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Marist College Project 

Marist College students provide World Community Grid consulting services

Marist College LogoCollege students are computer-savvy individuals with a strong interest in making the world a better place. What could be a better fit for World Community Grid? Or so we thought! Although college and university students may seem like a natural for this philanthropic project, actually reaching and engaging students in World Community Grid can be a challenge.

During the spring 2006 semester, IBM worked with public relations students at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to tap into their insights and to provide a real-world project on which students could test their PR skills. Marist, a national leader in the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning, became World Community Grid's first university partner in 2004.

Sheila Appel, IBM Corporate Community Relations manager, and Catherine Collins, IBM Corporate Communications, worked closely with Professor Mark Van Dyke and two sections of his public relations case study class. Over a six-week time frame, Sheila and Catherine met with students to provide information, answer questions, and evaluate final project papers. The goal for IBM was to work with the specific demographic it was trying to reach. The goal for the students was to present the best paper, receive an "A" and be excused from the course's final exam.

To begin the process Appel and Collins met with Van Dyke early in the semester to discuss the project and the process. Originally, Professor Van Dyke was interested in his students analyzing World Community Grid's launch as the complete project. Appel and Collins convinced him to take the project to the next level. In addition to analyzing the launch, students also would offer their recommendations for how to better publicize World Community Grid on a college campus in order to convince more students to contribute their idle PC time to the project.

According to Appel, "The project offered us a great way to talk to a target market and hear what they had to say, not only about the launch, but also about how to meet the challenge of effectively communicating World Community Grid on campuses and significantly increase our student volunteer base."

The next step in the process was presenting the information to the students. Appel and Collins presented the two-part assignment, emphasizing that any good recommendations would be implemented by IBM. "We wanted to make sure the students knew upfront that we were taking this project very seriously, and we were counting on their input," said Appel.

The classes were broken up into six teams of four or five students each. The students had four weeks to research, write and develop recommendations. During that time, they met with Professor Van Dyke, who offered assistance and support, and they also were encouraged to contact Appel and Collins with questions via e-mail or by phone. "I really tried to get the students to think critically in their case analysis," said Van Dyke, "and to think creatively in developing their recommendations."

Professor Van Dyke shared his grading template and the final papers with Appel and Collins. All three read and evaluated the papers on their own, and then came together to discuss their thoughts. "One or two papers really stood out as the best," said Appel. "But every paper included ideas that we had not thought about before or offered suggestions on how we could better reach students on campus."

In the end, the team that was chosen as the winner was invited to IBM headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., to present their analysis and recommendations to executives working on World Community Grid - in place of the students' final exam. Their ideas, which included suggestions for improved marketing materials that resonated more with younger audiences, as well as new ways to reach out to diverse groups of students, were applauded by the IBM team. "The students did a terrific job of not only presenting their own thoughts but representing the best ideas of their classmates," said Robin Willner, Vice President, Global Community Initiatives.

"This was an outstanding project for our students," said Van Dyke. "Many of them commented about the importance of working on a real-world, humanitarian issue during their time in school."

IBM felt this was a very valuable exercise, too, and is already implementing some of the best recommendations. IBM hopes to continue the project next semester with Professor Van Dyke and a new class of Marist students to implement other good ideas developed by the previous semester's students.

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