Category Archives: Marketing

EPIC Spotlight: Dr. Robin L. Soster

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Robin Soster is getting used to the ribbing when people step inside her office. On the wall is a Gamecocks banner from her alma mater, the University of South Carolina.

“That’s probably my favorite thing: when people come in my office and ask me where I’m from,” she says.

Newly transplanted from South Carolina, where she has spent most of her life, the Department of Marketing assistant professor says she’s already warming up to the Gamecocks’ rival, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Also on her office wall is one of many famous hog hats worn by diehard Arkansas sports fans. Because both the Gamecocks and Razorbacks are Southeast Conference teams, she says this helps her feel like she’s not so far from her hometown. In fact, until her job interview at the University of Arkansas, she had never stepped foot in the Natural State.

There have been Arkansas connections, however. Midway through graduate school at the University of South Carolina while pursuing her marketing MBA, she found herself working for Gamecocks football Coach Lou Holtz, who once coached the Razorbacks. Through her alma mater’s FABER Entrepreneurship Center, she helped design the team’s promotional hats and T-shirts.

Soster, who teaches consumer behavior, says her academic journey into marketing stemmed from a question she asks herself when she goes shopping: Why am I buying this? Though she earned bachelor of science degrees in both management science and economics, she says the behavioral aspect intrigued her. “Marketing was just the natural fit for me,” she says.

Her ability to “practice” consumer behavior was one of the many aspects that attracted her to Northwest Arkansas. Up the road in Benton County are plenty of shopping centers and stores. She says her husband, Eric Soster, and three children love the “cool” and “funky” side of Fayetteville and get out and enjoy the Ozarks as much as possible.

Soster’s journey to academia was a winding one. Before deciding to go back to the University of South Carolina to pursue her Ph.D., she was a marketing and financial analyst for a private equity firm, worked as a computer programmer and even toyed with becoming a high school teacher until she had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. Once “bitten by the teaching bug,” she decided to go back to school, completing her degree in 2011.

As one the newest faces at Sam M. Walton College of Business, Soster says she hopes she can leave a lasting impression with her consumer behavior students. She says she challenges them to make rational decisions in the marketplace and to be the kind of managers that enable other consumers to do so as well. She says she tries to convey this message through humor (on her non-teaching days, she can be found in her office wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt) and assigning her students books business professionals are reading.

“People like seeing how irrational we humans can be,” she says. “We do not necessarily think like economists!”

EPIC Spotlight: Ben Rector

“I've just been really fortunate to do something that I love.”
“I’ve just been really fortunate to do something that I love.”

A lot has happened since Ben Rector performed concerts downstairs from the cafeteria of the Pomfret Hall dormitory. As an undergraduate, Rector was juggling two worlds: that as a marketing student at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and the other as an up-and-coming musician with weekend gigs.

“I tried to stack all my classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and leave Thursday night or Friday morning,” he says. “That was an interesting double life.”

In between hitting the books, Rector was always finding ways to make some pocket change through performing, and even managed to release a music album his freshman year. In 2006, he won the grand prize in the pop category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for his song “Conversation.”

By his senior year, the singer-songwriter whose diverse music talent ranges from folk to pop had released three full-length albums, performed about 200 gigs and was engaged to be married. He also made another big decision about life after graduation: moving to “Music City U.S.A.” – also known as Nashville, Tenn.

That was in 2010. Rector and his wife, University of Arkansas graduate Hillary Swanton Rector, have since watched his career flourish. His 2011 album, “Something Like This,” peaked at No. 15 on Billboard magazine’s Top Rock Albums and fared even better at No. 11 in each category for the magazine’s Top Digital Albums and Independent Albums. His music has been featured on television shows from “ESPN SportsCenter” to ABC’s “Modern Family.”

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In high school, Rector filled much of his time writing songs, playing the guitar and singing. “It felt really natural for me, and it was something I really enjoyed,” he says. But there was the matter of college. His older sister had attended the University of Arkansas, which wasn’t far from his Tulsa, Okla., home. He says he already liked Fayetteville from visiting here. When the university offered him a scholarship, it was hard to refuse, he says.

As for a major, he decided marketing would provide a good foundation to just about any career he pursued. When it was apparent that having a music career was essentially launching a business, he began applying things he learned from his business classes. Now, Rector says he plays an active role in finding new and creative ways to market his songs and concerts. “Obviously, the huge part of making music is, hopefully, that people will know you are making music and want to buy it or want to come to shows,” he says. He says he found good mentors in Dr. Molly Rapert, marketing associate professor who already knew his sister, and Mark Risk, a real estate instructor with the finance department who encouraged Rector with his aspirations in music. Rector, in fact, did a commercial real estate internship in Dallas as a student. “I spent a lot of time at the W-C-O-B,” he says.

After a tour this spring, there’s no time for rest. Rector says he’ll release a new album followed by another tour, possibly in the fall at the earliest. And he doesn’t mind at all. “Things have grown quicker than I thought they would,” he says. “I’ve just been really fortunate to do something that I love.”

(Posted May 2013)

EPIC Spotlight: Anastasia Thyroff

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As students find their seats, Anastasia Thyroff’s classroom is often filled with music. The songs, which she broadcasts through the classroom computer, can be something she’s heard while on her travels or something that reflects a personal aspect about her.

During the week of the Super Bowl, she played songs that were featured in commercials for the televised event. It got conversations going.

“There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than a class where the students look zoned out or bored out of their minds,” Anastasia says.

Her teaching and enthusiasm are two of many reasons the Sam M. Walton College of Business bestowed her with the 2012 Outstanding Graduate Student Award.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how grateful I am for this award,” she says. “It makes me very appreciative for all of the teachers who have inspired me and help guide me down the path of academia.”

As part of the nomination process, Anastasia had to compile a portfolio of her accomplishments for the selection committee.

“Sometimes, as Ph.D. students, we’re just going and going and going. It was nice having an excuse to stop and reflect,” she says.

In her third year at the Walton College, Anastasia is pursuing a doctorate with a concentration in marketing. She also teaches Integrated Marketing Communication.

Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Anastasia always planned on being a teacher. When she signed up for a business class in high school, her plans took a detour.

“I fell head over heels for marketing,” she says. “I just ‘got’ marketing.” Her classmates also noticed, she says. When they did a virtual enterprise project, all of the “companies” tried to get her to be their director.

Others were taking notice as well.

“My business teachers, they knew I’d end up in marketing,” she says.

As for finding a university, Anastasia says she was growing tired of Rochester’s cold winters, which can include large amounts of lake-effect snow courtesy of Lake Ontario. She says she found a warmer alternative in South Carolina when she enrolled at Clemson University. While there, she took a marketing research class and, again, her focus was being refined. Anastasia says when a professor suggested she pursue a Ph.D., she realized her childhood dream of becoming a teacher could be fulfilled while being involved with both marketing and research.

“It’s just a win-win-win,” she says.

After earning her bachelor of science degree in marketing, she continued her education at the University of Georgia where she earned a master’s degree in marketing research. When it came time to select her final phase of her education, she says there were a couple of offers from universities. But when she visited the University of Arkansas, she sensed something special.

“It just immediately felt like home,” she says. “The marketing department was no different. You could just tell there’s this nice, friendly camaraderie.”

There’s also plenty of room for research. Anastasia is currently exploring how nanotechnology is being legitimized – or not – in our everyday lives.

Anastasia says when she needs to take a break, she’ll grab her dog Belle, a soft coat wheaten terrier, and go for a run.

“I rescued her two months ago, and she’s the love of my life,” she says.

Then, it’s back to the classroom, playing music for her students and engaging them in discussion.

EPIC Spotlight: Alice McMillan

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Alice McMillan is determined to make the most out of her time at the University of Arkansas. The Kansas City native is a junior in the Sam M. Walton College of Business and is pursuing a degree in marketing with a minor in Spanish. In addition to her studies, McMillan participates in several programs and organizations on campus.

A number of factors contributed to her decision to attend the University of Arkansas. “I was looking for an opportunity to get out of [Missouri]. I wanted to experience something that I hadn’t gotten the chance to experience before. This school is one of the most affordable and the best deal at the same time,” McMillan said. She received the Silas Hunt scholarship, which not only helps pay for tuition and fees, but also waives her out-of-state tuition. “Also, the culture down here was nice. It was really friendly and I liked the vibe I got when I came for a campus visit. It’s a big school; but at the same time, it’s very intimate. I like that,” she said. “I also knew how good the Walton College was. It’s ranked very high and is one of the top business schools, and that’s what I was really interested in.” McMillan said she shares many of the qualities that tend to define business majors. “It’s just how my brain works. I’m really competitive, innovative, and a perfectionist—a kind of type A personality, which is stereotypically what a lot of business students are,” she said.

The summer before McMillan’s freshman year, she had a municipal finance internship in Kansas City. “The biggest project was the city’s annual comprehensive financial report. I worked with the head financial officer. I also worked with some auditors and was responsible for clerical stuff.” She said the benefits of this experience were clear from the beginning. “It showed me what I could do with my degree and how some of the different majors can relate to one another. It also showed me a lot about how things work after college—basically, how adults operate.”

When she isn’t in class, McMillan is taking part in extracurricular activities. One of her favorite programs is the Spring International Conversation Partners Program. “I get to basically teach English to our international students and welcome them when they get here,” she said. “I’ve worked with people from Japan, Brazil, Korea and all kinds of different places. If they have a test or presentation, I’ll help them study or I’ll listen to them and help them with their presentation skills. My job also is to get them acclimated to the campus and America in general.”

She also mentors new business students through the Freshmen Business Connections program. “Every FBC teacher has a student assistant and my job is to facilitate discussion for them. We talk about issues that freshmen face and also how to be successful in the business school. I helped with advising and was also responsible for planning FBC’s social functions for the year,” she said.

As a Connections mentor, McMillan helps underrepresented or minority students understand and deal with the issues they face that may not have been addressed at new student orientation.

McMillan is a Silas Hunt mentor and member of the National Association of Black Accountants. She also participates in the Center for Retailing Excellence mentoring program and is mentored by Saatchi and Saatchi X. She was chosen to take part in the Razorback Sports Marketing Internship Program in summer 2010 and the 2010-2011 school year. She will also begin working with SAKE in the fall and said she is really looking forward to the experience.

McMillan’s activities are not contained to the University of Arkansas campus. In fact, some of them take place thousands of miles from Fayetteville. In 2009, McMillan attended the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama with a select group of students; and, in summer 2010, she will be travelling to Africa on the African American Studies department’s inaugural trip to Ghana. “I chose this program because [professors] approached me about it and told me they wanted me to come and be in it. Also, it’s my motherland. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go where you originated from. I had several trips I was choosing from, like Italy and Mexico, but I figured I would have an easier time getting back to those places than getting to Africa.” McMillan said she is very excited for this travel opportunity.

She’s enjoying the present, but she’s still making plans for the future. If McMillan could have her dream job, she would work in international marketing. “I know it’ll take me a while to get to it, but I’d like to do product development and market research in another country. I’d like to utilize my Spanish [minor] somewhere like Costa Rica or Guatemala and do research or have a product there.”

McMillan said more education is likely in her future. “I think I want to go to graduate school-maybe stay at the Walton College for a fifth year and get my MBA, and then go out and look for a job.”