Lectures and class discussions are tried-and-true ways for students to learn, but there’s immense benefit in applying that knowledge to real-world experiences. That’s why seniors in Tools for Professional Success, Heidi Bailey’s honors marketing course at the Isenberg School of Management, take their education to the next level by collaborating with real corporate clients on projects important to their businesses.
Throughout the semester, students work in teams of four to help their “client” solve a real business problem. Not only do the students present their findings and recommendations to company executives at the end of the semester, but they also use their research as a basis for their honors theses.
A key intent behind the course is to teach students professional skills, such as presenting and writing—and before coming aboard two years ago, Bailey (right) had already seen the results first-hand. Professor Emeritus of Marketing Charles Schewe had taught the class previously, and Bailey, then working at LEGO®, was one of his students’ clients.
“When I was a client working at the LEGO Group, I invited other brand managers to watch the students’ final presentation,” said Bailey, who participated as a client for five years. “Everyone was so impressed by the students’ professionalism and with the quality of their recommendations. They were saying, ‘Wow! These students present as professionally as seasoned people inside our company.’”
Schewe highlighted the program’s cross-curricular aspect, noting that students work with an Isenberg Business Communications department member on developing content for their presentations.
The course also allows students to hone their research skills, and with an exclusive advantage: access to UMass Amherst’s renowned libraries. Business Librarian Alison Messier mentors the students and provides customized assistance using the material in the collections. More than a useful resource for students, this arrangement provides a unique benefit for the company involved.
“Companies would have to pay thousands of dollars to access the library's databases and reports,” Bailey said. “So that is part of the value, because the students can access that information.”
After making strategic use of UMass Amherst’s libraries, students move on to research of an even more valuable sort: one-on-one interviews and focus groups with their clients’ customers and stakeholders.
This year, students working with Boston Scientific were tasked with learning about the digital behaviors of medical fellows. The students researched the medical device industry and eventually participated in double-blind studies alongside one of the company’s partner agencies.
Gary Trendel, senior group manager of enterprise marketing strategy at Boston Scientific, worked with students and said they bring a different perspective to the business that can be very valuable.
“To be candid, some of these seniors in college are much, much more digitally savvy than I am,” he said, adding that the students did an “extraordinary job” with their final presentations. “It’s one of the most rewarding things, to just see how much they’ve grown and how much they’ve learned along the way.”
Newell Brands worked with two groups of students on partnerships and omnichannel marketing for one of the company’s brands, Yankee Candle. Mallory Strange, Newell’s associate manager of brand activation for Yankee Candle, worked with the omnichannel marketing team closely and said the students were tasked to rethink social, digital, and in-store tactics and tools to connect with younger millennials and Generation Z.
Similar to Trendel, Strange said working with younger students allowed the business to see its brands through their eyes. She also noted the students were “so buttoned up” when they presented their recommendations at the end of the course.
“They presented to everyone, and they actually had an open Q+A so they were fielding ideas,” she said. “They came to the table with so much thoughtful, data-driven insight. They really impressed everyone.”
For her part, Bailey looks forward to the continuation and evolution of this truly immersive marketing course—especially having experienced its benefits from both sides.
“I think it’s essential for both the students and the company to get something out of this,” she said. “Professor Schewe named this course ‘Tools for Professional Success’ based on ‘tools’ he developed as a marketing consultant. Over the last 20-plus years, students of this course have gone on to lead very successful business careers. Many of his students stay in touch and say that they continue to use the ‘tools’ from the course to help them advance in their careers. On the client side, we see clients come back multiple times to work with honors students in this class.”