NIU today | NIU business students jump in the race with 40TUDE


“Ready for the sprint.” This is how NIU students who are part of the 40TUDE Business team describe the work they are doing to support local businesses affected by the pandemic. During each two-week sprint, the team follows a very structured schedule to analyze the problem a local small business is facing and implement a solution, usually in the form of a revamped website or plan. social media. By participating in a series of two-week sprints over the past year – helping more than 20 local businesses gather market research and improve their online presence – these talented NIU students are also preparing for the long haul. by developing the skills and confidence sought by employers.

40TUDE company and its partner program 40TUDE non-profit was born from DeKalb County UNITS, a university-community initiative to support struggling small businesses during the pandemic. 40TUDE is a collaboration between the NIU College of Commerce, the NIU Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development Division, the Nonprofit and NGO Center for Studies at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the marketing firm DeKalb OC Creative, and it has been a boon to local small businesses and NIU students.

“Small businesses are the heart of our community and they were struggling when COVID hit,” says Jennifer Groce, director of community promotion in the NIU’s Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development Division. “NIU already had strong relationships with many local businesses and organizations and we were able to leverage these relationships to quickly meet the needs of small businesses. The NIU College of Business and OC Creative immediately teamed up to make 40TUDE a reality. Over the past year, student teams have had a big impact on the community. This type of university-community engagement is a prime example of the mutual value we can create together.

The 40TUDE program also offers the benefits of experiential learning to NIU students – which was especially important at the onset of the pandemic when in-person employment opportunities could not take place.

“The 40TUDE program exemplifies innovation, commitment and impact,” says Balaji Rajagopalan, Dean of the College of Business. “Our team of professors and students bring new ideas, engage with local businesses and impact them in a positive way. The College of Business has a long heritage of experiential learning through our experiential learning center, and 40TUDE is the type of program, when expanded, that can put us on the map.

According to Colice McHenry – a member of the 40TUDE student team who just got her BS in Marketing and will soon be starting her Masters in Digital Marketing – 40TUDE has helped solve two related issues. “One is to bring together students who have not had the opportunity to do an internship and offer them work on campus or virtually, which allows them to exercise their skills. The other was to focus on creating a community bond by helping small businesses that were struggling to respond to current digital trends that COVID has accelerated, ”she says. “The solution offered by 40TUDE was therefore to marry students with small businesses around NIU.”

The team worked closely with Brian Oster, President and Creative Director of OC Creative, who volunteered his time to bring in new leads, share ideas with the team and serve as a gatekeeper to ensure the high quality of projects delivered.

“It’s a wonderful experience for our students to learn from a successful creative director like Brian,” says Federico Bassetti, instructor in the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems at NIU, who serves as a coach and mentor for 40TUDE students. “When we have this weekly meeting with him, we’re completely open to feedback from Brian, who really treats the team and the product like it’s his own. We take the feedback, rearrange it and let’s learn from it to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistake next time. ”

The unique experience of being part of a small creative agency team – four students mentored by Bassetti – is akin to being part of a start-up, providing students with a wider range of practical experiences than they do. could not benefit as trainees in a large company.

Emily Alvarado – who recently obtained her BS in Operations and Information Management and will soon begin her Masters in Management Information Systems – served as the team’s product manager, taking primary responsibility for interacting with each small business client and shape the products provided by the team. .

“I am passionate about the work we do and grateful for this experience,” says Alvarado. “It’s been really rewarding to be able to add all of these different skills and resources to my resume, and it’s a great feeling to be able to give back to the community.”

Alvarado says she especially enjoyed the challenge of learning the team’s Scrum project management method, which focuses on building trust and commitment within a small, agile team capable of delivering. a product quickly and efficiently. “My role as a product owner is to communicate with customers and understand the weak points of the problem we are facing. Then I work with the rest of the students, which is the development team, to complete the technical work so that we can provide a benefit to this client.

While working with a wide range of businesses, including restaurants, gyms, and even a local CBD pet products company, the students delved into each industry. Garrick Cline, who, along with his wife, Christina, owns and operates Mellow Mammals, has been delighted with the work the 40TUDE team has done for the family business.

“Emily and the 40TUDE team started by having a Zoom call with me to discuss what they could do for our brand, but more importantly they wanted to know the details of our brand, industry and the way we wanted the world to see. Mellow Mammals Online, ”says Cline. “They then took their time to investigate and learn about our industry, the CBD space for pets. There was very good communication throughout the process. At the end of the process, I was provided with 30 pre-built templates that I can use on our Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as in our email marketing campaigns and on our Google My Business page. Because I’m pretty much a solo entrepreneur right now, these models save my life. We have seen an increase in engagement because the design of the models encourages engagement. Not only did they give me the models for a month, but they also gave me directions and design ideas that I can easily implement from now on.

While McHenry and Alvarado will remain at NIU to earn graduate degrees and take on more leadership responsibilities within the 40TUDE Business team, another team member, Artur Surman, credits 40TUDE for helping him. to prepare for interviews and secure your new developer role with ISSA, the global cleaning industry association.

Surman, who just got his BS in Operations and Information Management, says, “I was able to take a lot of the work I did here at 40TUDE with the processes I learned, like Scrum, and I was able to incorporate that into my CV and make myself marketable. This opportunity really helped me move from being a student to being in the real world and getting that developer role. “

According to Amy Buhrow, Senior Director of Strategy, Student Success and Accreditation at NIU College of Business, this real-world learning is the main benefit of a work experience like 40TUDE.

“Experiences and projects are incorporated into the courses of NIU Business students,” says Buhrow. “However, integrated projects are often predefined in order to align with the content of a particular course. 40Tude students gain experience with the discovery process. They need to interview business leaders to understand the real need in order to frame the problem, plan the project, and ultimately deliver a product that will make a difference in their customers’ businesses.

As they prepare for the second year of the project, the 40TUDE business team is eager to grow and improve.

“There is a lot of self-direction and self-ownership among 40TUDE students, which is quite unique for this type of environment,” Bassetti says. “The more the team is open to sharing in an exchange, the better it becomes. And I think we’re now at the point where we see how the initial investment pays off. “

“40Tude was born out of the huge need for small businesses for professional services amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Buhrow. “I can’t wait to see how the program and the students pivot as the community opens up. There will always be a demand for the professional services provided by our students, but I’m curious to see if the needs will be broader than digital transformation. Part of the mission of the NIU College of Business is to develop adaptable and principled global citizens. Can’t wait to see how we adapt.

40TUDE will be part of Huskies United Giving Day on June 23-24, 2021. Learn more about 40TUDE and how you can support this learning experience for NIU students on the 40TUDE website and the 40TUDE Huskies United page.


About Madeline Powers

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