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Marketing Analytics Grad Student Opens Doors With Data

By Samantha Beavers

For as long as she can remember, Master of Management, Marketing Analytics (MMA) graduate student Kelli Johnson has sought unique opportunities and experiences to learn, grow and gain a competitive edge. Joining Poole College’s MMA program, then, was a no-brainer.

“As we’re shifting to a more digital world, the landscape of marketing is changing – and it’s becoming more important for marketers to grasp analytics skills and concepts in order to add value to their profession,” Johnson explains. “With those changes, I felt that the program was an awesome opportunity to set myself apart.”

And that mindset, she says, is what drew her to marketing in the first place. 

Coming into her undergraduate career at North Carolina Central University, she had a variety of interests – everything from music to fashion merchandising. After taking a few classes in marketing, though, she was hooked – and quickly declared a major in business administration with a concentration in marketing.

“I fell in love with the curriculum. It really challenged me and forced me to think differently. And I felt that it could open a lot of doors in the future,” Johnson explains.

While completing her bachelor’s degree at NC Central, Johnson made it a point to seize every opportunity available to her. In addition to serving as student president and ambassador of the business school and vice president of the university’s Spanish club, Johnson participated in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute and attended South by South Lawn (SXSL), a festival for entrepreneurs and innovators at The White House raising awareness about global climate change.

“I’ve always gone after opportunities to work with people and serve as a positive role model,” Johnson explains. “And I’ve always looked for experiences to develop personally and professionally. I’m someone who strives to show excellence in my studies and in my work.”

Early into her career in business, Johnson continued to explore new avenues to grow – becoming a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the nation’s oldest Greek-letter organization established by African American women.

That passion for seizing opportunities is ultimately what led her to her current role at the Small Business and Technology Development Center’s office at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – except there, it’s something she helps others do. As a business counselor, Johnson provides assistance to entrepreneurs – reviewing their business plans, offering guidance and helping them take advantage of every opportunity to maximize their impact.

In order to boost her quantitative skills, Johnson simultaneously began taking classes in accounting and statistics at NC State’s Poole College of Management. Along the way, she got wind of the college’s new MMA program – and naturally, she jumped at the opportunity.

Since starting the MMA program in January, Johnson has continued to do what she does best: soak up the many opportunities and resources available to her.

This past spring, for instance, she participated in MBA 590 – a week-long study abroad course in Munich concentrated on innovation and marketing systems – alongside two fellow classmates in the MMA program and a handful of Poole MBA students.

“I was really drawn to the course because of its marketing and innovation focus. And because I’ve never traveled internationally before, having the opportunity to study abroad was a huge priority for me,” Johnson says. 

As part of the opportunity, Johnson had the opportunity to visit several corporations pushing the boundaries of innovation – including BMW, Ernst & Young, Siemens Mobility GmbH and HYVE, among others – and learn about how innovation is transforming their marketing strategies.

“I really enjoyed learning about how these companies pursue innovation, sustain their practice and drive sales,” she says.

“I also appreciated the opportunity to visit historical landmarks and gain unique cultural experiences. One of my favorites was visiting Weihenstephan Hill in Freising – the oldest brewery in the world. The staff was dressed in traditional German outfits and we got to dine like Germans and eat some amazing food,” she continues.

Johnson alongside her MMA classmates Kyle Lucas (center) and Christa Langenburg (right) on her study abroad trip to Germany this past spring.

Stateside, too, Johnson has taken advantage of all that the MMA program has to offer. The community she’s found at Poole College, she says, has been one of the highlights.

“Everyone – the students, faculty and staff – have been extremely supportive throughout my entire journey, from applying to the program and registering for classes to taking them,” she says. 

And as a woman of color – not to mention the first in her family to graduate with a business degree – that support has been instrumental, especially as she’s pushed her way through a challenging, data-focused curriculum and set her sights on climbing the ladder in the marketing world. 

“It’s a very interesting time to be a woman in business – especially a woman of color. I know that my talents, accomplishments and leadership experiences will open doors and give me a competitive edge – but I also realize there are challenges to be faced,” she says. “But I know that if I were ever to come up against an obstacle, I would find support at NC State.”

As for her next plans?

“The great thing about this program is that it’s helping me develop skills I can apply to any industry – whether that’s energy, fashion or luxury jewelry. I aim to pivot into some type of marketing analyst role – and I’m looking forward to the flexibility I’ll have to go wherever my passion takes me.”

And seeing the opportunity, she can’t help but encourage others in her family to follow in her footsteps.

“I’m the first in my family to break a glass ceiling, so we’re all pretty excited about that. And that’s inspired me to encourage more of my family members to go into business analytics. It’s a tough industry – but it’s so rewarding.”