Professor uses industry ties to prepare students for success
Dr. Laurel Cook, a new addition to B&E’s Department of Marketing, is a risk taker receptive to change.
For example, when she dines out on travel she asks the waiter to surprise her. She’s discovered some of her favorite dishes that way. Her acceptance of the uncertain is apparent when you look at her employment history. After nearly seven years, Cook left a cushy job as a brand manager at Black and Decker to pursue a Ph.D. in marketing.
“A (former) professor encouraged me to return to academia after I completed my master’s degree. Like other first-generation graduate students, I had no idea what a Ph.D. entailed. However, this professor gave me the opportunity to participate in a research project and to teach a variety of marketing classes. I fell in love! I could easily see the value this career path afforded,” she recalled.
She took a leap of faith and began the Ph.D. program at the University of Arkansas Sam Walton College of Business. While Cook knew she enjoyed the creativity and change inherent in the field of marketing, she discovered that she also thoroughly enjoyed marketing research and the fact that it enabled her to be on the forefront of the industry.
“In marketing, a lot of what you do is reactionary. (What you discover) in research may not translate to industry until years later. But my experience as a brand manager keeps me grounded. Everything I do in my research needs to have broad appeal and relevance to the discipline,” she said.
Dr. Cook’s research focuses on topics like collaborative product development, consumer well-being and corporate social responsibility. She has gravitated toward these areas thanks to her continued contact with her business network, including Black & Decker and its suppliers. Staying engaged with the industry keeps her updated on issues marketers are facing — both good and bad. Maintaining these relationships has also influenced the way she educates.
“I always ask (my network), ‘Why would you want to hire my students?’ I take that information to make my students more marketable,” she said.
For example, through a conversation with a friend at B&D, Cook realized that many new hires were unfamiliar with the use of social media for professional purposes.
“I recognized that if employers expect marketing students to have an understanding of social media for business, it needs to be taught. So I integrate social media techniques and analyses into most of my courses,” she explained.
She’s had fun teaching these concepts to her buyer behavior class this semester. Two of her students, Deonna Gandy and Chris Hickey, were the masterminds behind the #RespectfulMountaineer campaign, which allowed tweeters to showcase what they love about WVU and Morgantown. Although they did this independently, not for class, it caused a great idea to pop into Dr. Cook’s head.
“I completely revamped the group semester project for each team to launch their own social media campaign where they use buyer behavior concepts to produce and promote a Twitter hashtag with measureable outcomes,” she said. “It’s an important experience for all of them because they’re going to have to use (social media) for the firms they work for one day.”
Dr. Cook’s teaching goal is to produce a superior product: her students. She encourages a culture of aspiring business men and women who see beyond their classroom grades to make themselves marketable products for firms and society at large.Outside of academia, Dr. Cook enjoys spending time with her family, geocaching (an outdoor activity that uses GPS to navigate participants to hide-and-seek containers called “caches”), and following the Boston Red Sox.