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Shannon O'Daniel: A secret star in front of and behind the camera

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Nov. 8, 2013

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Shannon O'Daniel, an educational analyst for faculty services in University Technology Services, at the Coursera studio in Woodruff Library. Emory Photo/Video.

Shannon O'Daniel has been creating virtual magic for Emory for a decade and a half, having just celebrated her 15th anniversary here.  

As educational analyst for faculty services in University Technology Services, O'Daniel is currently on the Coursera team as a producer and editor. She's also been working on implementation and support for the Echo360 initiative.  

Coursera is the educational technology company Emory contracted with in 2012 to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs). Echo360 records video of professors' classroom lectures for 24/7 viewing by students.   

O'Daniel tells Emory Report about her life on both sides of the camera, her famous farmhouse and how she became "Torso Mom":  

You grew up in Kentucky and studied law at the University of Louisville. How did your journey bring you to Atlanta and to Emory?

I grew up in Springfield, Kentucky, population 2,500. It's a geographic anomaly, an hour from everywhere. I love Atlanta, but I'm here by default. I would have moved anywhere.   

I was fairly idealistic when I started law school. I enjoyed it, but law school is a terrific means of disillusionment. By the time I graduated, I was fairly certain I didn't want to practice law.   

After law school, I applied for and did not receive a position as a public defender. I was offered a low-paying job on a web start-up here [in Atlanta] and took a second evening job as a telemarketer. I'm always polite to those poor folks.  

I then took a job as a copywriter for an insurance company and after a few years landed a job at Emory. I worked in the Customer Support Center writing technical articles and HTML.  

What have you learned throughout your varied jobs at Emory? 

The ability to adapt to a changing environment. I've had so many jobs (at Emory) and I think that's why I always love what I'm doing. Every couple of years, it's different. I've been able to reinvent and re-create my career. In the technology environment, if you are not constantly changing, you put yourself at a disadvantage.  

How did you come to work with Coursera?

I got involved in Coursera because I could. My favorite thing about Emory is that I've had the opportunity to apply my talents to new initiatives that come along, like iTunes U, Coursera and Echo360.  

You helped launch Emory on iTunes U and work closely with Apple. Are you an exclusively-Apple user yourself?

No, but Apple is my preference. Apple's strengths lie in their design principles. I admire the elegance and simplicity of their operating systems. Both my computers are Macs; I own an iPod, iPad and iPhone, but I'm more excited by apps than gadgets. 

What's next on your list of future projects?

We are just starting shooting for the new set of Coursera courses and hired three new, incredibly talented team members. We're ready to innovate and push ourselves to create some of the best courses out there.   

What do you like to do in your off-time?

I'm an avid reader and love working in a library. Our family plays a lot of basketball and we love to travel. We escape to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, whenever we can. 

My son, Graham, just turned 9. We have six pets: two dogs, Rufus, 70 lbs. and Olive, 7 lbs.; two cats, Face and Yodel; and two fish, the orange one and the yellow one.   

How did you come to live in a famous house?

Not sure famous is the right word, but it's known to at least [some] people. My husband and I have lived in Oakhurst/Decatur for many years. In 2005, we bought the 100-year-old farmhouse across the street. We tore it down to the studs and re-built is as historically accurate as we were able.   

Our plan was to sell the house, but it was shaping up to be a cozy home, full of character. Divorcing all emotion, we decided to put our current house on the market and see if we could get top dollar. It sold in three days for the asking price. The new house was nowhere near ready, so we spent a few months squatting with friends and family.  

The house has been in two different commercials. One commercial on HGTV for Oster Appliances and a series of webisodes for Brawny paper towels.  

How did you get to be known as "Torso Mom?"

You may not recognize my torso, but it's pretty famous. In the scripts, I am officially "Torso Mom." My torso was paid handsomely. Our dog Rufus was the dog in the commercials too. He was not paid.  [Watch the websiode.]  

Are there more of these scenes in your future?  

I'd love it. Especially if a scene included a shot above my shoulders.

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