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Five Online Master’s Graduates Turn Capstone Project into a New Business

By Lenore Devore, B.S. Journalism 1984

When five young women taking a capstone class in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications’ (UFCJC) Online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program were assigned to work together on their final project in spring 2021, they faced their biggest fear – being the one to take on all the work and carry their teammates.

“I hated group projects more than anything; I always did all the work,” said Katie Lyerly, who received her master’s with a concentration in Social Media. “The first time we Zoomed it was really apparent we were all on the same page. It felt like it was a collaboration.”

The five Type A personalities had been through it before. But this time, things were different. Even though they still have not all met, they have found a way to take charge collectively, putting each person’s strengths on display when needed, and supporting one another. And they’ve turned their capstone project into a new business.

La Femme Co. Creative provides a la carte services that include communications, public relations and social media strategy, market research, social media posts, and graphic and website design.

Clockwise from top left: Stephanie Brint, Jasmine Carmichael, Endless Harris, Carly Meyers, Katie Lyerly

Three of the five women received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida: Stephanie Brint, 25, and Jasmine Carmichael, 23, in Telecommunication, and Carly Meyers, 24, in Public Relations. Endless Harris, 25, earned her bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Integrated Media from the private Biola University in California, and Lyerly, 25, received a degree in Psychology from the University of Central Florida.

They found a way to quickly focus on their project, knowing they all wanted to achieve the same goal: To beat their opponent in the class competition. Two teams were pitted against each other to develop a full communications strategy for ExtendaTouch, an online caregiver service.

“We talked about it and addressed the fact we are all Type A personalities and we wanted to make sure our project was the best,” said Brint, who studied Global Strategic Communications for her master’s degree concentration. “It’s emblematic of the way we work together and who we are as individuals.”

Their paths to UF are as distinct as they are. For instance, Harris was studying broadcast journalism to become a reporter. After self-exploration, she realized she wanted to switch career paths. She earned her master’s with a concentration in Social Media while working for Disney, which paid for her education.

Brint received an email from the UF master’s program before she graduated with her bachelor’s degree. It said: “Take this quiz and we’ll match you with a program.” She had an amazing undergrad experience, she said. Brint attended UF with the original dream of becoming a reporter but switched to Telecommunication as a freshman to study TV production. She switched again to receive her degree in Advertising.

Lyerly planned to become a therapist, but figured out it was not a fit for her. She said she felt “incredibly lost” after graduation, so she moved to New Zealand to work for a year. When her visa expired, she returned to the U.S. and Googled every career, stumbling upon marketing and business. That’s when she found the UFCJC online program.

As they came together in their last semester, they knew they would gain invaluable experience. Lyerly said the capstone class “does a good job in giving students an applicable challenge you would see in the normal work day.”

They learned how to work as professionals and how to show the client the direction they wanted him to go. “It prepared us for starting our own business,” Harris said. “We had no idea at the start what would be beyond this project for us. Little challenges came up – we wanted to do this, but the client wants to do this. It puts things in perspective.”

In the end, the client was really impressed as the group delivered more than he expected. They won the competition.

When the women decided to turn their class project into a business, they thought about their roles in the project and came up with their own titles. They pitched their ideas for a name for the company. “It happened organically,” Brint said. “We were the only group of all women. Our name exemplifies we are a team of awesome ladies who do a great job. It’s feminine, but powerful and impactful.”

They officially started the company right after spring graduation but didn’t launch it until early December 2021. “All of the more interesting and fun and exciting parts we learned in our capstone: our branding, our voice, how we work together,” Lyerly said. Since then: “I feel like we’ve learned a lot about taxes, filing for business licenses, how to talk to lawyers – less exciting but very essential stuff.”

The women rotate weekly being the company’s administrator, taking care of emails and the like. They meet twice a week via Zoom. Some have met others, but they’ve never all been in the same room – or state – at the same time. Harris lives in California, the other four in Florida.

They have one client who is “pretty consistent,” they said, and a few others who are trying to figure out what they need.

All five women have full-time jobs in addition to La Femme Co. Creative, so their first goal is moving to the next level – hiring their first employee, outsourcing work and eventually working at the company full time.

They credit Kara Page, who teaches the Social Media capstone class and Advertising and Social Media course, and Brianne Fleming, who teaches Advertising and Social Media and Branding Using Social and Mobile Media, with giving them advice on starting their own business and supporting them.

“The relationship we’ve been able to form with the two of them, individually and as a group, has been the most comforting thing,” Brint said. “They spent a lot of time with us, talking to us about things like setting prices, knowing our value and our worth.”

The women have different takeaways from their time in the master’s program.

Carmichael, who earned a master’s in Social Media, said Fleming taught her how to brand herself. “I really struggled with branding myself because I couldn’t find a way to create a professional brand for myself without sacrificing who I am. Brianne taught me that you don’t have to fit a cookie-cutter mold to be a respected professional brand online. The best professional brands are unique and passionate about their interests and what they do. If you have that, you’ll be able to find an audience who can appreciate that and will support you.”

She and Meyers said UF professors taught students how to network.

“The practice I had networking with guest speakers, other students, professors and professionals in my intended field while at UF has prepared me more than I could imagine to network to promote our business and gain clientele,” Carmichael said.

Meyers, who also earned her master’s in Social Media, narrowed it even further. Several professors taught her that “your greatest career connections are your peers sitting amongst you in class. I’ve seen my classmates do great things in such a short amount of time, and I knew these women would be no different. What one of us can do alone is amazing, but when we combine our forces and skill sets, the opportunities become endless.”

She’s grateful for the “gift” UF has provided her – communications skills.

“This can be applied to every situation, conversation or opportunity in our lifetime,” Meyers said. “Now, we want to offer that knowledge to our clients to empower their brands through strategic communications.”

Posted: December 21, 2021
Category: Alumni News, Alumni Profiles, College News
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