Digital revolution

photo of students and professors outdoors socially distanced and masked“The world is becoming more digital by the minute,” says Dr. Bidyut Hazarika, assistant professor of business information systems and co-director of the digital marketing and eCommerce program. That was true before COVID-19—and since the pandemic, every minute counts as organizations shift their digital strategies, their business models and their customer interactions in ways that may be temporary, permanent or somewhere in between.

Guiding students through the program so that they have valuable skill sets and career-building experiences is something Dr. Scott Cowley, assistant professor of marketing and fellow co-director of the program, enjoys—particularly the magical moment when, because of their experiences, students start looking at themselves as early-career professionals.

How does that transition happen?

Dr. Scott Cowley and Dr. Bidyut Hazarika outdoors

Dr. Scott Cowley with Dr. Bidyut Hazarika

“We focus on students graduating with a resume full of skills, experiences and personal case studies rather than a list of courses,” says Cowley. “That means we have to ensure the skills we’re teaching are in demand, and the best way to help students solidify these skills is with hands-on client experience. In all of our client projects, we seek out true partnerships, where there is an obvious digital marketing need that aligns with the skills we want to teach, plus the intention from the partner to follow through with whatever we commit to do together. Some of these partners have gone on to hire our students as interns and employees, which reflects the kind of trust that can develop during these projects.”

That project-based work is what helps many students find their purpose in the digital sphere. “I get really excited when I’m helping students create new technology,” says Hazarika. “They usually need some help from me to understand conventions and techniques, but after that, they blow me away! Many students who don’t always excel at traditional school tasks have such talent in this area. I think this is an exciting time in education, when technology can help us awaken and unlock these talents. Some students are going to struggle more than others when mastering a concept, but there’s nothing quite like witnessing a student have that moment when everything finally clicks.”

And building students’ capacity through experience-based learning is also building the program’s reputation, drawing more students to the Haworth College of Business.

Here are just some of the recent program milestones:

  • Top finishes in national case competitions, including a first place finish in spring 2019.
  • 100% job placement in 2019 and job offers to students from Fortune 500 companies.
  • The launch of Digital Marketing @ WMU, a new student organization.
  • Alumni providing an industry perspective on course content.
  • More than 100 other schools adopting projects created at WMU.

“The real-world projects and relevant coursework are continually adapted to current trends by our faculty,” says Maisie Blaukamp. “The most impactful experience I’ve had so far in the program has been taking the Digital and Social Media Marketing course. Nearly everything I’ve learned in the class has been directly applicable to my internship, and now my associate role with my company.”

Experience now!

Digital marketing and eCommerce students get to have a variety of experiences. Meet some of the students in the program and learn how they are exploring their field, as well as key trends and takeaways from their perspective.

Ana Ayala Perez

Ana Ayala Perez outdoors in a professional outfitThe connections that Ana Ayala Perez has built with her professors have helped her to achieve her professional goals. Citing both Drs. Hazarika and Cowley as important sounding boards, she has gained confidence in everything from user experience, to design, to analytics and more. The last few months have also cemented the importance of developing compassion and resiliency in many different areas. “This past year, I have met my new friends in a variety of online settings, and we have never met in person. It makes me realize that everything is possible if you have a positive attitude, even when times are weird and hard.”

Ayala Perez feels that being a student in this moment is its own preparation for what’s to come. “Adaptability and patience are key in doing anything virtually. I have learned that if you can adapt to something out of your comfort zone to make something easier for another person, you might get a better outcome overall. And we also need to be patient with others—it’s key to avoiding frustration and proceeding with whatever the task might be.”

Shifting business models

Working with the Monroe-Brown Foundation, Ayala Perez was paired with a small business, Edwards Garment, and completed a remote internship in summer 2020. “The impacts of the pandemic on businesses had an even bigger role than I could have ever imagined,” she says. “I saw firsthand how businesses were affected on every front: customers, employees and departments. Through my internship, I observed how the company reorganized and revised their goals for the whole year. They also had to implement a new strategy that resonated with our new normal. Times like these are stressful for people with leadership positions. Employees wanted answers and guidelines of how to continue their work, but leaders were also struggling to navigate through the pandemic, finding a way to stay positive and also be fully transparent. The main takeaway of my internship during a pandemic was how important communication and honesty are when moving through a crisis.”

Maisie Blaukamp

Maisie Blaukamp dressed professionally sitting on a bench outdoorsTaking part in TechNext, a program designed to give students experience with the technology communities of the West Coast, Maisie Blaukamp met alumnus Ray Ribble, founder and CEO of SPHER, Inc., a cybersecurity startup based in Los Angeles. Blaukamp earned a remote internship for summer 2020 and was offered a part-time associate position. “I’ve held a variety of responsibilities, including blogging for the company, creating content for social media platforms, improving SEO practices on the website, advertising and much more.”

The Digital and Social Media Marketing course is one of Blaukamp’s highlights from the program. “It has given me so many new ideas to implement in my role at SPHER, Inc. I use the SEO analysis template from that course in my job now. Learning to use Google Ads and other digital marketing platforms in my Digital and Social Media Marketing course has enabled me to not only contribute more for SPHER, Inc., but also contribute higher quality work.”

What’s trending?

“The pandemic has proven how the world is turning into a digital platform in many respects,” says Blaukamp. “As many employees began working from home, people have been spending even more time with technology. The pandemic has created an opportunity for growth in the digital marketing and eCommerce industry, as consumers spend more time online.”

Ryan Chilton

Ryan Chilton dressed professionally outdoorsCaptain of this year’s digital marketing case competition team, where WMU placed 7th in a field of 85 institutions, Ryan Chilton has been able to hone his leadership skills through experiences in the program and as an employee in the Zhang Career Center. An international student, Chilton feels the flexibility he has gained in terms of learning and living in a different culture helps him keep an open mind—vital to any industry and particularly helpful in the digital field.

His time during the pandemic has been very instructive professionally and personally. “The pandemic has been an eye-opening time. Contrary to what many may feel, it provides us with choice.” Chilton’s choice was to learn something new during this time, completing several online digital marketing certificates and diving into experimenting with video. “I found that in these tough times, it was crucial for me to do everything I could to grow in order to come out of this pandemic ready for my future career.”

TikTok trends

“Video marketing and influencers have become a huge part of today’s market,” says Chilton. “TikTok blew up during the pandemic and has definitely played a role in why video is so popular, by allowing creators to get their content out to millions of users daily. I think within the next five years, TikTok will become the new YouTube, and companies will partner with these creators to market their products to consumers.”

Liz Volante

Professional photo of Liz Volante standing outdoors in front of brick wallLiz Volante is spearheading many initiatives as the president of the newly minted student organization Digital Marketing @ WMU. The goal is not only to connect students interested in digital marketing with industry professionals, but also with each other. She knows the organization fills a vital need currently in keeping connections up during COVID-19, not just for the sake of internship and job opportunities but for mental and emotional health as well.

“We have some exciting things in the mix, including the launch of a mentor program, connecting students in our major with industry professionals to gain insight on career paths and life after graduation. We also want to continue having events, either virtually or in person, to continue connecting students to each other in this critical time.”

Major changes

“I changed my major a total of three times as I explored what I wanted to do,” says Volante. “Taking this route was crucial to my professional development because of the number of experiences I was able to have in different areas of business. The Haworth College of Business, through events, externships, internships and classes has helped me realize some areas I’d love to work in, and others that I know I don’t fit into. My professional goals have changed a lot since starting college, but now I know what fulfills me, and I have WMU Haworth to thank for that. I would love to work somewhere that is just as passionate about serving the community and creating amazing content as I am.”