December 9, 2010 — Volunteering at the University of Virginia takes on many forms – and names. Engagement. Service. Outreach. Could a new umbrella "brand" bring more focus and interest? That's what Angela Davis and Megan Raymond wanted to know.
Rather than hiring a marketing firm, they turned to U.Va. students through an interdisciplinary course, "Advertising for Action: Channeling Talent to Change Initiatives." The pilot course was offered for the first time during the fall semester.
Davis, special assistant to the vice president and chief student affairs officer, and Raymond, director of community outreach, also wanted to interest more students in the Jefferson Public Citizens program, a two-year-old venture encouraging students to create projects that combine research and community service.
Almost 30 students, mostly third- and fourth-years fulfilling a diverse range of majors and minors, signed up to, in essence, become ad agencies tasked with marketing the concept of "academic public service." For their final project, five teams created real-life promotional campaigns for getting students and faculty interested in combining academics with volunteerism. They each put together an ad campaign and presented it, with sophisticated PowerPoint visual tools, to their "clients," Davis and Raymond.
And the clients were impressed with the students' presentations, their final project of the course.
"All the campaigns had good research, unique aspects and creative ideas," Raymond said. "It was a difficult choice, particularly among the groups with strong research and market data."
The winning team, which called itself Critical Point, will have its marketing campaign implemented at the University. "Learning in Action" is the winning slogan, accompanied by the tagline, "From the Classroom to the Community," and an attractive photo image inside a light bulb held in someone's hand. Will Bane, Mariam Drammeh, Martha Gray, Kaity Houk, Stephanie Nguyen and Saamia Noorali made up the Critical Point team.
"The Critical Point team had a compelling vision and a creative implementation that can be converted quickly into action," Raymond said. "That said, we hope to adopt components from all the teams' proposals as we go forward."
Nguyen, a third-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences who created an interdisciplinary major with a fusion of studio digital art and media studies, said she wasn't sure what to expect when she enrolled in the course.
"Advertising for Action was one of the most academically and visually rewarding classes I've taken at U.Va.," she said. "Every class exceeded my expectations."
The students gained knowledge and insight into the advertising and marketing fields, while simultaneously working to give back to the University community, she said. They also learned what "academic public service" is through the final project, which challenged them to spread the word about such opportunities to others, she explained.
"We got to see each aspect of what goes into a campaign to research, create and execute an idea," Nguyen said. "We are excited and eager to help with the launch of the project next semester and hope that the class continues next year to give others the same opportunity to make a difference in the community."
Gregory Fairchild, executive director of the Tayloe Murphy Center and associate professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business, led the students in conducting appropriate research and developing an ad campaign, with the help of the center’s associate director, Marc Johnson, who was the teaching assistant for the course.
"One of the worries students face is in the uncertainty of whether they have the nascent skills necessary to contribute something valuable," said Fairchild, who teaches strategic management, entrepreneurship and ethics in Darden's MBA and Executive Education programs. "They may wonder whether their work would pass muster with professionals. They get formal feedback through grades, but those can still feel 'theoretical.'"
With this class, he said, students were given firm evidence that they could develop a professional campaign that others would find beneficial.
Throughout the semester, the students were asked to tack between the classroom and the field. Darden students counseled the undergraduates as they worked on their projects.
Earl Cox, director of strategic planning, and Brad Armstrong, a group account director, at the award-winning Martin Advertising Agency, based in Richmond, gave talks and guidance. Along with Davis and Raymond, they judged the final presentations.
Armstrong and Cox said the students gained some striking insights through their research.
For example, the Critical Point team found that, although their schoolwork is their top priority, half of the students surveyed also chose to do volunteer work. The students perceived the two as not mixing, however. The mix is an important aspect of the academic public service initiative. Hence, the team linked learning and action in their campaign.
All of the teams identified faculty as a critical target, in addition to first- and second-year students and students in the Jefferson Public Citizen program. Faculty can receive support for creating new courses that include academic public service. The teams recommended that these professors act as ambassadors for the program to their departmental peers.
The Provost's Office will offer to match the $5,000 that the Tayloe Murphy Center has offered to fund the campaign and is interested in repeating the class with a different service or initiative that could use the boost of a marketing campaign, Raymond said.