A service mentality

Marketing professor Katie Essing discovered her love for retail as a Mizzou freshman in 1992. Now, she’s cultivating that same passion among her students — using innovative teaching methods and a service-oriented approach.

  • Katie Essing teaching
    Katie Essing, assistant teaching professor in the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business, checks in with a student in her digital marketing class before it begins. Essing often chooses to play cheerful music ahead of teaching to encourage excitement for the approaching lesson.

April 24, 2024
Contact: Deidra Ashley, ashleyde@missouri.edu

If you walk into Cornell Hall on the University of Missouri campus around 2 p.m. on a Monday, chances are you’ll hear the faint sound of music emerging from a classroom on the second floor. And if you follow that melodious trail, you’ll likely end up in assistant teaching professor Katie Essing’s digital marketing class.

Essing’s personality is as upbeat as the music she plays — and both are intentionally curated to help students succeed.

“I got the idea of playing music from working in retail as a way to cue how students go through class,” Essing said. “I play lively music as they enter the classroom and calming, lo-fi music when it’s time to focus on class work. Students on a campus are similar to customers in a store, and it’s important to communicate with them quickly and be courteous and polite. That's how you are in the retail environment, and I think students deserve that same courtesy and professionalism.”

Essing’s attitude of service has history. The Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business graduate said she’s always felt a calling to give back to Mizzou, especially after being named a Walton Scholar during her time as a student.

After graduating from Mizzou, Essing became a retail buyer in St. Louis and then spent 12 years in mall management. Essing began teaching retail marketing as an adjunct in 2003. Essing also held a position as the executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District. She began teaching at the university full time in 2020. Since then, she’s made it her mission to bring that same passion for retail to her teaching and beyond.

“The Walton scholarship was life-changing,” she said. “It helped me afford college and sparked my interest in retail. It also made me want to support future Tigers, just like I was supported. I’m so glad to be back at Mizzou doing just that.”

Embodying experiential learning

In her retail and digital marketing courses, Essing recognizes the importance of the intersection between hands-on learning opportunities and practical course material. She implements a flipped classroom model where students can construct their learning based on a menu of options including lectures, textbook readings and study guides. In class, students participate in activities and apply the lessons they’ve learned to real-world scenarios.

“She really goes out of her way to enhance the curriculum,” said Kylie Groh, a junior in Essing’s digital marketing class. “She takes what we're learning and adds projects that give us hands-on experience, which is impressive because it takes a lot of time out of her week to do those extra things. It just shows how committed she is to making sure we're learning.”

One of these learning opportunities traces back to Essing’s retail roots: Students are tasked with solving a real case for Walmart, and they even get the opportunity to collaborate with company leaders to present their solutions. Courtney Cothren, an associate teaching professor who co-teaches retail marketing with Essing, highlighted the significance of joining forces with an international company like Walmart.

“Walmart is one of the biggest companies in the entire world, and so students get more invested and excited about the project knowing that they're solving a real-world case and working with company executives,” Cothren said. “It shows them exactly how the concepts they're learning can apply to their future careers.”

Innovative educator

Essing hasn’t just blended in with the College of Business since she joined six years ago — she’s helped improve it. Thanks to Essing, more students are enrolled in digital marketing courses, a digital marketing certificate has been created and students in the Digital Marketing Club have access to a world-class mentor.

“She's knowledgeable about everything digital marketing, which is helpful because that's what I want to go into and why I came to Mizzou,” said Kelsie Etherton, a business administration student who met Essing while studying abroad in Prague. “She’s enthusiastic, actually cares about my future and wants to help me in any way she can. Katie is always being a cheerleader for everyone in her classes.”

Essing also creates networking opportunities for her students by introducing guest speakers to classes, many of whom are former students and arrive with job and internship opportunities to share. Just as Essing received a scholarship that made her want to give back, her own course alumni have also been inspired to support the next generation of her students — Tigers supporting Tigers at its best.

“It feels good to give back to that next set of leadership,” Essing said. “It's just so rewarding to get to work with students, and it’s really fun to see them now in their careers and back at Mizzou. I am lucky to get to do this.”

Story written by Audrey Brown

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