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#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘Being Able to Apply Knowledge is Actually a Pillar of My Life,’ Says Mike Ferrell ’11

Before he earned his bachelor’s degree in technology, engineering, and design education and launched his own creative media company, Mike Ferrell ’11 was a first-year college student with a defunct laptop.

“It wouldn’t run the program that I needed, so I ended up having to drop that class,” said Ferrell. “I broke down. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.'”

What made a difference to Ferrell at that time was the support he received, first from his dad, who convinced him that he would be all right, and then from faculty and staff within NC State’s College of Education, who helped him enroll in a lab-based class where he would have access to working computers. 

“That let me know that it’s all right to ask for help,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell would go on to find success as a College of Education student, and he now runs a company, Ferrell 27 Creative Media, that provides virtual web production, as well as video production, graphic design and other services, for companies such as Nike, Harley Davidson, General Mills and Boeing. It’s a multifaceted role and he attributes his success in it to his multifaceted degree. 

“Let me help you problem-solve using technology — that’s really what I learned,” Ferrell said. “I really got to experiment with all this innovative stuff within that major … I had opportunities to be creative, be visual, because that’s my nature, but then take that and apply it to other things. That’s really where the major took me.”

Ferrell still remembers what it was like to be a struggling first-year student without the technology he needed to achieve his goals. It’s why he joined Beyond the Belltower, a podcast for students enrolled in TRIO Programs at NC State, to discuss the importance of mental health. It’s also why, when he learned of a desire to produce video episodes, he provided the expertise and equipment necessary for them to do so. 

“It was just an opportunity to tap back into the university doing something that I love and using a skill that I started to develop while I was there,” Ferrell said. 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why I Chose Education:

It was important to me. Experiencing things and learning about things and being able to apply knowledge is actually a pillar of my life that I didn’t realize until maybe senior year of high school, freshman year of college. 

As I started doing it more, I realized how prevalent education is across everything. When you go to a new job, no matter what it is, you get onboarded. That’s an educational process. When you are learning a new skill, that’s an educational process, no matter what that skill is. 

I attained a broader view of what education actually is outside of classroom teaching, and I ended up falling in love with it. Because of that, I stayed with it and, as a result, I was able to take that mindset of being open minded and focusing on learning and retention as opposed to just grabbing someone’s attention for a moment. A lot of people think marketing and design is, “Look at me over here.” I’ve got to do that but also say: “Here’s what I want you to learn.” Learning some of that pedagogy, learning some of that psychology behind what makes people remember things, really makes me a better professional at what I do from a creative perspective.

How Education Shaped Me:

The experiential side of education is really what is pivotal to me. I have my dad to thank for that. He was always talking about, you know, “Hey, man, you’ve got to go experience things.” When you experience things, your view on the world changes. And change is a pivotal part of learning.

Then I learned this term when I got into my first job out of NC State — unlearning. I unlearned some of the things that I thought were true or accepted as true. I unlearned some of the orthodoxies that I would go about my day-to-day life with and then relearned or rewired my thinking, which made me even more open to these opportunities. To me, education means open to opportunity. As a person who is now a business owner, I have to be that way.

What I Enjoyed Most About the College of Education:

I like how small it is. I got to know a lot of different people. I had some really good teachers. All the professors in my major, I was very fortunate. They were such cool people and when you talk to them, it seems like you’re just talking to a person. But then you look at their resume and it’s like, “You’ve done a lot.” But they just talk to you like normal people. I felt like they wanted me to be there. 

What Others Should Know About the College of Education:

It is one of the best colleges on the university’s campus – one of the best kept secrets.

There’s so much from a diversity standpoint, in terms of what you can learn. Once you make that decision to go in there and fully immerse yourself in it, you don’t regret it. 

What Inspires Me:

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend of a friend, and he’s a sommelier. We were talking about his experience and some of the things that he’s been through, working in restaurants and designing wine programs and some of his corporate experience on different levels and, once again, education, because he talked about a wine program being an educational experience.

Just like the College of Education professors, it’s like I’m just talking to a friend. And then you hear about what they’ve done and it’s like, you’re brilliant. It was super inspiring just to have that conversation with somebody that I have met before and had fun conversations with to hear about how much they’ve actually accomplished in their lifetime.