Analytics, coding and reporting skillsets increased Sophia Kontra’s confidence

When Sophia Kontra (MS 2023) came to the Daniels College of Business in fall 2022, she was spreading her wings. She left the hum and buzz of New York City and her asset management position at JPMorgan for the Master of Science in Marketing program.

“Attending this program at DU meant I had to step out of my comfort zone and try something new, which, in this case, was moving away from the east coast to Denver. I’m super proud of myself for doing that because I absolutely loved being at DU and at Daniels, where my classes were anywhere from 5-20 students,” she said.

Kontra had attended Penn State, a Big 10 university for her undergraduate marketing degree. The smaller classes at Daniels gave her more opportunities to connect with faculty. After taking Teaching Assistant Professor Cristin Cornell Tarr’s courses in brand management and integrated marketing communications, Tarr invited her to DU’s Kennedy Mountain Campus for a weekend focused on customer experience with a management consulting company. Another highlight for Kontra was presenting a brand audit and marketing plan to a Denver-based health care company.

Internships and assistantships provided a wealth of other opportunities to apply what she was learning in classes to real-world settings. She worked on marketing content and analytics at an internship for the professional network and coworking space TARRA. During her yearlong assistantship at the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC), she worked as a research manager on projects that sharpened her analytics, coding and reporting skills, increasing her confidence that she could tackle research-focused marketing roles after graduation.

At CiBiC, researchers study human behavior, emphasizing market-driven results. The interdisciplinary center exposes students to a variety of research methods. Ali Besharat, chair of the Department of Marketing and co-director of CiBiC, said the center holds high expectations for student assistants in terms of preparation, execution and time commitment.

“Sophia knew what she wanted to do after she graduated, and so she had a mindset to learn and be open-minded about new skillsets that would help her career. I really liked working with her because she was independent, and she delivered. She considered herself as part of the team and was involved in the research process,” Besharat said.

One of the CiBiC projects Kontra worked on with Besharat was a rebranding initiative for DU’s alumni magazine. For the first time in 25 years, the team set out to learn how alumni viewed the magazine, what they liked and what they thought was missing.

“We conducted several focus group sessions with magazine readers, analyzed the results and created a report with suggestions for improvement. Anytime I hit a roadblock in the segmentation or data analysis process, Ali would offer his perspective and guide me in a new direction. His expertise and knowledge within the area of consumer behavior is incredible,” said Kontra. “It was pretty cool being able to apply what I was learning in class to a hands-on project for the university.”

In addition to her studies and work, Kontra served as a graduate student ambassador for two quarters. She answered prospective students’ questions about programs, classes and logistics, helping reduce their stress in finding the right school.

“I had been introduced to an ambassador prior to choosing to attend DU. I remember valuing the time she took to meet with me virtually and answer all my questions. Becoming an ambassador was a full-circle moment,” she said.

Today, Kontra works in marketing and operations at a retail running company. Outdoor sports like road running, hiking and skiing are among her passions. She hopes to work as a technical representative in the athletic industry in the future.

“I’m so grateful for DU for giving me the experiences I’ve had over the past year and for the opportunities that are to come,” Kontra said.