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7 insights from an Ecampus student turned entrepreneur

Hannah Thelen poses in the desert for a professional headshot.

When Hannah Thelen takes on challenges, she does it head on. While earning her business degree online, she started her own business, served in the Air Force and became a mom. Talk about multitasking!

Learn how earning a business degree online from Oregon State can help you launch a business

By Jordan Friedman
Aug. 13, 2021

For Hannah Thelen, completing her business administration bachelor’s degree online with Oregon State University Ecampus marked the beginning of a new professional journey.

Two years into her studies, she decided to start a small business with her husband, an elopement and commercial photography company called The Lens + Co. Thelen also served in the Air Force and became a mom while pursuing her degree online.

Here, she offers seven insights on success as an online student and how earning a business degree contributed to her success in founding a company.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Initially, there were times when Thelen would sweat the small stuff. For instance, she was hard on herself for not immediately mastering certain concepts taught in class.

“I would reach out to professors if I didn’t understand a concept or details of an assignment,” she says. “Most professors are really there to help and want to see you succeed.”

So if you’re struggling in a class, don’t hesitate to reach out.

2. You never know which assignments may help you in the future.

In her business law class, Thelen and her OSU Ecampus classmates had to respond to a discussion prompt about charging customers state taxes if you’re providing a service in one state but delivering the service in another.

“I didn’t think this discussion prompt would ever impact me, but it is something I deal with very frequently,” she says.

Courses on entrepreneurship, managing individual and team performance, managing ethics, business law and accounting all gave her a frame of reference for what to expect as a business owner.

Hannah Thelen celebrates her graduation in a cap, stole and tassel, popping a bottle of sparkling grape juice.

“Every time my life changed, I had to have a school and a degree program that could adapt with me,” says Thelen.

3. Especially online, networking is possible (and essential).

Beyond the knowledge Thelen gained in her classes, networking and interacting with others in her industry was most helpful in starting a business. Her pearl of wisdom: You won’t know if an industry is right for you if you don’t speak to successful professionals in the space.

“Find out what they love and they hate about their jobs,” she says. “Are those things that you are willing to put up with?”

4. When choosing an online degree program, start with your goals.

If you’re hoping to launch a business of your own, take a thorough look at what a degree program entails before enrolling, and check whether the curriculum aligns with your career goals.

When doing her own research, Thelen reflected on her own professional goals. She recognized that to start the career she wanted, she needed a degree. And so she dove into her Oregon State program headfirst.

5. Look for an online program that offers flexibility.

For Thelen, one of the most important aspects of her Ecampus experience was its flexibility. Having been in the military when she enrolled and working shifts around the clock, she needed a program where she could largely work around her own schedule.

“Throughout my degree program at Oregon State, I navigated so many different phases of life,” Thelen says. “Every time my life changed, I had to have a school and a degree program that could adapt with me.”

6. Time management is key.

Her number one tip for time management as an online student: Write everything down and prioritize. When it came to listing out her coursework, Thelen marked the items she considered most urgent and completed those first. She says she worked “smarter, not harder.”

7. Find a support system.

For Thelen, having loved ones who supported her along her journey — especially as she balanced her military experience and parenthood with her education — was key to success.

“I had the support of my friends and family,” she says, “which made it entirely possible for me to jump in headfirst.”

As Thelen worked toward her degree, remembering her motivations for enrolling in her online degree program was key, especially while fitting coursework in around her busy schedule in the military and then as a mom.

“My ‘why’ towards the end of my degree was my daughter,” she says. “I wanted to show her that you can do anything you set your mind to.”


Ready to chase your goals and start a small business? Start with a business administration degree online.

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