Here's the short version.

Hello, I’m Kirby (she/her/hers), a communications and media student who walks the line between graphic designer and researcher. Prior to my current life chapter in academia, I’ve been a career adviser, international student adviser, intercultural consultant, adjunct lecturer, language trainer, and high school teacher. When I’m not grading, reading papers, or any of the other typical grad student tasks, it’s likely that you’ll find me out enjoying the prairie, exercising, working on some home design project, browsing a store, baking, cooking, or practicing plating for my next dinner party. 

While I haven't decided what I'd like to do after I finish my doctoral program, ideally, my future job will combine my interests in research, working with people, and creativity. As of now, I'm interested in consumer and design research, but I'm still exploring my options. Stay tuned!*

> CV

Email me at!

The Long Version: Finding My Way Along a Non-linear Path

My journey to academia has been anything but linear; however, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I started life with an abundance of privileges and a loving family who encouraged and fueled my varied interests in art, music, and languages. Studying Latin in high school as a hobby and later, as my university major, led to my degree in Classical studies. While I enjoyed reading the ancient works of Horace and Ovid, I was not sure where to go after I completed my undergraduate program. Making the decision to be adventurous, I worked in South Korea with the U.S. Fulbright program as a high school English teacher. My year in Korea was filled with learning in everyday life; from navigating high school politics to learning how to cook Korean food from a homestay to studying the Korean language, each day brought a new opportunity to learn.

After catching the ‘travel bug’, I moved to Germany for several years in one of the most terrifying and career-defining moves. Without a German work visa and no German language skills, I secured numerous positions including a lecturer position at a business school and a business consultant for private communication agencies. Through my work with CEOs, project directors, and creative leads, I got valuable glimpses into the branding industry and learned about the creative strategy behind brands. As an expatriate, I started to challenge my own preconceived conceptions about the U.S., foreign countries, the romanticization of Western European countries, and frankly, learning about life from an entirely new perspective. I was humbled by many of my experiences as so many acquaintances, clients, and friends shared their stories and lives with me over coffee, cake, and pretzels—of course!

After returning to the U.S., I wanted to find a way to utilize my transferable skills from my time abroad. With my interest in international education, I transitioned into a role at Illinois that my younger self would have never even thought of: an international student adviser. With meticulous training, numerous workshops, and thousands of appointments, I became fluent in federal immigration regulations for international students and scholars. Although it was chaotic and demanding work, it was rewarding to absorb as much I could to help students navigate difficult legal situations. After several years of international advising, I changed roles within the university to help coach engineering students on career preparation. Working in an entirely different area provided yet another perspective on student services and university administration, and I continued to learn!

Throughout my professional life both abroad and at Illinois, I realized that—just as in life—I did not wish for my (formal) learning to end. Fortunately, working for Illinois provided access to higher education, and I was able to take a few courses to “test the waters” (after a prolonged academic hiatus) before applying and getting into a graduate program in advertising. After finishing my thesis, the encouragement from my adviser as, well as other faculty, motivated me to continue my education. As a second year doctoral student studying communications and media, my journey to finding my own path has been complex, non-linear, and at times, unpredictable. While I admire younger students who seem to “naturally know” what their path forward is, I wish I could go back to my younger self (the one without back pain, ha!) and assure Younger Me to keep an open mind and be patient with myself. A sense of adventure, courage, and trust in one’s self can go a long way and get you to where you’re meant to be.


University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)                                                                                                                                                                                                 Doctor of Philosophy in Media & Communications / expected August 2025

Master of Science in Advertising / May 2021                                                                                                                                                                             

University of North Carolina, Greensboro (UNCG)                                                                                                                                                                                           Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies - Latin Language & Literature / May 2011


Advertising, communication, consumer behavior, consumer culture, gender, identity, intersectionality, marketing, qualitative methods, possessions, retail, race, sexual orientation


Adobe InDesign & Illustrator, Canva, Canvas, Compass2G, Handshake, WordPress, basic HTML

Professional Experience

Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising, UIUC (Urbana, IL)                                                                                                                                                                  

Instructor of Record - ADV 284 Consumer Insight / August 2023 - present

  • Prepare and execute weekly lectures to 100+ undergraduates on consumer insight and brand strategy.
  • Facilitate communication and collaboration with teaching assistants for weekly discussion sections to address student learning objectives.
  • Course topics include: Advertising & Insight; Culture, Society, & Trends; Research for Insights; Segmentation & Personas; Objectives & Strategy; Scripts, Habits, & Rituals; Observational Research; Creative Briefs; Concept & Copy-testing; Evaluating & Acting on Insight; Pitching Research & Ideas.

Nike, Inc. (Beaverton, OR)                                                                                                                                                              

Consumer Market Research (CMR) - Global Consumer Insight Graduate Intern / June 2023 - August 2023

  • Conducted research on culture and trends to support the CMR team.
  • Aligned project to CMR objectives by delivering visualization of the process, indicators, and opportunities for Nike.
  • Created slide deck and final report for CMR team to support project initiatives.

Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising, UIUC (Urbana, IL)                                                                                                                                                              

Graphic Designer / February 2022 - present

  • Initiative for Media Education Inquiry and Action Project (IMEDIA): Collaborated with College of Media Technology Services to ensure successful website migration; created IMEDIA website content; designed IMEDIA logo, customized graphics, and marketing collaterals for events and trainings.
  • Institute of Communications Research: Collaborated and coordinated with planning committee to plan and organize a graduate student research conference (March 2023); designed printed and electronic versions of conference program.
  • Political Advertising Literacy Group (PAL): Created and maintain PAL website including customized logo, resources, and imagery.
  • Sandage Symposium: Collaborated with department administration and event coordinators to develop theme, promotional materials, and event program.

Graduate Research Assistant & Strategic Brand Communication Teaching Assistant / June 2021 - May 2023

  • Conduct interdisciplinary research on political advertising, consumer culture, identity, accessibility in advertising.
  • Implement and monitor survey development and data collection with REDCap and Qualtrics.
  • Design stimuli for quantitative and qualitative research projects pertaining to political advertising and accessibility in advertising.
  • Create and execute program grading structure and processes to support online graduate program.
  • Manage and monitor student progress via online learning management system (Canvas, Compass).
  • Provide academic feedback and support to graduate students through weekly assessments.
  • Supervise team of graders to ensure weekly deliverables were completed on time and adhered to instructor expectations and policies.
  • Collaborate with instructors to develop rubrics, grading policies, and facilitate effective feedback strategies.

Engineering Career Services, Grainger College of Engineering, UIUC (Urbana, IL)                                                                                                                                           

Coordinator of Career Advising & Communications / July 2019 - June 2021

  • Advised engineering students on career exploration through individual appointments to provide support throughout their academic careers.
  • Led professional development workshops for students to showcase career resources, employer engagement opportunities, and career readiness.
  • Supervised all internal and external printed and digital communication projects for the office to ensure quality control, relevance, and adherence to department and college branding strategy.
  • Organized and sent weekly newsletters to communicate timely updates to 20,000+ subscribers.
  • Created all marketing collaterals and copy for all external communications using Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, and Canva.

International Student and Scholar Services, Illinois International, UIUC (Urbana, IL)

International Advising Specialist, DSO/ARO / February 2016 - June 2021

  • Advised F-1 and J-1 international students about federal regulations regarding student visas.
  • Processed results of data extractions from university records and U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to authenticate student records.
  • Designed all internal and external reports for the office regarding statistics and program reports.
  • Created marketing materials for office social media channels to disseminate timely information regarding visa regulations, cultural events, and educational opportunities.

Strichpunkt Design (Stuttgart, Germany)

Business English Consultant / September 2014 - July 2015

  • Organized and taught customized courses for CEO, project managers, art directors, and designers to provide support for pitch presentations, professional communication, and intercultural communication.
  • Planned and coordinated simulated exercises for visitor business meetings to offer safe learning environments for presentations, meetings, and cultural exchange.
  • Provided editorial support for pitch presentations, company briefs, and business correspondence.

ESB Business School - Reutlingen University (Reutlingen, Germany) 

Adjunct Lecturer / January 2013 - July 2015

  • Developed English conversation course for academic professionals and staff (4 semesters). 
  • Created and taught original curriculum for Business English II in Master of Science in International Business Development program which focused on strategies for career preparation and international experiences (5 semesters).
  • Designed and taught 30-hour intensive block seminar for presentation skills for Bachelor of Science in International Business program (4 semesters).
  • Taught Business English II for Marketing course as part of the Bachelor of Science in International Business program which focused on applied methods of Business English communication (1 semester).

U.S. Department of State, Fulbright English Teaching Program (Daegu, South Korea)        

High School English Teacher, Sinmyeong High School / July 2011 - July 2012

  • Taught all high school years of English levels ranging from elementary to upper-intermediate to prepare students for university entrance exams.
  • Organized and led an independent club class for advanced English students in order to provide additional English learning opportunities and support for exams and interviews.
  • Provided advising for prospective students targeting university study in English-speaking countries.


Nelson, M. R., & Cook, K. (2023). Assessing Student Knowledge About Disabilities and Filling the Gap: Including Disability and Accessibility Content into the Advertising Classroom. Journal of Advertising Education.

Nelson, M. R., & Cook, K. (2023). Accessibility and Age: Can Legibility Improve Opportunity to Process Advertising?. Journal of Advertising, 1-19.

Conference Presentations

  • “Inclusive Design 2023 - Accessibility in Marketing, Communications and Education.” University of Illinois Web Con 2023 / April 2023
  • “Understanding and Increasing Everyday Persuasion Knowledge about Political Advertising.” American Academy of Advertising conference / March 2023 
  • “Flavors of Fiction: Humorous Incongruencies of the Self-Parody Product.” Institute of Communications Research Graduate Student Conference / March 2023
  • “Scavenger Hoppers & Apex Shoppers: Personification of Consumer Vulnerability in Retail.” Association for Consumer Research conference / October 2022
  • “Consumer ‘Fit’ and Vulnerability: Gender, Sexual Orientation, and the Binary Approach in Retail.” Society of Consumer Psychology conference / March 2022
  • “Career Advising for International Students.” National Association for Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) conference / May 2018

*Photo courtesy of Isabella Pennebaker.

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