UMSL marketing students help nonprofits with digital strategies

UMSL marketing students help nonprofits with digital strategies

Graduate student Richard Koch (at left) leads a discussion with UMSL marketing students Cody Goodrich, Ian Bae, Gregory Hullaby, Eboni Valentine and Travonte Harris. The students were enrolled in the spring session of “The Lab,” a student-run digital agency that takes on local nonprofits and startups as clients. (Photo by August Jennewein)

As a marketing student at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Nick Sylvia wasn’t just learning theories behind digital strategies. He was busy testing them.

Before graduating from the College of Business Administration in 2017, Sylvia worked alongside three regional nonprofits and startups to set video strategy, perform website redesign and oversee livestream video from within the familiar setting of a UMSL classroom.

He did it all through what’s informally known as “The Lab,” a student-run digital agency founded by Assistant Teaching Professor Perry Drake.

“The experience was so rewarding and it allowed me to add my newly gained skills to my resume prior to graduation,” said Sylvia, who now works for Anheuser-Busch as a social media community manager.

More than 120 students have acquired similar experiences with 30 clients since the creation of The Lab four years ago. The class, which is offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels, is meant to provide experiential learning opportunities for those seeking a digital and social media minor or certificate.

“The world of marketing and communications is changing so quickly, every day,” Drake said. “We need to ensure our students know the latest in techniques, software and platforms and how to use and employ social media for a business and not just for personal use.”

With a caseload limited to 10 clients per semester, Drake has developed the program to a point where it has to turn down many potential clients. Among the list of past participants are the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; The Women’s Bakery; Ready Readers; HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum St. Louis; The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UMSL; and TEDxGatewayArch.

“It is so rewarding for the students and me that we can be available for such organizations operating on thin budgets and knowing it will make a big difference for them,” Drake said.

Tasmyn Front, executive director of the Challenger Learning Center–St. Louis, was The Lab’s first client. Students have since assisted Front with web redesign, social media strategy and event support.

“I love working with the UMSL students,” Front said. “They are dedicated and hardworking and have taught me so much. It has been a rewarding experience being a part of The Lab. I will be a client as long as Perry will have me.”

While enrolled in the class, students are typically assigned two clients as members of two- to three-person teams. Drake ultimately forms the teams after students state which clients they would like to support and how their individual skills will help clients accomplish their goals.

“This ensures a win-win for both the clients needing help and the students for learning,” Drake said. “It additionally helps instill an understanding of the importance of philanthropy for the students.”


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