Chloe O’Neill remembers the long nights. The hours huddled in the corner of a homeless shelter. The sole lightbulb overhead, illuminating textbooks and notepads, as dozens of women sleep nearby.
Some scream in the middle of the night. Others have meltdowns. O’Neill keeps studying – because no matter what, the homework has to get done. She’s graduating on time.
“It was all very difficult,” said O’Neill, who last year advanced from Spokane Falls Community College with an Associate of Science degree in digital marketing. “But I feel like it went well. I was really focused on what I was doing.”
Today, O’Neill’s life has much less strife. No longer battling bouts of homelessness, she now works at Genesis Marketing, a full-service advertising agency in Spokane.
With the skill she picked up at SFCC – such as keyword researching, social media optimization, photography, video and more – she’s now in charge of editing videos, making graphics and ensuring search engines see their content above all else.
She was hired straight away after interning for the company. Before then, like many students, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do – but then she met a counselor who changed it all.
“She explained to me about digital marketing,” O’Neill said. “She was talking about how it’s all social media based, and it’s all online and you’re working with clients. It made really want to go into a career.”
Donna Evenson, an instructor in the program, said the area of study as it exists today began around 2017, just as more local digital marketing firms began cropping up in Eastern Washington.
The program has two options: a two-year associate degree – like the one O’Neill got – or a one-year certificate program which gives students the options to pursue the two-year degree if they’d prefer to learn more.
“We built on what would be good skills for someone to go out on their own, or join a firm, or work for a smaller business,” “Evenson said. “The students can go into a small business and be a huge help to someone who knows nothing about it.”
Evenson said she also gets regular requests for interns at larger companies in the Inland Northwest with positions overseen by a digital marketing specialist director.
“It’s nice to be part of that circle as well,” she said.
And while many students go into the program straight out of high schools, others return to college after years or decades working in the industry to brush up on theirs kills or learn new ones entirely.
That was the case for Jessica Hinnen, who for many years did marketing work for a wellness company. After starting classes at the Falls campus for nursing, she quickly discovered the marketing degree and the new skills she could learn.
“I got really excited about it,” said Hinnen, who one day plans to open a bakery and put her marketing – and baking – chops to the test. “All of these skills I’m learning will be a really big asset.
For O’Neill, maybe that’s an option a few tens of years from now. At the moment, she’s perfectly content – and happy – making and curating content for a diverse group of clients.
After all – if it didn’t feel worth it, those late nights might be a regret. Instead, they’re a badge of honor. Proof of the pudding.
“I feel like this is really what I want,” O’Neill said. “It’s where I fit in. I really fit into this degree, this program, this career.”