologist with Mid-Michigan Physicians in Lansing, Dr. Carella earned his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, completing his residency and fellowship programs at MSU.

The oldest daughter, Anna, is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at Vanderbilt University after completing her graduate studies in Paris. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan before studying abroad.

Daughter Katie is a graduate of Aquinas College and is scheduled to receive a master's degree in communications from Central Michigan University next year.

The youngest, Emily, is a student at Kalamazoo College and will study in Ecuador next fall. Like their mother, both Katie and Emily attended the same high school and grade school, even wearing their mother's school uniform from her St. Gerard days.

Carella's love for her family was fraught with heartbreak, however, when her daughter Mary Elizabeth died of a rare childhood disease at 17 months of age.

"It's a loss that you can't put into words," Carella says. "Coming to grips with what happened is part of the reason I turned to running. It was a way for me to help deal with the stress and to begin the healing. As heartbreaking as it was to lose a child, I recognize that life's trials and traumas can also bring out the best in you, making you a stronger and better person, for yourself and for others."

Published: Thu, Apr 8, 2010