AMA Puerto Rican Student Chapter Comes Together to Help Businesses After Hurricanes

5/13/2018
Hal Conick
Key Takeaways

​What? Members of the AMA Puerto Rice Río Piedras Chapter had to fight back from two devastating hurricanes that hit within 15 days.

So what? Students used marketing to help their country recover, forming into groups and helping six businesses.

Now what? The students nominated their chapter advisor, Professor Myra Pérez, as the 2018 Hugh G. Wales Faculty Advisor of the Year and she won at this year’s International Collegiate Conference. ​​​​​​​​

Millions of Puerto Ricans lost power after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but the students of the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Chapter never lost hope

In September 2017, student members of the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Chapter at the had lofty aspirations. The previous year, they were named a top 10 AMA chapter. Now, they now wanted to be top five. 

“They were very enthusiastic,” says professor Myra Pérez, who has served as the chapter’s advisor for more than 15 years and worked with students in the chapter since 1989. 

Then, on September 8, Hurricane Irma ​swept past northern Puerto Rico and knocked out power for 1 million residents. On September 20, the eye of a second hurricane, Hurricane Maria, pummeled the archipelago of Puerto Rico with rain, floods and 155-mile-per-hour wind for nearly 30 hours. The hurricane destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, buildings and infrastructure.

“When the hurricanes came, we had no communication between us,” Pérez says. Students from the chapter traveled to each other’s houses to make sure everyone was OK. “We weren’t even able to talk on the phone. It was very, very difficult.”

Although alive, students were puzzled and devastated. Their home had been destroyed, and it seemed their aspirations of being a top chapter had been, too. Pérez gathered her students, sans power and air conditioning, and told them that while being a top-​five chapter may not happen, they now had the opportunity to be top marketers in Puerto Rico and really help people.

“We should give back to them,” Pérez says she told her students. “We have marketing skills. We should find those enterprises and businesses that need our help.”

Students were enthusiastic and broke into six groups. The chapter had grown from about 50 students to about 150 students over the past five years, so Pérez says they were able to spread their marketing expertise across each of six businesses. Students would momentarily be able to communicate over the phone or on Facebook, but every form of communication was spotty, apart from physically traveling and working face-to-face. Over the next five months, students assiduously traveled to their businesses and crafted a marketing plan, not letting damaged buildings or broken lines of communication get in their way. 

By February 2018, all six businesses were open and operational, each with a new marketing plan.

“We’re happy that we were able to help,” Pérez says. “The students have passion for the American Marketing Association, but they have also learned to build and work for others. Marketing can be used in a positive way. Marketing can make positive things; it’s not only for making money, but for enriching life.”

After the Devastation, the Award

In April 2018, it had been seven months since the hurricanes' barrages of wind, rain and water ravaged Puerto Rico, but many people were still suffering. There was a reported $95 billion worth of damages across Puerto Rico and Pérez’s group was still feeling the effects. One student didn’t have his power restored until March 2018.

Pérez and many of her students were not deterred from traveling to New Orleans for AMA’s International Collegiate Conference. On April 7 during the awards dinner, they were rewarded for their months of struggle and hard work. The AMA announced Pérez was the winner of the 2018 Hugh G. Wales Faculty Advisor of the Year. Months earlier, her students had submitted her name for the award through a heartfelt letter 

“Thanks to her, we understand that no matter how unbearable the situation seems, you never give up, so we never will,” the students wrote in the letter, which can be read in full here.

Students waited until Mother’s Day in May to show Pérez the letter. The next day, she laughed and sighed, feeling like a proud mother to a group of 150 marketing students. It was a beautiful gesture, she says, especially from students who feel like family. One student she advises is the son of a man whom she first worked with when she was a young teacher in 1989. The students had all grown very close to Pérez, and she to them.  

“This year was very, very, very difficult,” she says. “But the ones who really deserve [the award] are the students. They worked hard. It was their prize, not mine.”

After months or working without electricity and without air conditioning, even during Puerto Rico’s sweltering 80- to 90-degree January days, Pérez says she and her students still face losses of power. Pérez says she had lost power twice the week before Mother’s Day. But through it all, neither she nor her students have lost hope for their future as marketers in Puerto Rico.

“I see them getting to the top two,” Pérez says, referring to the chapter’s goal of becoming one of the AMA’s top chapters. “I feel very proud. I see them becoming great marketers, very professional, with a sense of social responsibility. I know it’s been difficult, but they will survive and they will become the best.”

Pérez plans to retire from teaching in the next three years, but says she still wants to work with students after her retirement. She wants to continue helping her students form their own professional chapter. 

“We have had difficulty,” she says. “We have many, many economic problems. But we are working hard. [Difficulty] doesn’t stop us. I think the AMA should … have some special recognition for chapters that [fight through adversity]. It’s not that they should be put on top, but they should be recognized. They are a testament of that passion. They really love what they’re doing and they want to excel.”


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.

COMMENT:
 

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Sarai Smith
May 16, 2018

Kudos to the Rio Piedras Collegiate chapter of the AMA!