From retail to research: Dr. JoAnn Atkin on how she came to teach at WMU

Dr. JoAnn Atkin, associate professor of marketing, loves science fiction, playing golf, walking her four dogs and teaching marketing in the Haworth College of Business. In the classroom, she focuses on application of theory, rather than dwelling on the terminology and brings her real-world experience into her lessons.  Atkin discusses how she ended up at Western Michigan University, what she loves about the Haworth College of Business and what she enjoys most about teaching.

Atkin’s path to WMU

I started with a physical therapy major at Wayne State University, but changed my major five times before deciding on finance. I’m really good with numbers, so finance seemed like the right choice, but I would end up changing my major one final time. After the business school required me to take a marketing class, the “lightbulb” turned on, and I switched my major to marketing, with a specialization in sales management because I was already working full-time in retail management at the time.

I worked in the field for a while and decided to continue my education. While working on my MBA, I switched jobs from retail management to an advertising agency account management role to a direct marketing firm where I was a market research analyst. I found that I really liked doing research and uncovering why campaigns were successful or not, so after some soul searching and many talks with my marketing professors, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. at Michigan State University.

At the start of my third year of graduate school, I saw a job posting for Western Michigan University, and I forwarded the posting to one of my friends who was graduating before me. I ended up reaching out to the marketing department chair with a question, and after a nice email conversation, he encouraged me to apply for the position myself. I really wanted to work at Western Michigan University because the advertising major is housed within the business school, which is rare—it’s usually within a communication or journalism school. I applied for the position and had an interview, but Dr. Steve Newell, now associate dean of operations and graduate programs, was hired instead! Luckily, another opening came up shortly thereafter. I was hired in January 2003, and I’ve been having a blast ever since.

The rewards of a teaching career

My biggest thrill comes from seeing my students succeed after graduation. I love to connect with them as they are getting jobs, promotions, getting married and starting their families. It is so awesome to stay in touch with them as they journey through life.

Having the opportunity to coach our students in competitions or work on live client projects is another thing that I really enjoy. One of my many career highlights was when I coached a small team of students in a national advertising competition for EdVenture Partners. We were finalists and flew to Washington D.C. to present in front of the client where we ended up taking first place! Any chance that I have to expose students to the realities and the competitive nature of marketing and advertising is exciting for me.

How the Haworth College of Business helps

The Haworth College of Business offers every student the resources and opportunities for success. Western Michigan University offers the means for students to reach their academic, professional and personal goals. Some of the best resources in the business college include:

  • The Haworth College of Business advising office offers guidance and helps students find the resources they need to get the most from their time at Western Michigan University. Students should meet with an advisor every semester to make sure they are on track for graduation.
  • Faculty are often the best networking opportunity for students. Not only do we know the course materials and what is required for majors and minors, but we are also connected with hundreds of alumni. Students should meet regularly with their faculty advisors to talk careers and life after graduation.
  • Registered student organizations offer endless opportunities to grow professionally through student involvement. Get involved and get involved early; don’t wait until senior year!
  • The Zhang Career Center is dedicated to providing advice on careers, internships, externships and events that students can attend to hone their professional skills.
  • The Haworth College of Business Communication Center is a wonderful place to fine-tune written and oral communication skills.

Being a Haworth College of Business student can be awesome if you are engaged in the experience. My advice is to be present and actively participate in the process of building your knowledge.