Husband and Wife Duo Pursue Marketing Analytics Together
By Samantha Beavers
This fall, Chuck Thomas, conference and outreach manager for NC State University Housing, and Katie Birdsall, marketing manager for NC State Wellness and Recreation, are hitting the books together and pursuing a master’s education in Poole College of Management’s Master of Management, Marketing Analytics (MMA) program.
Studying together will be a new experience for the married couple, but pursuing a similar career path certainly won’t be. Over the years, both have worked in campus recreation for several institutions of higher education and have grown an interest in making strategic, informed decisions to increase student engagement, which makes their journey into marketing analytics a natural next step – especially in today’s data-driven world.
The road to Raleigh
Thomas’ first foray into higher education was at the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he landed a role as assistant director of facility and membership services after obtaining his master’s degree in recreation, park and tourism administration from Western Illinois University. After a year and a half in Springfield, he moved to Iowa to work in recreational services at the University of Iowa.
Meanwhile, Birdsall launched a career in recreation while getting her master’s degree in public administration at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, where she completed a graduate assistantship in campus recreation. This led to a position in campus recreation at Illinois State University, where she managed daily operations, maintenance and capital improvement of the university’s recreational facilities.
The two finally crossed paths in 2016 at a work conference, where they were introduced by a mutual friend. Weeks later, they met again at a four-day workshop and exchanged numbers. “We started dating and then dated for about two years long-distance, and then I moved to Iowa to be with him,” Birdsall says.
After her move, Birdsall developed foundational marketing skills while working in real estate – and then transitioned back into higher education as a marketing coordinator for University of Iowa’s health and well-being departments. Then, in 2022, she started exploring job opportunities in the Triangle area of North Carolina.
“My best friend works at Duke University, so I’d been to this area and really loved it. When my current position opened up, I applied, and after getting an offer, we decided to move down here. Because I moved to Iowa for Chuck, he was willing to move to North Carolina for me – while I loved my time in Iowa, I think he got the better end of that deal,” she laughs.
Exploring new opportunities
Though Birdsall brought the couple to Raleigh, it’s Thomas who first stumbled upon the MMA program. Wanting to further his studies, he decided to take advantage of the tuition waiver for full-time employees at NC State, and being an analytical thinker, he started looking through courses in NC State’s Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics.
“I’m a huge sports fan, and that passion for sports is actually what sparked my initial interest in analytics. However, that interest has grown as I’ve taken on more strategic planning responsibilities in my career,” Thomas says. “After doing a little more research, I realized that many of the classes that fell under the certificate were also part of the MMA program – and I just figured, why not just go for the whole thing? Then, I started talking to Katie about it.”
Though Birdsall was excited about the opportunity for her husband, she wasn’t initially interested in pursuing another graduate degree herself – but changed her mind after Thomas convinced her to sit in on the program’s virtual information session with him.
“He said, ‘Just come listen to it with me. I think you’d like a lot of it.’ So we were both on the call hearing about the program’s benefits, and it got me really excited because it’s a great program for adult learners. It’s very flexible in that it’s an online distance education program, so it works with my already busy schedule in marketing.” Birdsall says. “And, the thing I love most about marketing is that it melds creativity with analytical thinking, so the opportunity to develop more skills in both those areas really excited me.”
A foundation for the future
Through the MMA program, the couple looks forward to learning new marketing concepts and developing robust analytics skills in order to tackle problems and make more strategic decisions in their roles.
“Using data has always been useful in different roles I’ve held – whether it’s for making decisions about staffing, setting hours of operation, getting special equipment or building additions onto facilities,” Thomas says. “And, I really like to be challenged and enjoy learning new things, so I’m eager to get started.”
“I’ve been working in marketing for a long time now, but I’m always looking for ways to get better at my job – and this program will be a great opportunity to learn new skills that I can directly implement in my day-to-day responsibilities,” Birdsall adds. “One of the biggest problems our team tries to solve, for example, is why people attend one fitness class and not another. So, I think being able to learn more about consumer trends and knowing how to use data to design programs and classes that are more enticing for people will be really helpful.”
Additionally, the couple looks forward to connecting with peers and faculty from different backgrounds and gaining new growth insights through the college’s Career Management Center and partnerships with business and industry. They see several opportunities for personal and professional growth – and whatever their future careers hold, they believe expanding their knowledge base in the MMA program will give them the foundation they need to go far.
“Since we have both been in the same field for our entire career, we basically have the same network – so it will be nice to network with people who are outside of our field and learn from people who have expertise in other industries. We’re really excited about that,” Thomas says.
“Even though it’s a distance learning program, there have already been several opportunities for us to meet potential classmates in person. And, it’s been nice that I have someone to go to those things with,” Birdsall adds. “There’s a small part of me that’s like, are Chuck and I going to be competing for grades or what? But I’m mostly looking forward to the fact that I’ll have my very own study buddy at home.”
To learn more about the Master of Management, Marketing Analytics (MMA) program at NC State’s Poole College of Management, click here.