About Bailee Miller: Bailee Miller works for Allegheny Science and Technology as the Communications Lead at NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Program in Fairmont, West Virginia. In this role, she handles a wide range of responsibilities, including strategic communication planning, social media management, public relations, multimedia production, event planning, and more. Her background includes work for West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media and government contract company Information Research Corporation.
Ms. Miller attended West Virginia University for her undergrad, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations. She returned to WVU to pursue her master’s degree, graduating from their online Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program in 2018.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Bailee Miller] I graduated from West Virginia University’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism, now College of Media, in the fall of 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a concentration in Public Relations. I minored in History, because I felt it would help me become a stronger researcher and storyteller. Upon graduating, I found myself in the middle of the economic recession, so finding work in my field was a bit of a challenge. I decided to try freelance writing until I found something more permanent. While I freelanced, I worked about 10 hours a week with a government contract company, Information Research Corporation (IRC), conducting process audits. While the position didn’t allow me to work many hours, it did get my foot in the government-contracting door.
Around six months after graduating, I was offered the opportunity to work a six-week stint at NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation (IV&V) Program in Fairmont, West Virginia, as part of a contract through IRC’s sister company, Allegheny Science & Technology (AST). After the six weeks were up, they offered to extend my time with the organization an additional three months, and eventually offered me a full-time position. The job entailed process auditing, editing the internal newsletter, and supporting the Strategic Communications Office with any event support needed. Realizing NASA’s IV&V Program didn’t have a social media presence like the rest of the agency, with the help of my supervisor, I got to work on a proposal for bringing social media to the program. After a few months, it was approved, and I moved into the role of managing IV&V’s Facebook and Twitter pages. This role allowed me to provide the public with an inside look at our program, promote the fact that NASA is in the state of West Virginia, and help recruit student interns. It also allowed me to interact with NASA social media managers from every center across the country.
Now, in addition to social media, I’m managing the public affairs of the program. I work to make sure the media know about the important milestones and accomplishments of IV&V. I’m also more involved in strategic communication planning, which allows me to use the knowledge gained from my Master of Science in Integrated Communications (IMC) degree. In addition to those responsibilities, I work with my team to coordinate internal and external events. Every day usually brings something different to work on.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the online Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at West Virginia University?
[Bailee Miller] I had a wonderful professor in undergrad advise me to pursue a professional career after undergrad, instead of enrolling in a master’s program. She told me to go get some real-world experience and then come back later to pursue another degree. I’m so grateful for this advice, because it allowed me to explore different aspects of my career before deciding what I wanted to pursue long-term. For me, strategic communication and marketing stood out the most, which led me to WVU’s IMC program. Around five years after I started working at IV&V, I decided it was time to apply.
A big factor in my decision to apply to WVU’s IMC program was that it’s completely online. I wanted to continue working full-time, but pursue my degree part-time. The IMC program allowed me to do both and was truly structured for the student’s success. Now that I’ve completed the program, I feel more well-rounded as a marketing professional. I also hold my work to a much higher standard as a result of this program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is WVU’s IMC 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?
[Bailee Miller] WVU’s IMC program requires an intro to IMC course, three core classes, two specialty classes, three elective courses and one final capstone, totaling 10 classes. The core classes range from audience insight to brand equity management. The specialty classes are intended for covering topics a student isn’t familiar with, such as “PR Concepts and Strategy.” The electives range from sports marketing to crisis communication. They’re really just for the student to explore the many areas of IMC. Finally, in the capstone class, the students work with a real client to produce a solid IMC plan. This project is completed in lieu of a typical master’s thesis.
WVU’s IMC program is structured for both full-time and part-time attendance. Each course is 8-weeks long, so a full-time schedule might be two courses in the early fall semester and two in the late fall semester. The part-time schedule would be one course per early and late semester term. I opted for the part-time, which worked best for my full-time work schedule. It also allowed me to really focus on the topic at hand each week, rather than trying to juggle two sets of information. Trust me when I say incorporating studying back into my routine was hard enough with one course per term!
While online courses certainly allow for flexibility, the workload is just as great, if not greater, than an in-person course. Why? Because, while there’s a professor available to help guide students, the work, readings and research are completely up to the student to figure out and manage. Time management is incredibly important in order to succeed in a program like WVU’s IMC. The program offers general suggestions for workload management, but it’s really up to the student to decide how to effectively meet the course deadlines. That meant when I was scheduled to attend a conference in the second week of my early spring term, I was also expected to find the appropriate time needed to complete the first writing assignment.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on your experience with WVU’s online platform? Were courses asynchronous (prerecorded), synchronous (live), or a combination of both? Did the school’s online platform enable you to interact with faculty members and classmates? How?
[Bailee Miller] Usually each course had one live session with the professor, to allow for any questions about the course project. Other than that, all of my coursework was available at the start of each term for me to complete at my own pace. Each course had individual deadlines, such as writing assignments due on Mondays and student discussion responses due on Friday, but it did allow me to move things around if I needed to complete something a few days sooner than it was due.
While we were all expected to read course material and perform our research independently, we were encouraged to collaborate through weekly discussions. Each week was a different topic, sometimes pertaining to the week’s lesson, but not necessarily always tied to the curriculum. I definitely enjoyed the topics that related more to the projects we were working on, because it was nice to have my classmates’ input.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your capstone project? What communication issue or challenge did it address, and what were your primary deliverables (i.e. communications plan, tutorial, video, visual marketing materials, etc.)? What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their project?
[Bailee Miller] My final capstone course challenged me in ways I never knew possible. I had days where I would wake up, do some research, head to work, return home and write for 4-5 hours. I would be so in the zone, I wouldn’t even remember getting into bed at night! While it was certainly taxing, it was really exciting working for a real client, Nature’s Bounty. We had the opportunity to communicate with the company early in the course, and then could direct questions to them through our professor.
Our final deliverable was a completed IMC plan for marketing the Nature’s Bounty Lutein Blue supplement. As part of it, we were asked to complete an in-person focus group, which I personally found to be very valuable to defining my target market. We were also expected to provide creative touchpoints, which the professor emphasized needed to be professional and high quality. Thankfully, I had the support of my amazing graphic designer friend, Katie Parker, who helped me determine what looked best. In additional to the IMC plan, we were expected to deliver a high-level project PowerPoint presentation. It was a really intense but rewarding experience!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from WVU’s Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Bailee Miller] I would say that my biggest takeaway from the IMC program involved the Marketing Research and Analysis course. This particular course is designed to help students learn how to identify marketing problems, distinguish what can and cannot be learned from market research, and how to gather and analyze marketing data to help make or recommend better business decisions for a company or organization. The reason why I call this particular course out is because I felt it was something that not only helped the rest of my assignments, but also aided my communication planning at work. The work involved learning how to read and understand research studies, as well as how to apply that knowledge. I’ll admit it was difficult at first, because frankly some research papers can be a bit dry; however, once I figured out how to determine what exactly I needed to extract, things moved faster and more efficiently. I took this course very early in my IMC career and I am so thankful I did. It really helped equip me for the work I had ahead of me.
I would say another takeaway was the importance of audience analysis. Like the Marketing Research and Analysis course, the Audience Insight class was a core course in the IMC program. This course dealt with the different theories related to influencing consumer attitudes toward a product or service, in particular, emotional responses to certain messaging. After completing this course, I realized that the biggest part of what drew me to this field is the study of people. Building buyer personas quickly became one of my favorite elements of IMC planning!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the online IMC program at West Virginia University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at WVU or another university?
[Bailee Miller] I actually have three pieces of advice. The first is the importance of time management. As I said, time management is crucial to the success of a student in this type of program. If you aren’t planning your writing, research and discussion posts, you are more likely to fall behind and risk missing deadlines. The program does offer guidelines, which will differ from person to person depending on their work speed, but I do encourage anyone considering this program to block off chunks of uninterrupted time each day to chip away at the work. Otherwise, it will begin to stack up, and the quality of your work will suffer. I tried to work a minimum of two hours each day on assignments. On the weekends, I would tack on a few extra hours. I opted for research on Saturdays and outlining and writing on Sundays. Regardless of schedule, most weeks I faced around 15-18 hours of work. Obviously, the capstone required much more!
My second piece of advice is to take advantage of the research resources available to you as a student. At WVU, we had access to many databases through WVU’s Libraries. The IMC program actually created a guide to help IMC students conduct research for secondary data. It was sort of a one-stop-shopping experience where we could easily access resources to help with gathering media information, demographic data and much more. Remember, professionals are looking for concrete data points from real research, so articles on websites alone won’t cut it.
Lastly, I recommend to anyone going into this program to be open to learning new, and sometimes challenging, topics. Don’t just sign up for classes that deal with topics you’re familiar with. This is your opportunity to learn something completely out of your current element. For some, it might be necessary for filling a void in their current professional life, and for others, it might just be trying something that sounds interesting. Whatever the reason, try to step outside of your comfort zone a little with this program. You might find you have an undiscovered passion for something unexpected!
Thank you, Ms. Miller, for your excellent insights on West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications program!