About Lauren Lee: Lauren Lee works as an Account Director at Merkle, a global performance marketing agency, where she specializes in pharmaceutical email marketing. Her extensive background in digital marketing and communications includes positions at Zeta Global, Acxiom, and Dillard’s Inc. In addition to her role at Merkle, Mrs. Lee handles marketing and promotion for her husband’s family farm, Flying C Ranch, and volunteers with various agricultural organizations and endeavors, such as the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers program and the Arkansas Cattleman’s Association.
Mrs. Lee attended the University of Central Arkansas for her undergrad, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication with a focus on Broadcast Journalism. She completed her master’s in 2015 through the Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies (MA-ACS) program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Lauren Lee] I work in digital marketing for a global performance marketing agency. My husband, Michael, and I live in central Arkansas on a beef farm called Flying C Ranch where he and his family raise cattle for a farm-to-table program and groom a pecan orchard. We have two daughters, Mary Elliott and Adelaide, and we are expecting our third daughter in February. Our Border Aussie, Maddie, might as well count as one of our children. When I’m not working with my teams to push pharmaceutical email campaigns, I spend time promoting the family farm through our website, social media, and other marketing avenues. Our family is involved in many agricultural endeavors, including Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers, Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, and many more. We spend our free time promoting the agriculture industry and volunteering on local committees.
I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication with a focus on Broadcast Journalism from the University of Central Arkansas. As I gained marketing experience both client side and agency side, I realized there are many times when communication leads to the success or downfall of a project. After five years, I pursued a Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). While this did not change my career path, I firmly believe it helped me advance in my career. I am an Account Director for Merkle, specializing in pharmaceutical customer relationship management (CRM). I’ve been in email marketing for nearly a decade. After receiving my MA, I began to apply the theories and methodology in my day to day, and I utilize many communication concepts with my current teams.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies (MA-ACS) program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock?
[Lauren Lee] I was always interested in furthering my education, but I wasn’t sure which avenue would most align with my long-term goals. My passion for communication has continued to grow over time, and I believe it is a key to success in many aspects of our lives. As I gained marketing experience working for global marketing agencies and a corporate office for a large retailer, I continued to see how communication was a huge aspect of all project elements. In 2011, my husband was accepted into the Conflict Mediation graduate certificate program at UALR. My employer at the time offered tuition assistance for pursuing higher education, and I began to seek out local institutions and their graduate school offerings. I was working full time, so I knew I needed to find a program that offered a non-traditional schedule.
Upon researching, I found the Applied Communication Studies program at UALR. As I looked through the list of courses and offerings, I was intrigued by the topics of several courses. The program offers a professional track which focuses on the six pillars of communication: Ethics, Renewal, Excellence, Culture, Experiential Learning, and Diffusion. Each of these pillars would apply as I continued to progress in the world of marketing. The more I researched, the more I realized pursuing an MA in Applied Communication Studies would help me better understand the theories behind communication. While I was not interested in changing career paths, I wanted to equip myself with something that would set me apart from the average employee.
The Applied Communication Studies program at UALR not only offered a solid curriculum which focused on the main pillars of communication, it offered a non-traditional schedule that was perfect for my lifestyle and situation. The courses were offered during the evenings and on the weekends, which would not interfere with my work schedule. Even with this schedule approach, I could complete the program within two years. I gathered the necessary materials for my application, took the tests required for admission to the program, and submitted my application package. My admission letter came in the mail shortly after, and I began my journey in the program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is UA-Little Rock’s MA-ACS program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Lauren Lee] Each course is related to a pillar of communication that represents the overall program structure. In the Interpersonal Communication focused courses, we read books that were relevant to the topic. One was authored by the professor who was teaching the class, so it was not only relevant but our leader was even closer to the concepts. In his book, The Art of Positive Communication, Dr. Julien Mirivel breaks down the Model of Positive Communication. The model focuses on seven behaviors that exemplify positive communication. As we broke down the different parts of the model piece by piece, we learned how to deep dive into what appeared to be small concepts. This allowed us to do course assignments which allowed us to apply our learnings. For me, this learning style was very helpful because we really unpacked concepts until everyone had a great understanding. Furthermore, we were able to apply the concepts to the course, our personal lives, our professional lives and more.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your thesis? What was your primary research inquiry, and how did you decide upon it? Could you describe the process you undertook to research your topic and form your final conclusions? What advice do you have for students in terms of completing their thesis (i.e. determining a research topic of appropriate scope, conducting thorough research and analysis, and crafting a strong presentation, etc.)?
[Lauren Lee] When you begin the Applied Communications program at UALR, you quickly explore the process of your thesis. Just a few months after entering graduate school, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. I was working full time, going to school, and now I was going to have a tiny human who depended on me. I was determined to move forward and complete the program. Little did I know, this was all a part of the master plan. When my daughter was born November 12, 2013, I experienced communication first hand. As I spoke with a lactation consultant after her birth, I knew there was something different about the way she communicated. I had great success in breastfeeding my child, and I had a drive to not give up when times were hard.
When I took Interpersonal Communication in the fall of 2014 and studied Dr. Mirivel’s Model of Positive Communication, the light bulb came on. The lactation consultant demonstrated all seven behaviors from the model. Her communication was the foundation to my success! While she was obviously skilled in her field as well, her skills were emphasized and she gained my trust through exhibiting these behaviors. As I explored more about Interpersonal Communication, I began conversing with my professors about a possible thesis topic.
A critical piece in thesis topic prep is ensuring you will have enough research to write a full thesis. I did a preliminary paper about my own observations and experience and applied each concept accordingly. This allowed me to create a draft for my thesis. Though a very short draft, it allowed me to test the waters on the topic and possible findings. From there, I created a prospectus which included the theory and methodology needed for conducting research. I began working with my faculty advisor to create a research process. After contacting possible research participants, I was on my way to writing a full thesis.
My primary research inquiry was finding that positive communication played a huge role in a mother’s success in breastfeeding. As I attempted to prove this point, I created questions that would prompt my interviewees to think critically about their communication habits. At the conclusion of each interview, I showed the participants the Model of Positive Communication. Every single RN/Lactation Consultant was astonished at how they used the model in their everyday work. A few of them even asked for a printed copy to hang in their office as a reminder during frustrating times.
My faculty advisor and committee met with me along the way to ensure I was on the right track to completion. They also worked with me to validate my research and set my project up for success. This is a critical step to remember for all students conducting research. While the collection process may take time, you may pay someone to transcribe your interviews just to keep your sanity, and you may feel as though you will never finish your thesis, you will! You must rely on help along the way. This is your accountability and it keeps you on track. My thesis took about nine months from beginning research to defense. The entire process was very rewarding, but the most rewarding part was orally defending my project. Do not let this process intimidate you. This is merely to show that you did the research and you are fully equipped to discuss it with other parties. This was final confirmation that my research was valuable and I was an expert on my thesis. I had information to share that would not only improve communication in healthcare but improve healthcare for new mothers overall.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Lauren Lee] The most valuable pieces of my master’s experience are the relationships I formed and the knowledge I will hold for the rest of my life. I apply all concepts in the workforce, which is quite surprising. I still connect with several students from my class, and some are in the healthcare field. It’s valuable to discuss current state and our learnings as we move forward in our career paths. Several of my peers have received promotions since this adventure, including myself. I am so proud to watch the success of others.
Some days I feel somewhat like a pack rat, but I still have all my books and notebooks. The greatest thing is most of the books are not textbooks. They are books I keep on my desk at home and at work, and I pick them up from time to time to find quick quotes or concepts to share in my professional world. You learn along the way that the experiences you have and the people you meet help shape you into who you are. Communication is a huge piece of my everyday life including my marriage, parenthood, professional career, volunteer activities, and self. If I had not experienced the Applied Communication Studies graduate program at UALR, I certainly would be a bit less of the person I am today.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the MA-ACS program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at UA-Little Rock or another university?
[Lauren Lee] My advice to students starting the MA-ACS program at UALR is this — find the determination within you to make the most out of this program and complete every piece in a timely manner. It’s easy to get distracted and bogged down by workload, writer’s block, and research. You will learn so much that will transform you as a person and professional. I promise those around you will notice! If you’re struggling to decide on a thesis topic, do not fret. Find your passion and allow the leadership to help you do so. Each pillar of the program connects with a person differently, so find your fit and dive in.
My advice to students beginning MA programs all over the country is to create relationships and dialogue with as many people as you can. This will shape your experience because everyone is there to learn, just like you. Research a topic that is going to change your world. I promise you will not regret furthering your education, especially in the world of communication.
Thank you, Mrs. Lee, for your excellent insights on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program!