This fall semester, a team of five James Madison University business students from Carol Hamilton’s section of COB 202 Interpersonal Skills are connecting with local organizations with a semester long project.
From the left: Aida Kebere, Ellen Pak,
Michelle Puckli, Meredythe Fallon,
and Kim Suillivan.
The communication team: Meredythe Fallon, Aida Kebere, Ellen Pak, Michelle Puckli, and Kim Sullivan.
The client: Friendly City Food Cooperative (FCFC).
The assignment: write and distribute an effective business communication that supports the mission of a local organization.
Getting to Know the Client
“We were interested in the ‘going green’ aspect,” Meredythe Fallon responded when asked why her team chose the Friendly City Food Cooperative through Community Service Learning. The match was perfect. Friendly City Co-Op needed the talents and dedicated volunteer hours. In return, each team member gained hands-on experience working with a client to develop a communication strategy to support the client’s mission, within the constraints of time and money.
Friendly City Food Co-op has multiple strategic initiatives underway. Their mission is to create a “consumer-owned, democratically-run cooperative that will operate a retail grocery store that emphasizes healthy foods, quality goods, and local products.” To reach this goal—The Big Push—they plan to launch a new store at 150 East Wolfe Street in Harrisonburg. The Co-op needs to raise $600,000 to secure a co-leaser for their projected build date of 2010. They have already secured a $484,600 loan. When the student team proposed to help by writing business correspondence, the Friendly City Food Co-op seized the opportunity to enlist more members.
After meeting the client and brainstorming ideas, the students suggested ways to reach the JMU students, faculty and alumni for membership in FCFC. They formed a communication strategy and then focused their efforts on four separate channels of communication. They prepared multiple drafts, working diligently to prepare a consistent message to different audiences.
“The point of the exercise is to learn how to communicate effectively; it is not about simply writing a letter or e-mail,” Hamilton emphasized about the class project. Students work together as a team, gaining valuable practical experience by meeting obstacles head-on to achieve an outcome. Hamilton adds that “students learn to write for a desired response while practicing project and time management skills.”
Putting the Plan into Action
Hamilton asks students to answer the question,"Did I create something that produces results?"
For the team working with Friendly City Food Co-op their deliverables are centered around producing advertisements to reach JMU faculty and students. After surveying the most effective communication channels students wrote a table tent blurb, a wall post to the College of Business Facebook fan page, bulk e-mail to the JMU students, and inspired a new feature article on the CoB homepage. The team plans to measure its success by tallying the results of how many new members have heard about Friendly City Food Co-op through its proposed communication channels.
The outcome of this experimental class project is mutually beneficial. Another rewarding outcome is that both the students and Friendly City Food Co-op gain more knowledge on how to strengthen the relationship between the
JMU community and the local Harrisonburg community. The final part to this project is to present what they accomplished at the end of the semester and illustrate how the class project reinforced the principles taught in the classroom. For Aida Kebere, Ellen Pak, Michelle Puckli, Meredythe Fallon and Kim Sullivan, they all will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the team building and interpersonal skills needed to reach those outcomes.
Ellen Pak shares that the class project "allows students to work and deal with people in a business setting, both verbally and in written communication." More importantly, Kim Sullivan adds, "It makes us leave the campus and interact with the community members and potentially make a difference."
As for Friendly City Food Co-op, thanks to the help of five CoB students, they are that much closer to reaching the dream of a grand opening of their downtown sustainable, democratically controlled grocery store.