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The Value of Student-Integrated Practicum Projects

Leslie Kendrick

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Client-oriented learning in higher education boosts résumés and leadership skills

Teja Dupree and Liza Goldstone run Jay Way Media, a marketing communications firm that develops, implements and measures the impact of an integrated marketing campaign for a luxury automobile brand. These agency co-CEOs meet weekly with Jay Way Media’s 12 department managers to facilitate interdepartmental communication, oversee the agency’s timeline and budget, and assist with troubleshooting problems. In early February, they assisted their market research department co-managers with a focus group at consumer research firm Observation Baltimore.

These tasks may sound like typical full-time agency work, but Jay Way Media is Dupree and Goldstone’s creation as part of the Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications course I teach at Johns Hopkins University. Managers in the class commit 15 hours per week outside of class time to this in-class agency. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the type of experience that goes beyond entry-level internships.

The Student Experience

One of the biggest differences between internship experience and agency-style coursework is the opportunity to take a leadership role and manage a budget, which can also come with serious challenges. Several department managers reporting to Dupree and Goldstone got the flu in the first month of class. Delayed campaign deliverables led to an increased workload over spring break, but the co-CEOs were unfazed. I meet with the leaders weekly and offer the insights I’ve developed in teaching this course for 13 years. Dupree and Goldstone learned about the most common challenges, suggestions on how to manage and motivate their peers, and requirements for communicating with the client, EdVenture Partners, the firm representing the client’s brand, the 2019 Acura ILX. EdVenture Partners is a marketing agency focused on reaching the Gen Z, collegiate and youth markets via experiential learning programs. Two of the ways this program differs from other client-based coursework are the implementation and project-management aspects.

“Problem-solving and communication were key,” Dupree says. “For most of us, this was the first official integrated marketing campaign that we had ever worked on. Aside from our course readings, we had no idea what to expect.” She added that the class took a learn-as-you-go approach to the project. “I quickly learned how interrelated everything that we were working on was and how important that made communication. Liza and I tried to encourage this flow of information.”

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Résumé Benefits

Goldstone, a political science major and marketing minor, is interested in social media marketing or consulting and felt the experience would be a “reach” for a sophomore—challenging her in different ways than her AMA collegiate leadership role and internship experiences. “As soon as a recruiter looks at my résumé, the co-CEO position catches their eye,” she says. “They love to learn that I’ve gained real-world experience through a semester-long, client-based project. Leading the class with Teja has taught me more than any internship I’ve held. I’ve learned to see the big picture, while spearheading class initiatives and serving as an intermediary between 40 students and a Fortune 500 client.”

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2018 survey, the attributes that employers value—other than a strong GPA—include problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team. Written communication skills were also deemed very important.

Allie Lewis, head of consumer market research at LinkedIn, held a leadership role in the class as an undergraduate and used the opportunity to explore an experience outside of public relations—the field she thought she was destined to pursue. “I learned the value of research in providing the needed insights to develop our integrated marketing campaign,” Lewis says. “It also gave me a leg up with employers as I could speak to actual primary research conducted.”

[A recruiter] loves to learn that I’ve gained real-world experience through a semester-long, client-based project.

Mark Presnell, executive director of career advancement at Northwestern University, says that client-based projects can increase a student’s ability to interview well. “Employers are moving beyond majors and focusing on skills and experiences,” he says. “For many students, skill development often begins first with a client-based project and deliverables.”

Another former student of the Johns Hopkins course, Eva Gurfein, says her manager was impressed by her understanding of the importance of connecting communications programs to overall business objectives. Now a managing director at RF|Binder, a global integrated marketing and consulting firm, Gurfein is responsible for developing integrated programs for clients. She recently reached out to me for candidates for an associate position and eventually hired a student who previously served as the co-CEO in last year’s class project.

What Professors and Mentors Should Know

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education, “Assessing the Value to Client Organizations of Student Practicum Projects,” says that the key to the success of client-based projects is four program design elements: a consulting-based course design, relevant projects, close faculty involvement and regular client feedback.

An integrated client-based curriculum “creates value for students, the clients and the school as a whole,” according to research published in 2013 in the Journal of Public Affairs Education. EdVenture Partners CEO Tony Sgro says many clients directly hire students from these programs. And universities benefit when alumni reach out to their alma mater, seeking students with proven leadership and client-based project experience. Faculty who have mentored students through these experiences can speak to more than just students’ exam or research report abilities.

There’s a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction in mentoring students throughout this course, then seeing them grasp the big picture and really understand what’s involved in developing and implementing a campaign of this scope. It’s also rewarding to see the confidence gained by all the students, but particularly those in manager roles, and how this allows them to more successfully interview with employers.

Because of this experience, I have shared the benefits of the programs with other faculty. I’ve also participated with AMA and non-AMA faculty colleagues on panels where we’ve shared the challenges and rewards of incorporating client-based projects into the classroom and I’ve co-authored an article with a faculty member whose class, along with mine, was chosen as a finalist for an EdVenture Partners campaign competition.

If you’re a faculty member planning to incorporate this type of client-based project into your course, reach out to a local nonprofit or an organization such as EdVenture Partners at least six months ahead of time; it takes some coordination to outline the parameters of a mutually beneficial project.

Liza Goldstone also contributed to this article.

Leslie Kendrick is a senior lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.