August 6, 2019
Darla Moore School of Business alumna Kelsey Desender (’12 management, marketing) is taking on the challenge of improving the Five Points entertainment district in her new role as the Five Points Association executive director.
Desender, originally from Irmo, has spent her professional life so far serving the Columbia community, including serving on boards and volunteering with Edventure Children’s Museum, the American Heart Association, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and Habitat for Humanity.
Currently, she is a Moore School Young Alumni Advisory Board co-chair. In this capacity, she and her fellow board members help facilitate continued improvement of the Moore School and its educational missions through service and support of specific initiatives and promote the social, professional, philanthropic and service interests of recent alumni.
Desender, who spent the bulk of her career as a marketing professional with Spirit Communications before taking the helm in Five Points, said while the Moore School prepared her in numerous ways for her career, she learned valuable lessons from one Moore School senior lecturer in particular.
“I had one favorite professor who I attribute a great deal to – Joel Stevenson,” she said. “As a class and as an individual, he had a tremendous impact on how we thought about things, ways to think critically and overall business expertise and insight that he could easily make applicable and meaningful to each student in their own way.”
Beyond community and alumni involvement, Desender was also part of the Leadership Columbia Class of 2019. The Columbia Chamber’s leadership program is a 10-month course that aims to motivate emerging community leaders, provide an educational experience with a strong emphasis on social and community awareness and challenge participants to apply their talents within their community while providing an opportunity to become involved, according to their website.
“Leadership Columbia teaches more than business and economic development, it teaches young professionals to care for the community they live in by exposing them to real issues present in our community,” said the 2018-2019 Leadership Columbia Advisory Board chair, Hilary Dyer Brannon, who also works for UofSC as Student Life’s communications and events director.
Leadership Columbia impressed upon Desender another key aspect in business. Desender’s previous experience with Spirit Communications really taught her the value of networking; she said her marketing director there was an “amazing mentor” who preached the importance of getting involved in the community.
“Networking is one of the most impactful things you can do, as a student, as a person in the business-world and within your community,” Desender said. “This not only leads to so many amazing connections, but a sense of connectivity throughout the area, and oftentimes fun experiences and even ways to give back. I would say being involved in all the boards, committees and organizations has been a tremendous asset.”
Learning from all of the professionals she’s worked with on boards, committees and within organizations has provided Desender more useful experience than any single position, she said.
“I work every day to build relationships. I believe it is paramount to have a presence with our [Five Points] merchants throughout the district,” she said. “I want our businesses to know I am here working with them, to promote Five Points and our members, so I try to make a point to stop in and see everyone.”
While Desender is still meeting Five Points business owners and building those relationships, she is also focused on improving Five Points. Desender sees so much potential for more shopping and restaurants, especially with some of the controversy surrounding some of the recent bar closings.
“As an association, we have many goals to promote Five Points within and around the area, to develop a true neighborhood spirit,” she said. “Through our Clean and Safe initiatives, participation in development and many planned projects aimed to transition to a Complete Streets model, we will continue ensuring that Five Points stays an integral and important part of the city of Columbia.”
In tandem with her goals within Five Points, Desender is also working to keep open lines of communication with each of the surrounding neighborhoods and wants to get to know the Columbia city and Richland County council members, who help dictate laws and regulations within the district.
Desender’s history with Five Points goes back to her time in college as a hostess at Saluda’s Restaurant in the heart of the area.
“To go through college [working in and] visiting Five Points in different capacities, it’s so neat to see how things have evolved coupled with the history that remains,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be back here, so close to the university, with the opportunity to be part of something truly special. I cannot wait to see all that’s in store for Columbia’s original village neighborhood.”