Business and Entrepreneurship Faculty Member Inspires Students to Redefine Marketing, Become Creative Change Agents
Jennifer Elaine Sadler, Assistant Professor of Marketing and Program Coordinator in Business and Entrepreneurship, has always had a fundamental curiosity about human behavior. As a child she was passionate about film and media and as a college student, she led marketing efforts for her school’s student government. She believes these may have been some of the things that really sparked her interest in marketing. Sadler has since worked as the marketing lead for an RV company, as a brand coordinator for a mega church, and as a digital strategist for a large media company. Now she owns her own marketing firm and has been teaching marketing, branding, and digital media strategy at Columbia College Chicago since 2018. She tells us how these experiences and her research as a critical race scholar help inform her teaching practice.
When did you first become interested in marketing?
I’ve always had a fundamental curiosity in human behavior. I’m interested in why we do the things we do, especially as it relates to purchasing and interacting with media. You could say it was leading the marketing efforts for student government in college or maybe a childhood film and media passion that sparked my interest. Most of my early career jobs included some element of marketing, but it was becoming a manager at 25 and being responsible for all marketing materials on platforms I never worked with that really challenged me to see what I was capable of.
What is your experience in the field? How do you bring your experiences into the classroom?
My expertise has really developed alongside teaching students, which is the benefit of doing academic research on the tenure-track. I have held roles as a marketing manager for an RV company, a branding coordinator for a mega church, a digital strategist for the largest media company in the Mid-South and as an owner of my own firm. Today, my firm hires former students to give them a bridge from college to career. I’ve been determined to treat my upper division courses like the training ground for their first professional positions. Ideally, when a student leaves my class, they will be further ahead than other applicants by way of practical knowledge and application. Students are certified in a number of digital tools by the close of the semester. I also bring my research as a critical race scholar into the classroom. Students learn about the structure of marketing and how it can be used to reinforce white supremacy.
I design projects that allow them to explore Chicago communities and reflect on their own agency in a marketing career. That is what I’m most proud of because I know it’ll really effect change. When tasked with a huge endeavor like profiling Chicago neighborhoods and applying critical race theory, students take it as an opportunity to dig deeper. The project scope allows them to research how the planning process for marketing strategies in defined communities may reinforce systemic racism. Students use their own experience as creative change agents to redefine marketing practices towards more inclusive strategies. I’m proud of how it reflects my goal in teaching and their growth in the classroom. It also highlights our overall commitment in the program to focus on marketing for creatives, a distinction that sets us apart from most institutions and truly prepares students for the diverse landscape of the industry today.
Why did you choose Columbia College Chicago?
Columbia is incredibly unique. I tell students often that you don’t always find a college as diverse as ours with scholars who truly get how to be agents of change. Students here are bold, intelligent, fierce, and strong. They think creatively about solving big problems and that in itself is an inspiration.
What is the greatest challenge of working in marketing today? How have you approached overcoming that challenge?
Marketing changes every single day. You may be ready to develop a brand on an emerging platform and have to scale back because of new government regulations. Staying abreast of changes is a daunting task. I haven’t completely figured it out yet, but my approach is to stay hungry for information. We could always use more hours in the day.
Can you tell me about past projects you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of my research. It’s unapologetically focused on Blackness in media and marketing strategy, which allows me to write to the tune of Kanye’s “College Dropout” and “Graduation” albums. I get to tell stories that are important to me and feel like I’m authoring part of the future of this industry. In the classroom, I’m most proud of student projects. They are the substance of a list of expectations and creative infusion. Students truly weave their personalities into each project. Profiling Chicago neighborhoods and applying critical race theory to media is a huge task for an Intro class, but students take it as an opportunity to dig deeper. I’m proud of how it reflects my goal in teaching and their growth in the classroom.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
I’m always attempting new projects, but it all depends on if I have the time. I do a podcast called “Uhuru Talks” that focuses on Black marketing professionals and commentary on the field from a melanin-infused lens. I’m writing feverishly and working on so many committees in the college to advance advocacy for various groups.
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing marketing as a career?
Definitely get to know your professors. Ask them for advice and connections. Utilize the career center to find internships and continue to learn something new every day about the field. Explore the new apps, social media channels, and technology available that can drive a message home for an audience. My biggest advice is to network. Find professionals and ask them to meet with you so that you can learn from them. They will help you, trust me.
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