UM Marketing Degree Leads to Career in Storytelling

Aug. 13, 2019


Meg Dowaliby landed a dream job centered around one of her biggest passions - storytelling. After years of discovery, including multiple colleges and potential career paths, Meg completed her Marketing degree in 2017 at the University of Montana and is now the Social Media Marketing Manager for Master Storyteller, Keynote Speaker & Author, Kindra Hall & her Storytelling Agency, The Steller Collective. Meg was kind enough to answer the following questions for the College of Business to share her story and the ways in which her experience here and beyond has impacted her life.

Is there anything about your upbringing that you think specifically influenced your career trajectory?

I’m not sure if there’s anything about my upbringing that specifically influenced my chosen career trajectory in the marketing and business field. However, at my preschool graduation I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. At the time, the two places I visited most on errands with my mom was the grocery store and the bank. Naturally, I answered that I wanted to “run a grocery store and own a bank.” Obviously, my dreams expanded beyond the leadership roles that I had expressed an interest in at age five, because as the years went on, I started visiting more places beyond the grocery store and the bank. However, the desire to lead has never left me and looking back, I realize that it was there long before I was even aware of it.

I’m the oldest of four girls and growing up, my parents always encouraged play that exercised creativity and imagination. I remember when I was a little older, I would set up a tiny little shop with treasures from all around my house “for sale” and then I had my sister set up her shop with the same kinds of treasures across from mine in our shared bedroom. We’d each set our prices and then use the pennies from our coin purses to “buy” things from one another, each taking turns being the buyer and the seller. Then, when I was in fifth grade, I took a liking to playing “accountant” with my sister. I was in charge (which was a continuing theme) and she would be my assistant and together we’d crunch completely random numbers until we couldn’t any more. But, it was also in fifth grade that I realized I was good at writing. I remember sitting in Mrs. Sproul’s class as we were going over the story arc on the squeaky overhead. We were learning how to execute five-paragraph essays. She was going over a specific part of the process when she pulled my essay out to use as an example. From there, I continued writing and assuming various leadership roles in many clubs and organizations throughout high school, college and in my community.

No matter what, during my entire upbringing, my parents lead by example and taught my sisters and I the value of hard work. They’ve never pushed me or any of my sisters down a specific path, but rather let us decide what each of our futures would look like at any given moment with the reminder that with a little hard work, success can be found in any corner.

What motivated you to pursue a career in marketing? Why did you choose the University of Montana?

When I first began college, I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. But, I took a chemistry class and realized that it might not work out. I first started college at Western Oregon University and after I realized that being in the medical field might not be for me, I began studying International Relations and Communications my sophomore year. I had a passion for traveling and understanding others with a culture and a way of life different from my own. With that, I stuck with my passion for writing and public speaking and decided that an accompanying degree in communications felt right, with the prospect of a career in journalism, broadcasting or politics.

When I got to the end of my second year at Western Oregon University, I was unhappy. I felt stuck and undervalued from a leadership perspective and the programs that I was pursuing were working, but I didn’t feel like they were exactly what I truly wanted to study. I remember the spring morning that I called my parents (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in tears) and I expressed to them how unhappy I was. I felt like I was doing everything right, but I didn’t see my path like the future teachers, police officers and nurses did.

My dad is from Whitefish, Montana and my entire extended paternal family still resides there. At the time, my cousin Emma was going to UM. In the midst of that particularly emotional phone call, my parents suddenly asked me, “Would you want to transfer to UM and go to school with Emma?” At first, I said, “no!” How could I possibly just walk away from everything that I had started, but then a voice in my mind quietly asked, “what is truly holding you back? You’re already considering leaving. Because of that, staying isn’t an option.” I took a few weeks to explore the idea and figure out what my next steps would look like.

Then, one evening I was at a Christina Perri concert. I still hadn’t made my final decision. But, in the middle of her concert she stopped playing music between two of her songs and shared a story about being a waitress in Southern California. She felt stuck and couldn’t see her path. Unexpectedly, a friend was moving up to Portland and invited her to move with her. At first, she wasn’t sure that she could leave, but then she came to the realization that it was either move or continue to feel stuck. Then she said, “if I hadn’t had the courage to move, I wouldn’t have had the courage to focus on my music and I wouldn’t have written this next song, that has forever changed my life. If you’re out there and you’re feeling stuck, know that you’re not alone and you have the power to become unstuck. This one's for you.” It was in the moment that ‘Jar of Hearts’ began to play that I stood there, jaw dropped and suddenly having had made my decision right then and there. For those familiar with ‘The Alchemist’ that was a total omen.

So, I went back to Western Oregon University, wrapped up my second year, enrolled in the Western Undergrad Exchange Program and applied to spend the next year at the University of Montana. It was July of 2014, and I wasn’t enrolled at Western Oregon University and I hadn’t heard if I had been accepted to the University of Montana. When I was finally accepted, I was torn between pursuing either Journalism or International Business. I looked at the coursework and accounting initially scared me away from international business, and I enrolled as a journalism major. However, when I got to UM I went to the business school orientation instead. That fall I ended up in all business classes and when it was time to register for the next semester, I didn’t get my pin on time (it just wasn’t what I was used to), and I instantly tried to figure out how I could get it so that I wasn’t the last person to choose my classes. Luckily, I found out that because I was still officially enrolled as a journalism major, my advisor over there had my pin. I remember walking into Nadia White’s office with all of my registration and major paperwork. At the time I was pursuing a double degree in international business and marketing and journalism. As I laid out all the paperwork in front of her she just looked at me and said, “What are you going to do with all of this? I only ask because I’m the advisor of the Montana Kaimin and our business manager is about to graduate. I have been losing sleep over who will take his place and it seems like you would be the perfect candidate. Would you be interested in applying?” I walked away that day with my registration pin and a notion that it was all meant to be. That next year, I served as the Business Manager of The Montana Kaimin and I fell in love with the business side of journalism, realizing that the reporting side of things was less appealing to me. As I continued on with my marketing classes, I still had Journalism listed as my minor, but then I realized I was holding onto it because I wanted to create - I wanted to write. I found that I could satisfy that need to create and write through marketing and went on to graduate with a degree in solely Business Administration and Marketing.

Having had this time to reflect since completing your degree in 2017, what have you taken away from your experience at the College of Business?

We each walk into the business school with our God-given gifts and talents, whether we realize what those are or not. I didn’t realize what mine were, but my internal compass led me in the right direction.

In my second to last semester, I found myself sitting in Mario Schulzke’s Marketing Analytics class. One day I raised my hand and I asked him a question about putting together a resume. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Meg, you are a writer. Just write. Write about your experiences.” There are moments in your life that serve as mile-markers. For me, that was one of them. There was the me that I was before that moment and person I now know myself to be. I knew I had always liked to write and communicate by carefully stitching words together, but I had never considered myself a “writer.” To hear someone else who I admired, respected and looked-up to, look me dead in the eyes and say my truth directly and out-loud was the moment that everything changed. It felt like coming home.

In short, the business school gave me the gift of incredible professors, turned mentors; classmates, turned lifelong friends and confidants; memories to last a lifetime and my truth.

How did you land a job as Social Media Marketing Manager for Master Storyteller, Keynote Speaker & Author, Kindra Hall and her storytelling agency, The Steller Collective? 

I was laid off from my first career job a year into the game. As the marketing manager at my previous company, I had hired a website conversion copywriter that I had first took note of at Mozcon, a SEO marketing conference, where he was a keynote speaker. We hired him as a contractor and he and I ended up working together. When he heard about my being laid off, he immediately reached out to me expressing how much he enjoyed working for me and that he is more than happy to put my name out to his network and help me out in any way shape or form until I secure my next adventure. Immediately, a past editor for ESPN Magazine reached out to me saying, “I don’t do this often, but anyone that he recommends is someone I recommend.” He began passing along positions that he knew of and thought was a good fit. Then, one day, he shared a position that he hadn’t passed along to me, but one that immediately caught my eye: Social Media Manager for Professional Storyteller and Keynote Speaker, Kindra Hall.

I stayed up the entire night perfecting my application and I hit send just as the sun rose. It was everything I was looking for professionally in my next adventure and it couldn’t have felt like a more perfect fit. At first, I was rejected. They had gotten back to me the very next day saying that they really loved my application, but that there were others who were a better fit for that particular position. “However, if it’s okay with you, we’d like to keep your information on file as we continue to expand in the next couple of months,” they wrote, wrapping up the email.

I didn’t have a couple of months and the idea of working for another company or organization in a couple of months that wasn’t Kindra Hall’s was devastating. I had never felt so drawn to, or had an opportunity resonate with me so deeply. Completely bummed, I reached back out to the former editor of ESPN magazine and shared with him my disappointment and just how much I wanted to work with Kindra. His advice? “It makes me think they have someone in mind that was already in their orbit. Doesn’t mean that you couldn’t work there, just that you might be a better fit somewhere else in the company.”

A few weeks later, while trying to enjoy a family vacation, but completely stressed out and frustrated with other job applications, I got an email. It was from Kindra’s organization, stating that they had made a mistake. They thought they had the right person, but they realized the person they really needed on the job was me. I was over the moon. They asked me if I would be interested in participating in the next round of the application process and I of course replied with a resounding, “YES.”

What do you love most about your job and line of work? 

That it is centered around storytelling, which I believe is the foundation and key to success in any industry. I love that my work contributes to helping people find and tell their stories professionally and personally. I love that my work contributes to inspiring, healing, and empowering people. I also love that I can work from anywhere. It really fosters my creativity and gives me the freedom and flexibility to live life to the fullest and in the way that I want.

What did you love most about being a student at the University of Montana? 

There’s a special kind of magic that exists at the University of Montana. Everyone on campus and in the supporting community truly cares about the students, especially the professors.

I was a transfer student from a school in Oregon and I remember walking into orientation at the business school where I met Klaus Ulhenbruck. He came up to me, likely because I was feeling lost and it probably showed. I told him I was wanting to major in International Business and Marketing. He smiled and said, “I know just who you need to talk to. Follow me.” He personally escorted me to the third floor of the business school (which he didn’t have to do, but that’s the kind of magic I’m talking about) where he personally introduced me to Sherry Liikala.

The moment I met Sherry, everything changed. She sat me down across from her and said, “First of all I want you to promise me that no matter what, when you step into my office you will be honest with me - you won’t sugarcoat anything. This office is a safe space where we can be open and honest with one another about anything and everything (even if it involves an expletive or two). Second, I want you to know that you are in charge. You are the captain of your team here and starting today you get to build that team. If you’ll have me, I’d love to be a part of it.”

It wasn’t long before Jakki Mohr was also a member of my team. When tragedy struck during my second year, Jakki immediately called me from home, to ensure that I was okay, to make sure that I had people around me and that if any other professors gave me grief about late assignments or rescheduling tests, she would take care of it. Other notable people on my team were Nadia White, Mario Schulzke, Elke Govertson, and Dori Gilels.

I truly wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without my “team.” You just don’t get that kind of support anywhere else and that’s what I loved most about being a student at U of M.

What advice do you have for students just beginning to launch their careers?

Don’t let the rat-race of your industry determine the direction of your career. The path you are on is yours, no matter how fast or slow you feel you are moving; no matter how different or off the beaten path it may feel. But remember, you will only feel that you are moving fast or slow or that your path is “different” when your eyes are focused on someone else’s. Stay focused on your own path and stay in your own lane. What is for you will not pass you, but you risk missing it if you’re chasing what is meant for someone else.

Your post-grad years are a weird and beautiful time. All of the sudden you’re thrown into true “adult life” without the safety-net of college. There aren’t any summer or winter breaks. There’s a moment that you’ll have where you realize, “This is the rest of my life,” and it will feel overwhelming. But then there’s another moment you’ll have where you realize that, despite what society and, yes, college left you thinking, your career is not and should not be your whole life. Yes, you should work hard, but you should go out and play even harder. Find the things that spark your interest and make time for them without any rhyme or reason except to enjoy them. Travel far and often. For me, experiencing unknown places far from home and connecting with others who are different than me have taught me lessons that are far more valuable than anything I could have ever learned in a classroom. Take time to see the world through another’s eyes. Get straight on your priorities. No amount of money made is ever worth a moment missed with the people you love. Take time to smell the flowers, sip your coffee slowly, close your eyes and listen to your favorite song on repeat, take a walk without being in a hurry and bask in the small moments that truly make life, life. Above all, if you do nothing else, make an effort to be kind and be present - at work, in your relationships and most importantly, to and with yourself.

The single greatest lesson I ever learned, I learned from Sherry Liikala and it is this: “Your success is determined by how quickly you can assess a situation and reroute.” So, lastly, don’t forget or be shy to ask for help. There are many times and many situations where you will need it - especially when you need to reroute.