Sept. 27, 2006
By Brianna Huy
With butterflies in their stomachs and sweat on their palms, students from the Ohio University College of Business sophomore cluster are breaking out their black power suits and leaving the classroom behind for a taste of the real world.
Charged with creating marketing and business plans for regional clients, cluster students are placed into teams of five and given a mere two to three weeks to research and create the plans. The sophomore business cluster is an intensive quarter of classes (one cluster in the morning and a different one in the afternoon) that brings together teams of students from different business disciplines. The teams kick off the quarter with a small client-driven project and then immediately dive into a larger project. Morning cluster student Rob Ihasz said, "It is such a good way to bring everyone's talents together on something concrete."
This spring, the morning cluster teams worked with the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre (CVLT) in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and the afternoon cluster teams worked with the Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg, W.Va.
Both clusters took a road trip to meet the contact for their respective projects and to see first-hand what the client offered its community. The Blennerhassett teams toured the newly renovated historic hotel, which offers patrons luxury amenities. While the hotel boasts high occupancy rates from business professionals during the week, it wanted a plan that would fill the rooms on weekends.
The CVLT charged its teams to create plans that would increase awareness of the theater regionally and bring in more volunteers and donations. A small community theater just outside of Cleveland, CVLT not only provides an outlet for regional actors, but also offers a night at the theater for a good price. Alumnus Rick Brown, BBA '65, who is a CVLT board member, sponsored all 40 cluster students to visit Chagrin Falls. The students attended presentations about the theater and were treated to the musical comedy "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." They stayed with board members overnight, allowing them to form a deeper connection with their client.
After the tours, the teams went to work and created separate plans. Working with the CVLT, student Ryann Hunt said, "It's very different to work with a live client, especially as a sophomore. It was amazing to see how little they have to work with and how far it has to stretch."
There are many rumors students hear before entering the intensive cluster, which comprises 16 hours of class with the same people. Hunt said she often heard "they own you." Although cluster students tend to agree with that statement, they find the experience very rewarding. The cluster is what College of Business Dean Glenn Corlett calls action learning. "The best way to learn is by doing," he said.
On top of developing their business skills, the students form a new network of friends. "They're pretty much your best friends for the quarter," Drew Stetson said of his fellow "clusterites."
Often business schools do not integrate their majors until a senior year capstone course, but the Ohio University College of Business wants its students to learn early on how the different facets of business affect one another. Four professors oversee each cluster and provide expertise in marketing, management, management information systems and business law.
When the CVLT teams presented their plans to College of Business professors, they were only halfway finished. They had also entered their plans in the Student Research and Creative Activity Fair in the applied research category, which was on the same day.
The students then had the daunting task of putting the best of the eight presentations into one master presentation. They created a coordinating group in charge of the final product. Hunt, a member of the coordinating group, said it was "very frustrating," but the students' frustrations were invisible the night of the master presentation.
Stereo speakers, cable wires, computers and video cameras filled the corner of Copeland Hall 104. The equipment was connected to stream video between the College of Business and Chagrin Falls, allowing the entire CVLT board to watch the presentation and ask questions afterward. Board President Thomas Neff and his wife, JoAnn, attended the presentation in Athens. Neff said the students' ideas "gave a shot in the arm to people on the board." He and JoAnn, who is also on the board, said youth knows no boundaries and the students' ideas were a welcome breath of fresh air. Some ideas included partnerships with other local businesses, advertising strategies and being more proactive in recruiting volunteers and donors.
Because of its smaller size, the four teams of the afternoon cluster presented to their client separately. Under the guidance of College of Business professors, the teams had to dazzle Kate Swisher, the director of sales at the Blennerhassett.
"I was very impressed with all of the groups," Swisher said, particularly noting their professionalism and public speaking abilities. Before its presentation, each team handed Swisher a 30 to 40 page marketing plan, complete with research findings and recommendations. Some recommendations included integrating the different weekend packages already offered by the hotel, suggesting fresh ideas for new packages, and identifying key advertising markets. Swisher said she plans to present the teams' recommendations to the Blennerhassett Hotel board.
After their presentations, the students cracked smiles of relief. "Tonight felt more professional and you feel like you really accomplished something," team member Hunt said after the CVLT presentation. The relief didn't last long. Keeping up with the fast pace of the real world, the students immediately moved on to work with a third client.
The CVLT presentation can be viewed at www.cob.ohiou.edu/cms.aspx?cid=3319.
Brianna Huy, '06, was a student writer for the College of Business.