Like many of the 1,183 students who graduate May 9 at University of Wisconsin-Stout, Nenagh O’Leary had many stretches when the going got tough.
“No doubt there were times almost every semester where I was overwhelmed and maxed out,” she said.
To say that O’Leary knew how to dig deep to stay on track is putting it mildly, however. O’Leary is graduating not just with one Bachelor of Science degree but with three of them — diplomas in business administration, digital marketing technology, and information and communication technologies.
That’s three times the resume power after a fifth year in school and 167 credits, or about 45 more than what’s typically needed for an undergraduate degree at UW-Stout.
After a small family celebration on commencement day at her family’s home in St. Paul, she is eager to see where her multilevel education will take her. UW-Stout is holding commencement virtually because of the pandemic.
“Having these degrees has broadened the possibilities for me,” she said.
“I see our world changing every day from technology and the information we find online and through social media. With the way things are going I think pursuing degrees in digital marketing technology and ICT has to be one of the one best decisions I have made,” she said.
She sees benefits in all of her degrees.
“I have learned so much (in digital marketing) about analytics, SEO and coding, all of which I truly have an interest in. Business administration has given me insight into all the areas of a business and how they work together to keep a business afloat. And ICT has taught me about the systems a company uses to keep their business afloat. I feel as though the three degrees go hand in hand nicely.
“I can’t wait to see what career field I end up in,” she said, although she acknowledged that her passion at the moment is in digital marketing.
The 2015 graduate of Como Senior High School in St. Paul didn’t come to UW-Stout with any intention of getting three degrees. In fact, she hadn’t picked even one major when she enrolled but soon settled on business administration.
The summer after her sophomore year changed everything. She had a marketing internship at Wagner SprayTech in Plymouth, Minn., which makes paint applicators. She loved it.
Then, she put together a plan to go after the other two degrees.
“Once I got involved in detail marketing, I decided to continue my education into digital marketing technology. Additionally, Wagner had been trying to implement their own SAP (software) system into their company, and I grew interested in their implementation process as well as furthering my education into the information communication technologies program.”
She continued to work for the company remotely during the school years and returned for a second internship in summer 2018.
“I started their Instagram account, and it now has 26,100 followers. I learned so much about the power of marketing online through banner ads, emails, social media and so much more and have built an amazing network through Wagner. I truly enjoyed every second of my internships,” she said.
Then, it was back to the classroom to finish her academic odyssey. She admits to being self-motivated and following her mother’s maxim that “busy people are successful people.”
Kevin W. Tharp, associate professor in the digital marketing technology program, predicts a bright future for O’Leary.
Tharp saw O’Leary nail a presentation at Thomson Reuters in Eagan, Minn., one of the program’s corporate partners. O’Leary did it in a room filled with professionals while improvising when a technical glitch rendered her PowerPoint useless.
“It is a very high intensity environment for a student to volunteer to be a part of. After the first two slides that introduced the presentation, the rest of the presentation was unavailable. She took about 10 seconds to consider her options and then simply announced that she would do the presentation without the information in the slides and proceeded,” Tharp said.
“Nenagh gave one of the most impressive presentations I have ever seen. She demonstrated a mastery of the concepts of the class, how they related to the audit she had done for her partner organization and a set of recommendations for how her partner might address the issues that she had identified in the audit. Honestly, having the technology fail may have been the best thing that could have happened to her because it showed not only that she knew her stuff but that she had the poise to instantly adjust to the situation and give an amazing presentation of extremely complicated content,” Tharp said.
O’Leary eventually accepted a Career Services co-op position with Thomson Reuters, although it later was canceled because of the pandemic.
Hard work coupled with support
Along with Tharp, O’Leary credits professors like Mark Fenton, Kris Isaacson and Evan Sveum “to name a few who continued to root for me and continued to encourage me throughout my programs. There were times when I wanted to throw in the towel, and I’d express my frustrations to a professor. They’d drop everything to help me work through the assignments,” she said.
O’Leary is proud to finish with a 3.0 grade-point average.
Some classes applied to more than one major. Still, she had many semesters with an overload, 18 credits. She also had more than one campus job at times, including as a digital marketing tutor and as a marketing assistant in the office at the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management.
“It filled my schedule to the max, but with a strict schedule I was able to balance everything out perfectly,” she said.
Coming from the Twin Cities metro area, O’Leary soon fell in love with the UW-Stout campus and Menomonie, which has 16,500 residents.
“I have had an amazing time at Stout over the past five years. I made lifelong friends, I have met some of the kindest professors and have earned an amazing education. Moving from the Twin Cities to Menomonie was a change. However, it just felt like home. I would do it all again,” she said.
Kevin W. Tharp