Misty’s hunger for education pushed her to earn her bachelor’s degree and soon-to-be masters’s degree.
Misty Brown, SVP of Content and Communication, Triad Retail Media
What does your current job entail?
I oversee a team of about 30 writers – copywriters, copy editors, SEO managers and content directors – that create content for consumer audiences on retail websites. I also oversee a team of about 10 to 12 people that create and communicate on organization channels like intranets, town halls, leadership meetings and employee events.
How long have you worked for Triad Retail Media?
Can you tell me a little bit about your educational background?
I was raised in a religious household that, in many respects, did not encourage higher education. They encouraged you to focus on the ministry and family first with just enough education to get by. At most, you would go to a two-year college and get a trade under your belt. I wanted more.
I was able to go to a studio school that was fashion in orientation. I gained a fashion merchandising degree at a school called Brooks College in Long Beach, California. I went there for two years and became a fashion editor. While there, I realized I gravitated toward writing.
Over the next few years, I went to community colleges to pick up seven or eight different credits, pooled them all together and got accepted into the University of Phoenix to finish my bachelor’s degree schooling.
Getting my bachelor’s degree was important to me. I was already in the workforce and in my mid to late twenties by that point, so I couldn’t stop and do what a lot of students do. I had to find alternate ways to get my education.
My career had already kind of started, but I lacked the confidence I needed to really push myself. I was starting to realize, based on job applications and career postings, you need a bachelor’s degree at minimum.
So, I enrolled at the University of Phoenix and it took me about three years to finish the bachelor’s program. It was the real seal of approval that I had made it.
However, I ultimately wanted to go back to school and get my master’s degree. I took the GRE and got a great score. I was accepted into the University of Southern California and am finishing up my last two semesters.
I feel that my degree from University of Phoenix enabled me to go to my hometown school and one of the most highly regarded academic institutions in the country, USC. I will be graduating this summer with a degree in communications management.
What prompted you to pursue your chosen degrees?
As I mentioned before, I felt that my natural gift was in communications, both written and verbal. I found a home in advertising and felt the best mix of the two was marketing. It was a bit broader versus just going down a very specific path.
I pursued the communications degree because my career title expanded to include communications. I speak to roughly 500 people on a daily basis in my position. I oversee public relations as well.
Why did you choose to pursue an online degree program as opposed to a traditional, campus-based one?
Well, I don’t know if I was fortunate in the end for it, but I didn’t have what I call the traditional school experience where someone graduates high school, goes directly to university and lives on campus. I didn’t get to do any of that because of how my family viewed continuing education. So, I took an alternative route.
At the time that I was at University of Phoenix, it wasn’t exactly acceptable to go to school online. It was foreign and new. I felt like University of Phoenix was revolutionary in terms of being entirely, for the most part, online at the time.
I didn’t know how acceptable it would be at the time to be quite honest, but I took the chance because I thought the program was solid. I had heard from alumni that it was not an easy program. It was very different than what people thought. It was much more challenging and very focused.
Tell me a little bit about your process of deciding which school to go to.
When I was studying with University of Phoenix, there were several schools out there that were climbing into the online program. Some of them were making these promises about getting credit for life experience.
University of Phoenix stood out as one that I felt was fairly priced and offered a really strong, comprehensive program. They had enough alumni that I could actually check and make sure it was an appropriate school. Some of the other schools I met with were more private, very expensive and focused on the expediency of it all.
What were some of the main factors or criteria you used in choosing University of Phoenix?
At University of Phoenix, it had a lot to do with financial aid, length of the program, and acceptance of my current credits. It also had to do with what degree I was getting. I wanted to make sure the people I was going to school with were in similar fields or at least heading in that direction.
Has distance learning lived up to your expectations?
Yes, I would say so. It reset my expectations. University of Phoenix broke me into this concept of group learning. It was something I thought I would like and be good at. I encouraged the notion of going to school online because it’s about it being your school and driving all the details.
I think things could be improved in terms of time investment that’s required and for it to be consistent. You should be looking at what the offline students are doing and mirror that. I don’t think there should be concessions made because you’re working full time. You go to school at different times of day, but you should still be responsible for putting in the same type of commitment that a full-time day student would put in. I really do believe you should work for what you do.
What are the biggest benefits you saw from earning a degree through an online school and what were the drawbacks?
The biggest benefit was confidence. When you don’t have something, you know it better than anybody else. For me, it was the bottom of my resume. It had an AA degree.
Now, when I walk into an interview, I lead with my education. I’m the first person in my family that has ever gotten a bachelor’s degree.
I am now able to take my legacy to my son. I have an 8 year old, and we talk about college all the time. He’s in second grade and he knows it’s not a negotiable item.
Money is one of the biggest drawbacks. I have to pay back loans. I’ve tried to keep myself in a position with my master’s degree that I can pay some of it out of pocket. My bachelor’s got me to the point that I can pay out of pocket for it. It’s kind of interesting that one helped fund the other and that’s a huge point of pride for me.
I’m also losing time. I’m losing time right now with my son, but my schedule is set so that when he goes to bed at night at 9 p.m., I do my schoolwork. I have also built in reading time on evenings and weekends.
There’s also time away from my job. I was definitely a career-first kind of person, but I had to prioritize school, which probably took a little bit of time away from my work, but not so much back then.
What would you tell other students who are considering an online or distance-learning program?
I think you should own your degree. Buckle up. You should put as much into it as you would any learning environment. Don’t look at it as an easier route. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.
My advice to anybody who is going into distance learning, or any type of schooling really, is to try to make the experience as practical as you can. You might as well get something out of it. I’m able to take a lot of what I do at USC and immediately impact my workplace. If I weren’t able to apply it directly to my career it wouldn’t be as beneficial.
What advice would you give to the University of Phoenix or USC with regards to improving their degree program or the way they run their school?
I think that each school could learn something from each other, and perhaps I benefited from the experience of attending both. Part of the allure of USC was that it felt like a true accomplishment to be selected to the program. Sometimes, the marketing messages around academic enrollment can eliminate a feeling of exclusivity. In turn, major universities can learn from the way a school such as University of Phoenix has perfected its distance learning program, particularly the digital classroom platform.
What I’ve also found at USC is that the teachers come from various degree backgrounds. There’s a percentage that are USC graduates, but there’s a lot who are not. I think University of Phoenix should have more diversity in its teaching staff. When all of your instructors have PhDs from University of Phoenix, it doesn’t really aid in the credibility. I’d like to see instructors that came from other schools who are excited to teach at University of Phoenix.
I truly feel proud of my schooling. I’m so grateful for my experience as a working student. I feel like it’s ignited my drive and given me the confidence and tools to be a successful leader.
I feel like I’ve come so far with my career, and I feel like I truly started at the University of Phoenix program when I graduated.
I felt like I had a right to be really good and I knew inside that I was strong in my respective field. I finally felt like I had a right to win, and I have been. I’ve been winning everyday. I feel extremely lucky, and I didn’t know I’d ever be able to say that to be honest.