Sean McDowell - Emerson College Online Digital Marketing and Data Analytics student, talks about everything from his application experience to his online learning experience
Sean applied to the Master’s Online Digital Marketing and Data Analytics degree program in Fall 2019. He began coursework in January 2020 and plans to graduate in May 2021. After starting the DMDA program, Sean has discovered a strong interest in data analytics, information that ultimately propels digital marketing. “A part of me really likes looking at the data and helping to steer the ship,” Sean says. “I really want to get into forecasting, predictive analytics and possibly become a business analyst.”
Prior to enrolling in the Online Master’s in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics program at Emerson, what were you doing?
I moved to New York City in 2017 and tried to get into social media management. I finished my bachelor in business with a focus on marketing. Getting into social media, a lot of us have this idea that from our own personal experience we can figure it out. It ended up being more complicated than I thought it was going to be so from that point forward I wanted to find a program to develop my skills.
What led you to choose the DMDA degree at Emerson?
I chose Emerson because it combined digital marketing coursework with data analytics coursework and I didn't see that anywhere else. Emerson offered it so that was what made me put them on my very short list.
Did you have reservations about a master’s program and if so, what were they?
There were three areas that I had reservations about. One was, I was anxious about the financial burden of grad school. I was also nervous about having the time to do it working full time. It wasn’t like when I was 18 and I was not expected to work by my family. The third one is that I had a little anxiety about if I was a good enough student or if I could handle the program.
Did you have any reservations about the online nature of the degree?
Yes and no. The end of my undergrad was all done online in New York, so I had some experience with that. There are aspects of it that are great and there are aspects that are tough. I was nervous that things were going to be really hard and that I wouldn't have any support. There wouldn’t be anyone I could communicate with or ask questions.
What aspects specifically about the online degree or online learning did you feel would not be captured as well as traditional on-campus degree programs?
The big thing for me is that when I’m in a classroom, I like to ask a lot of questions, meet other people and communicate. I have a high need for clarity in a classroom setting. I want to ask a million questions until I’m sure I understood every little aspect of it, so that’s what I was specifically nervous about, not having people respond to emails or not having my questions answered. It’s hugely comforting just having someone sitting next to you. Not having it in a digital environment was a cause for some fear for me.
Has your online learning experience at Emerson changed your perspective and alleviated your fears?
It actually has, and it’s not an exaggeration. It’s totally true. Even from the start during the admissions process, if anything needed to be done or there were any deadlines, Emerson reached out to me and communicated with me. They’ve made it very easy. My professors have been very responsive. I message other students every week and talk to a few of them throughout the program, so those fears did not come true.
Do you think that there’s a common misconception that there are not as many networking opportunities with professors and fellow students in an online learning environment?
I do think that. Especially during the pandemic, people have been talking about how it’s a shame that all these students have had to resort to online learning as if it’s less. In many ways, I’ve been challenged to network more and communicate more and I’ve been challenged to understand the material better. I feel very proud of myself after I get my assignments done.
What was the enrollment experience like and did it alleviate your fears?
Paula, my admissions advisor, was very friendly right off the bat. She talked about personal experience and was really encouraging. I tended to think I wasn't the right person for this program. She reinforced that I was the perfect candidate. She kept following up consistently. We were in contact that entire time.
She provided me with constant checklists that showed what I had done and still needed to submit. She broke every step down very clearly for me. It was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. I had it in my mind that it was going to be like climbing Mt. Everest to get into grad school. It took a month, not even.
Can you speak to how you’ve been able to expand your professional network through Emerson College’s DMDA program?
I’ve met a handful of students who are at various stages of their careers. Some are working in the analytics field and they’re producing reports every week and they share their experiences in our discussions. Listening to those students talk about those things is eye opening.
A week ago, I was in a discussion group with a student who actually works on the social media software that I used at my last job. She trains digital customer service specialists on how to use that software. Hearing about that is really interesting. There are some students who are like me who have some digital marketing experience but are not very far in their careers.
Have you been able to use the knowledge you’ve learned thus far in your career?
Yes, I’m currently a sales rep for a construction company. We’re a start up and there’s only a handful of us working. We have an outside digital marketer that we pay but I’ve been working with them to see if the paid ads we’re running are working. I’ve been able to measure the social media metrics to see if that avenue makes financial sense or if we should do other media for our advertising. I’ve learned a great deal in a short amount of time.
Can you talk about your normal week as an online student at EC? Do you have to log on at set times?
That has happened maybe once or twice in the entire time so far. We had an introductory classroom meeting to meet the professor and to talk to other students. Normally you don’t have to. The only other situation is that sometimes you might have a group project that requires some planning and a set time with other students.
How do you submit assignments and take exams?
So far, everything I’ve done has been papers and group projects. For submitting assignments, there’s an attachment option inside the weekly modules in the platform. It’s as easy as attaching a document like you would in an email. It’s very simple.
How do you reach out to the professor or other students for help or advice on projects?
You have an inbox that you can use in the Canvas platform. It’s at the top where all the tabs are. You can write an email to anyone you wish. As a subcategory, the inbox shows which students are in what classes so you can see who you want to communicate with.
Can you describe a recent project?
In the spring semester for Consumer Behavior, we had a project where we had to pretend we were a brand and develop a marketing campaign or strategy that was based on one customer segment or demographic subgroup. We had to engage primary and secondary research, so we had to conduct interviews and find academic sources to support why we were developing that strategy for that demographic subgroup. There were a lot of moving parts. It took half of the semester working on that project. We would communicate as a group, set up times, email each other, and it was challenging because all four of us worked. It was scary because I had never done a group project in an online course before, but actually it ended up being an experience that gave me a lot of confidence. I realized it wasn’t as hard as it came across. It was just the discipline of everybody sitting down and not being afraid to communicate.
What support have you received from Emerson while pursuing this degree?
Samantha, my academic advisor, calls me and follows up with me once per month. I’ll get an email from her that asks if everything is going well and reminding me that we can talk. She frequently offers study tips and software I can download to help with time management. It is very helpful knowing that if I ever have any problem, I can call her and she’ll be really understanding.
Can you speak about the certifications within the DMDA program and why they are needed in the marketing field?
I got my Google Analytics certificate last semester and I think that’s very exciting that I can add that to my resume to indicate what I can do. There's so many different software platforms, and before I started this program, when I would read through job descriptions on Indeed, I thought I would have to learn all these things to compete for a job. Learning them in this program has been very exciting for me. Having some confidence in an ability to look at actual quantitative data is pretty huge.
What impresses you most about Emerson?
It seems like all of my classmates are serious-minded professionals pursuing their careers. The professional experience of all of my professors impressed me. All of them are not just purely academic professionals. They’ve all worked in the industry.
What have you learned so far in the program and how do you think it will help you in your career moving forward?
I’ve learned how to write a digital marketing plan, how to use the data analytics software platforms - like Google Analytics - and I’m learning the types of things that businesses want to look at. I had no experience using any of that software and now I feel confident looking at analytics. Now I'm learning how to produce reports and look at that data. Those are the hard skills that I think will transfer over to my career.
Do you have any advice for students considering the DMDA program at Emerson?
They should know that there’s flexibility. I’ve talked to a couple students who are taking one class at a time. I think if you’re interested in the program, you should decide how much time you are willing to invest. The biggest challenge for me hasn’t been figuring about how to comprehend information. It’s coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have a lot of free time. But I can do this working 40 hours a week. I go to the gym in the morning, I try to do some of the reading at night after work and I do the majority of the work on the weekends. That’s been what works for me.
What else would you share with a prospective student?
The only other thing that I would tell anyone is that if you feel like this would be a fit for you, then just do it because once I started going in it, none of my fears ended up being true. Give it a shot and don’t let your fears dictate what you’re going to do.