Strength of Gold Star Wife (and Online Master’s Degree Grad) Leads to Multiple Job Offers

Author: Admin

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Category: Feature Story | Communication & Information, Strategic and Digital Communication (SDC)

A single mother of three launches digital communication career at a top PR agency after earning an online Master of Science in Communication and Information, Strategic Digital Communication degree.

gold star wife and mother graduates with ms

Loss leads to a new journey in digital marketing

After working in the communications industry for several years, the unthinkable happened for Carrie Kelley when her husband, Jason, passed away on active duty, which resulted in her becoming a Gold Star wife. Gold Star families are those who have lost an immediate family member during active military service.  

The loss of her spouse required Carrie to make some significant life changes in order to be more present for their three daughters. As a newly single mother, she started her own graphic design and brand strategy business to afford her more flexibility in her work schedule.  

An unexpected benefit to being self-employed was the opportunity for Carrie to reflect on what she wanted to do with her future and how to best support her family.  

“I remember reading an article that identified digital marketing strategists to be one of the top ten most in-demand positions at that time, and I was immediately intrigued,” Carrie recalls. 

She started to explore marketing areas beyond her current expertise and found an immediate interest in strategic communications and marketing analytics. It didn’t take long for Carrie to decide it was the right time to apply for graduate school so she could secure a master’s degree.  

Carrie knew as a single mother and business owner she needed the flexibility to study around her work and daughters’ schedules. However, she was unsure if an online program would afford the same learning opportunities as a traditional in-person program. Ultimately, in her search for educational institutions, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s reputation as a top research school gave her the confidence to apply to the online Strategic Digital Communication program.  

“The University of Tennessee’s Master of Science in Communication with an emphasis in Strategic and Digital Communication offered the perfect collection of courses that I was looking for. The title of the program reflected the industry’s needs, and no GRE was required.”

– Carrie Kelley, ‘22, MS, Communication and Information, Strategic Digital Communication

Carrie was accepted into the program, and though Jason was no longer with them, his time of service in the Air Force allowed her the financial security to return to school to pursue the future she wanted for herself and her children. As a Gold Star family, Carrie was eligible for military-related educational benefits. For more information on the educational benefits available to military dependents, active military, and veterans, contact the Veteran Success Center.  

Quality education at a distance

Carrie’s initial uncertainty about an education outside of a traditional classroom was quickly alleviated. She found that the program’s curriculum was well aligned with industry needs and taught by faculty who were leading experts in their fields. Best of all, Carrie grew more confident in her developing skills as a digital communicator with each course.  

“The most impactful skill I have developed in this program is the ability to set measurable and attainable marketing goals through owned, earned, and paid media. I’ve also learned how to use a handful of industry-standard marketing software and tools,” Carrie explains.  

Carrie shares that her peers were also a valuable asset to her online learning experience. She explains, “Many of the SDC students in my courses were communication professionals well into their marketing careers and had examples to share in the message boards that added a lot to my learning experience.” 

The power of an online program practicum

A unique aspect of UT’s online MS in Communication and Information program is the opportunity to gain real hands-on work experience in digital and strategic communications through a practicum. Students can complete the practicum experience remotely or in person, depending on their location and preference. Because Carrie was located in Nashville, she opted to complete her practicum remotely just as she had her coursework.  

My practicum advisor was extremely supportive of my goals and helped to mentor me in preparation for my transition back into the workforce.

– Carrie Kelley

The practicum experience allowed Carrie to put the skills she learned into practice, connecting the theoretical foundations she gained in class with practical applications in the real world.  

Carrie recalls, “This was instrumental to my success and played a huge part in giving me the confidence I needed to apply for jobs that I considered outside of my comfort zone.” 

Professional certificates open doors

Carrie took an Audience Analytics course that was invaluable to her success in the program and after in her job search.   

She shares, “The curriculum included the acquisition of professional certifications that added a lot of value to my resume and LinkedIn profile. These certificates actually got me job interviews prior to graduation.”  

In addition to the certifications, the course’s professor shared helpful information on what to expect as a digital marketing strategist, setting SDC students up for success in their future careers. The proof of Carrie’s success in the program was evident in the response she received from employers based on her job applications.  

She says, “I really feel that the decision to complete this program will be instrumental to my continued future success.” 

Carrie’s path to a master’s degree wasn’t easy, but the multiple job offers she received were affirmation that she made the right choice to pursue an online master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

I graduated from the program in December 2022 and received multiple job offers the following month, offering twice what my salary was prior to this program.

– Carrie Kelley

two women sitting at picnic table near a cherry blossom tree

For More Information

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