After a decade of roadblocks, Melissa Walker is cruising on open highway.
Walker is enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication with Social Media Management Certification online program at Arkansas State University. The Ypsilanti, Michigan, native started college 10 years ago, but a financial setback delayed her return.
“My current employer, EHM Senior Solutions, found out about my situation and paid the debt in full,” she said. “They also contributed additional funds for continuing my education, which is quite amazing.”
The good times are still rolling for Walker, who is also working on a minor in sociology. She recently won a Prism Award from the Public Relations Society of America Arkansas for her work creating a company brand.
“There are a lot of elements that go into that, like how do I want our company to look to the public? What colors? What can we use? What can’t we use?” Walker said. “It’s a style guide. My instructor was really excited and said it is kind of a big deal.”
In addition, Walker and her husband, Aaron, launched their own company, Amplified Media and Communications, in May 2019. He is enrolled at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
“With our company, I will be working directly with what I do in my full-time job and what my degree is in,” she said. “There are roadblocks you hit when you don’t have credentialing. You have all of the experience sometimes, but you kind of cap out. That’s where I am in my professional career.”
Walker, who initially started school at Eastern Michigan University, is a self-taught graphic designer with a deep passion for her work.
“As I started getting more exposure into different areas in the marketing and communications worlds, I fell in love with the strategy around it,” she said. “There is nothing like the moment when the pieces come together, it all clicks and it looks just right. It is exciting.”
In addition to working full time as corporate creative director at EHM Senior Solutions, Walker has also held an unpaid position in the ministry at Embassy Covenant Church International, in Troy, Michigan, for four-and-a-half years.
She and Aaron have three children — Evan (12), Adam (9) and Emma (5) — and have been married for 13 years.
“I knew I needed to be an online student,” she said. “I am a full-grown adult, and I do not have time to sit in a classroom.”
Walker narrowed her options down to two universities before choosing A-State, which accepted the most transfer credits for her degree program. She has thoroughly enjoyed the courses and the faculty since enrolling in Fall 2018. The instructor for PRAD 3553: Strategic Visual Communication has made it one of her favorite courses so far.
“I have had Catherine Bahn for several courses, and I love her teaching style,” Walker said. “Plus, she is easy to reach. I have never seen her in person, but she brings humanity when I communicate with her online. I have had her for four or five classes. There is something special about an instructor who can make an online experience feel personal.”
Walker has seen a noticeable difference in her work performance since enrolling in the BS in Strategic Communication with Social Media Management Certification online program.
“I have been able to apply the things I have learned in class to my day-to-day work almost instantly,” she said. “I know that because with some of the things I picked up so quickly in this program, the caliber of my work has gone to a different level, which is being noticed at my job.”
Right on Track
For the time being, Amplified Media and Communications will be a freelance business until the Walkers finish school and can build up a large number of clients to make it a full-time endeavor. Walker believes the knowledge she is gaining will help her shift the business into overdrive.
“We offer strategic planning around brand and then whatever channels or avenues are needed to execute the plan,” she said. “We are not unaware of the sacrifices we are making, but we both really believe that you work hard when you are young so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor when you are older.”
Earning a degree online has been a great experience for Walker, who now knows it is important to understand how much work is required in the program before enrolling.
“If you know you don’t work well in unsupervised spaces or with little accountability, you might struggle,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing. It says something about the quality of the school. If it were a cakewalk, anybody could do it. Then, there would be no value in the degree.
“You also have to communicate with your instructors. Most of them are very reachable. There was a class I really struggled in, and I emailed my instructor at 1:30 in the morning. She responded immediately.”
Walker will complete the bachelor’s degree program at the end of Summer 2019, but she will have to wait until December to participate in a commencement ceremony. It will be her first time in Arkansas.
“The most exciting part is for my kids to see us actually practice what we preach when we tell them to do their homework,” she said. “We are a family that believes in education and everybody studying together. Especially for my daughter — I want her to see that, as a woman, she can have a family, grow with her husband and still be a boss.”
Walker is thrilled she never gave up on earning a college degree. With the end almost in sight, she has no doubt that completing the program will have been worth the wait.
“I have been very fortunate to have gotten as far as I did without having a degree,” she said. “The skills are there, but people will pay you less if they can’t get around the fact that you don’t have a degree. It makes it difficult. I jumped on the online opportunity at Arkansas State University.”