Every student has had those professors who read off the Powerpoint slides and expect arduous note taking in return. Occasionally, however, students encounter someone like marketing professor Donna Wertalik.
Alison Serota, a senior marketing major, has experienced two of Wertalik’s classes and has grown accustomed to the energy she brings to the classroom.
“Once you meet her, you feel, hear and see her passion for her students and for marketing,” Serota said.
Wertalik’s unmistakable passion is only enhanced by her beaming smile and her energetic voice. However, this strong, confident character did not always have this devout passion for marketing.
Wertalik said she originally entered Fairleigh Dickinson University, located in New Jersey, with aspirations of practicing law. However, during her sophomore year she discovered a newfound interest in marketing.
“I had a phenomenal (marketing) professor who was very real-world and made it fun,” Wertalik said. “It really made me want to understand the subject so much more.”
After graduating with a marketing degree, Wertalik entered the professional field where she worked for a variety of different companies, including big corporations like Nestle, PACE and Ogilvy.
Throughout her illustrious career, one of the key things that allowed Wertalik to build upon her strong passion for marketing was the presence of strong mentors.
“One mentor I had… every time he would introduce me, he wouldn’t say, ‘This is my assistant;’ he said, ‘This is my colleague,’” Wertalik said. “That right away put us on the same platform. It was a rite of passage that he provided for me in coming into my own.”
Having been profoundly impacted by these strong mentors, Wertalik attempted to take on this role of mentorship when she became more experienced in the field.
“I always mentored younger employees throughout my career,” Wertalik said. “I always tried to do my best because that was what was done for me. My main mentors always wanted to help me.”
Wertalik explained that her determination to help younger employees stemmed from one of her core philosophies, which she currently attempts to implement with her students.
“My philosophy on life is pay it forward,” Wertalik said. “Just do it for someone else one day because somebody else will be there and they will need that. Sometimes it feels better to give than receive.”
Though Wertalik’s illustrious marketing career took her to various places, it was actually her husband’s career as a glassblower that brought her unexpectedly to Virginia Tech.
“I always joke that I will write a book called ‘From Brooklyn to Blacksburg and everywhere in between,’” Wertalik said.
While Blacksburg was an unlikely destination for Wertalik, she made the most of the change by starting her own marketing business.
In 2005 Wertalik, along with business partner Deb Roberts, founded Speak Advertising, an independent advertising agency.
“Our tagline was ‘a voice for every brand – why advertise when you can speak?’” Wertalik said.
It is this core principle of branding that Wertalik uses with her students today, helping them to identify their unique characteristics as students and selling them to employers.
“Whether it is a brand or person, it is about understanding how much power (they) have inside of them and unleashing that power,” Wertalik said.
In 2008, Wertalik separated from her business partner and the company became solely under her control, changing its name to Speak Marketing.
As Wertalik has been teaching at the university since 2006, she has dialed down her personal business, focusing more on philanthropy projects and core branding for schools and non-profits.
With less demand from her business, Wertalik freed herself up to commit fully to her students, vying to help them find their unique calling.
“I enjoy helping (my students) find their spark – what they want to do in life,” Wertalik said. “You see the fire, and we have had those moments where you see their eyes light up because I know their potential and know they will do well.”
Wertalik has helped many students, including Serota, to find this spark.
“She is so passionate about helping her students find their passions,” Serota said. “It is nice to know that there is someone who is willing to put in that time.”