As editor of her high school yearbook for three years, Carmen Bethea found her niche that led to a public relations career. Then, the pandemic hit.
"I always wanted to get a master's degree, but I never looked into it too much," she said. "Typically, a lot of schools have you take the GRE to get in.
"With COVID-19, we couldn't do that. It was a blessing in disguise. With no GRE required and an amazing tuition price, it made sense to get a master's degree to be successful in this field. Right time, right place."
Bethea graduated from the online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Integrated Marketing Communication program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) with a 3.9 GPA in December 2021.
"When I read about the program, it sounded perfect for me," she said. "It's what my mix of marketing and communication skills was.
"I did public relations with a minor in marketing in undergrad. It's the perfect combination. That's why I wanted to do integrated marketing."
When she enrolled in the online master's degree program at UNCW, Bethea worked as a marketing account manager at Flow Automotive Companies in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The flexibility of the online format worked out well for her.
"It was amazing," she said. "At the time, I was working a full-time job where I wore a lot of hats. I was managing several stores, but I could do this program because it's asynchronous. I was able to do it at my own pace and plan ahead to get my assignments done on time.
"My goal was to get my master's degree within a year, which I did — the curriculum allowed me to do that. The professors were amazing. It was such a good program and a great experience."
Bethea is from Greensboro, North Carolina, and attended a prestigious journalism camp in Chapel Hill that cemented her career trajectory.
"I did the Chuck Stone Program for diversity and inclusion prior to my senior year," she said. "They only allowed 12 people to come in from across the U.S. We got to practice all those skills and find out what lane we wanted to take."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2019, Bethea landed the position at Flow Automotive Companies. She is currently looking for her next opportunity.
"I want to do more of a marketing role now," she said. "I have expertise in social media. The integrated marketing degree helped me grow in that aspect."
Diversity, Inclusion and the IMC Challenge was Bethea's favorite course in UNCW's online M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communication program curriculum.
"Being a black female at a predominantly white institution (PWI) allowed me to feel like I was a part of it and hone those skills I may know that I can teach other people, and that makes me excited," she said. "Certain projects in that course stood out to me. The professor, Dr. Chadwick Roberts, was also amazing."
The information that Bethea learned in the master's degree program has benefited her greatly in her fledgling career in public relations.
"I have used every single thing I learned, from the brand marketing skills to communications and keeping a concise brand representation across different platforms," she said. "The program allowed me to see the bigger picture and say, 'This connects with that.'
"All the way from my marketing campaigns to the events I planned every month to dealing with the website, it was all cohesive. Integrated marketing campaigns…make them concise."
Bethea said her return to college surprised her family and friends, but they supported her as she worked toward her goal.
"I told them I always wanted to go back,'" she said. "I was so excited, so they ended up being excited, too. I was also in the honor society.
"The online program allowed me to perform well academically while living a life outside of school. I could go home in the evenings and do homework. I am glad to have it done before I am 30."
To cap off the experience and celebrate her big accomplishment, Bethea walked the graduation stage at the commencement ceremony.
"It was a great experience," she said. "I loved it...My whole family came."
Bethea believes having a master's degree gives her an advantage with potential future employers, and she has already reached the next stop in her career.
"It has already given me different opportunities," she said. "I just accepted a job as a Media Coordinator for Kohls. This is a position in their corporate office."
Bethea enjoys reading, writing and seeing movies in her free time, and she notes that keeping an open mind is a good approach for any student in the program.
"Public relations, journalism and marketing is such a broad field," she said. "There are so many things you can do. [Employers] are looking for someone well-rounded. They want someone who can do everything.
"This program allows you to use those skills you have learned and put them together to create an amazing opportunity. So, be open to new things and new challenges. You never know what you are going to get."
Learn more about UNCW's M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communication online program.
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