How Vanderbilt Owen Got Marketing Down To A Science

Vanderbilt’s Management Hall, Home to the Owen Graduate School of Management

“In the age of the Internet, marketing has become a science of speed and precision,” Forbes declared a decade ago. Over the ensuing 10 years, advances in consumer analytics technology have made marketing more data-driven and technical than ever, and business schools are constantly updating their curricula to provide students with the skills they need to succeed in the modern business landscape.

Marketing students at the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management were already taking courses focused on the STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — side of marketing. Now, two Owen programs have the certification to prove it, and students will get to reap the benefits.

Starting this fall, MBA students seeking a STEM degree at the Owen School have the option to pursue a new MBA concentration called “Consumer Psychology and Marketing Analytics.” Meanwhile, the school’s entire Master of Marketing is now STEM-certified, as well.


Vanderbilt Owen’s Jennifer Escalas: STEM certification is “a signal to future employers that our students have the skill set necessary to be a successful marketer”

“This new concentration will provide our students with a solid foundation in marketing analytics, as well as a strong understanding of the psychology of their customers,” says Owen marketing professor Jennifer Escalas at the time of the announcement.

Owen appointed Escalas as dean of academic programs in July. Only a few months earlier, she’d begun developing the new concentration after a group of international students expressed their desire for a federally STEM-certified program for MBA students pursuing marketing. International students who graduate with a federally recognized STEM degree can apply for an extra two years of Optional Practical Training, on top of the standard one year, thus remaining in the U.S. longer and improving their chances to secure a visa, explains Sue Oldham, dean of MBA operations at Owen.

With student needs foremost on her mind, Escalas “fast-tracked” the development of a new concentration focused on the math and psychology aspects of marketing so that it would be available to students by the coming school year.


Two MBA concentrations at Owen had received STEM designations in the past three years: Finance in 2019 and Operations and Analytics in 2020. The marketing MBA students who approached Escalas pointed out that a considerable amount of the marketing curriculum involves data analytics, which is math-based.

“People don’t expect that,” Escalas said, “but marketing is also driven by data.” Following the students’ suggestion, Escalas looked into the federal requirements for STEM certification and found that, along with technical and mathematic concepts, the guidelines designated various aspects of psychology as STEM. “We have a Consumer Behavior class that heavily uses psychology concepts, and I think of marketing almost as being applied psychology,” Escalas said.

The Consumer Psychology and Marketing Analytics concentration consists entirely of classes already offered at Owen. “Our curriculum evolves with technological and marketplace advances all the time. So these courses were already in existence,” Escalas said. The new concentration requires students to take all of the marketing classes with the most STEM content in them.


A month before Owen announced the new concentration, the school announced that the Master of Marketing program was now STEM-certified. Escalas explains that this was a byproduct of creating the Consumer Psychology and Marketing Analytics MBA program.

Students in the marketing master’s program were already required to take all of the marketing classes that Escalas used to get the STEM certification approved — “and more.” She says that once the process was complete to get the MBA concentration approved, she realized getting the Master of Marketing degree STEM-certified was a no-brainer: “I sat back and said, ‘Wait a second. We have master’s students here taking the exact same content and more.’ So that was straightforward to get approved because we’d already sort of gone through the process for the exact same curriculum.”

Oldham says while the opportunity for a STEM OPT extension is very valuable for Owen’s international marketing students, they aren’t the only ones who benefit from the STEM designation. “Our domestic students really appreciate the STEM certification to use as a differentiator when they are pursuing their career goals,” she says.

“It’s a signal to future employers that our students have the skill set necessary to be a successful marketer,” Escalas adds.


STEM-certified programs are a draw for applicants, particularly international ones. “The fact that we now have another one of our concentrations that are STEM certified absolutely is getting attention from the international population,” Oldam says. “We had a huge increase in the number of international student applications this year, which is really great to see, especially coming off a year after COVID, when those applications essentially tanked.”

The new program and STEM certifications also show potential applicants that Owen is listening to students and responding to their needs, Oldham says.

“Seeing what’s going on in the market and what students are wanting has really led us to look at our program and our offerings and be like, ‘Are we keeping up with what the market is asking for and what the employers are looking for as well?’” she says, adding, “So much of this is student-driven.”

Learn more about the Vanderbilt Owen Master of Marketing program and the school’s new MBA concentration Consumer Psychology and Marketing Analytics.


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