By combining his love of the hospitality industry and marketing, PJ Wirchansky has built a successful career over the last 20 years.
"I was back in North Carolina after being in Montana for many years, so I thought it would be a good time to invest in my education," he said. "I have always believed in continuing to learn if you want to move forward."
Wirchansky graduated from the online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Integrated Marketing Communication program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) in August 2022.
"I thought that the Integrated Marketing Communication program at UNCW would be a good fit, and it seemed like the scheduling and asynchronous format would be ideal for my lifestyle and work commitments," he said.
With a full-time position as director of sales and marketing at the Chetola Resort & Conference Center in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Wirchansky thrived with the flexibility of the online format. He and his wife, Lisa Marie, also have two children — Brooks (7) and Addy Grace (5).
"I love the 7-week course schedule and being able to log on for 15-20 minutes to get a sense of what I needed to accomplish for the week, knowing when my due dates were and being able to manage my time appropriately," he said.
"I am an early riser. I have two little kids, so my alarm, which is them, goes off at about 5:30 or 6 a.m. I would get up, get them going and spend an hour or so before work either reading or doing discussion questions…Three or four days a week, I would get up early and do some work. I would also do a few evenings a week, then wrap everything up on the weekends."
Wirchansky grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a marketing emphasis from the University of Tennessee in 1999.
"I was just trying to find my way and figure out what I wanted to do in school," he said. "I started with a lot of general business courses. Marketing was the most interesting to me, but it really piqued my interest when I started working in hospitality.
"I found that we could communicate to people about these amazing experiences and places that I lived to encourage them to come to the great outdoors and enjoy everything Mother Nature has to offer."
Before enrolling at UNCW, Wirchansky gained experience as an online student when he earned a hospitality administration and management certificate from Cornell University in 2020.
Organizational Culture Identity and Brand, taught by Dr. Christine Willingham, was his favorite course in the online M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications program.
"I have always enjoyed branding, a brand personality, brand promises and how we look at brands almost as a relationship with a person," he said.
"It was about being able to understand that a little deeper, getting the theories behind it and understanding why things happen and what we can use for success and see how brands evolve. In my role especially, it was quite helpful."
Wirchansky said he also especially enjoyed the Crisis Communication and IMC course taught by Dr. Jeanne M. Persuit.
"Being a bit of a meteorological nerd, I have always enjoyed weather phenomena, hurricanes and blizzards," he said. "There were a lot of weather-related examples, and we were able to incorporate those into our coursework assignments, projects and discussions.
"Fortunately, I haven't had to use much with crisis communication, but it helped me to be more aware of what to do if something like that were to happen. There are a lot of applicable terms in the courses. I am also on some local community boards, so I have been able to apply the strategy and coursework to help out with those."
Journey to Destination
The first person in his immediate family to earn a master's degree, Wirchansky plans to walk in the December 2022 commencement ceremony in Wilmington.
"My wife was great," he said. "My family was very proud."
"This was more of a personal goal than anything, but I want to utilize the degree to the best of my abilities. Having a master's will help create opportunities in my career."
Wirchansky believes the key to success as an online student is staying focused, which he said is especially manageable because of the seven-week courses.
"If you feel like you have challenges or you're getting behind, it's a fairly short window to dig deeper and get it done," he said. "There's flexibility in being able to take a semester off if you have to. The professors are understanding of personal commitments and that we all work and have lives.
"The asynchronous format is great. You're not required to be on campus for anything. You get out what you put into it. You've got UNCW's full support. Before you know it, you're done. It was a good experience."
Wirchansky, who enjoys hiking and camping with his family, is glad that he scratched his eight-year itch to finish what he started.
"For the money involved, the quality of education, the professors who truly care for you, small class size, great access to technology and the information at UNCW, it was 100% a worthy investment," he said.Learn more about UNCW's online M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communication program.
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