Julie Melnik, Class of May 2021
- Division of General Studies
- Gies College of Business
I began my journey at Illinois in the Division of General Studies (DGS). Initially, I was unclear about whether I should pursue a degree in Advertising or Marketing – as they appeared similar to me but were in two separate colleges. DGS provided the opportunity to explore the difference between the two majors and allowed me time to gain hands-on experiences through extracurriculars, so I could be confident in the path I chose. Ultimately, I chose Marketing, with a multi-major in Management, and transferred to the Gies College of Business at the end of my first year.
There was a part of me that always felt a gravitational pull toward Gies Business, and Marketing in particular. I still remember visiting Illinois for a campus tour when I was in high school. I entered the Gies Business Atrium, sat down at a table at the edge to observe, and it just clicked. This was exactly where I needed to be. I loved the open concept of the Atrium, and the way students were collaborating in the space – I felt like I was getting a glimpse at life in the Marketing world.
What really helped in solidifying my major decision – and, ultimately, my career path – was getting involved in extracurricular activities. In my first year, I participated in IlliniThon to raise funds for the Children’s Miracle Network. I was a member of the Public Relations Leadership Team, and posted to social media outlets to promote the fundraiser and 12-hour dance marathon celebrating the children. This position allowed me to gain experience within social media marketing, just one of the many career paths that can stem from a degree in Marketing.
Throughout my studies, I continued to seek out hands-on learning experiences. I served as a brand ambassador on campus for well-known products, such as 5-hour Energy and Pink (a branch of Victoria’s Secret). When the campus went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I explored marketing research during an assistantship with my Consumer Behavior professor. I appreciated the opportunity each role provided me with, as they allowed me to work with brands and topics that I took personal interest in. My ambassadorships, in particular, provided me with the opportunity to build experience in field marketing. I enjoyed creating product awareness, spreading brand messages, and experiencing consumer excitement for these products first-hand.
This brings me to my current role as a Category Insights Analyst with Mark Anthony Brands (the maker of White Claw & Mike’s Hard Lemonade – often referred to colloquially as Mike’s). My time at Mike’s started with an internship search on Handshake during my junior year. I saw a posting for Mike’s Hard Lemonade and once again recognized a well-known product. I applied, and happened to notice that, the very next day, they had a booth at the Gies Business Career Fair I was attending. At the fair, I introduced myself to the company representative – it was incredibly fortunate that she happened to be the leader of the internship program! One thing led to the next, and I received an offer for a fantastic Summer 2020 internship. The timing was complicated, though, as this was early 2020, and the COVID pandemic had recently hit the US. That being said, I was fortunate to be working with a company that believed in the value of internship programs and was willing to transition my internship to be remote. Even with a virtual internship, I was able to accomplish a lot and make an impact on the company in a short time. During my time as a summer intern, I developed a consumer behavior survey to analyze White Claw consumption on-premise (i.e. in bars and restaurants) and assisted in tracking beverage alcohol sales and industry trends affected by the pandemic. I gained valuable knowledge of consumer behavior, third party data research providers, and ultimately, was able to present my findings to the executive leadership team at the end of the summer!
Following my internship, I was offered a full-time position to continue working with the Category Insights Team. I’ve only been on the job for eight months so far, but already feel the impact I am making in this fast-paced, innovative environment. I collaborate and network with professionals across all fields of Marketing, including Brand, Category Insights, Consumer Insights, Social Engagement, to name a few. I continue to evolve my skills as an Analyst, through storytelling with data. In doing so, I’m able to create actionable insights for our sales team to implement with our retailer partners. I have even had the opportunity to present my work to audiences of more than 300 Marketing and Sales professionals across the company! I genuinely feel like my voice and my ideas are heard, and I look forward to continuing to grow my expertise in this field and my influence at Mike’s.
For students at Illinois, I encourage you to be curious and get engaged. Participate in extracurriculars that will allow you to explore your interests. Appreciate the friends you gain along the way – they will be your biggest support system to get you through the college experience. When you begin your future internships or jobs, show colleagues your passion for the role. Reach out across job functions and gain as many perspectives as you can from the many professionals you’ll work with. And, if you are working from a virtual space, continue scheduling virtual coffee chats, happy hours, or one-on-ones to bond with your colleagues.
(Last updated: February 8, 2022)