While the beams go up on the new Lacy School of Business, faculty and students in the old building are busily constructing new curriculum to go with it.
They’ve built two student-run businesses—an insurance company and a marketing/communications firm—designed to work with clients and eventually become profitable. What they’re doing, Dean Steve Standifird said, “is the kind of thing you can’t teach in a classroom.”
“The term we use is ‘intense experiential education,’” he said. “One of our goals in the School of Business is to be the premier experiential-oriented business program in the country. This is a key component of that.”
FIRST OF ITS KIND—STUDENT ENTREPRENEURS
The MJ Student-Run Insurance Company, known in industry parlance as a “captive,” is the first of its kind for a university. The company insures Butler programs and items including the live mascot Butler Blue III, rare books, artwork, and the telescope at the Holcomb Observatory. Students learn how to write the insurance policy and what the coverage terms will be, and they’re figuring out how to finance the company. In doing so, they will be able to apply their risk-management expertise in accounting, investments, and numerous other areas.
Zach Finn, the Clinical Professor and Director of the Davey Risk Management and Insurance Program, said the idea behind the internal insurance company is to give students hands-on experience and prepare them for an industry that anticipates needing 400,000 new employees by 2022.
The captive opened August 1, 2017. Finn said they spent the first semester “building the bridge between implementation and operation.” In spring 2018, the captive team worked on a variety of tasks, including putting together the insurance package it’s selling to Butler to cover the Butler University Police Department’s bomb-sniffing dog Marcus, Trip’s bejeweled collar, and more.
In addition, the captive team has been asked to inventory the University’s $3.9 million worth of pianos. That means they’ll photograph each instrument, identify their location on the campus map, determine their condition, and evaluate whether where they’re situated makes them more susceptible to damage.
“We’re going to be learning a lot about pianos over the course of the semester,” Finn said.
They also will work to substantiate the value of Butler’s dogs, confirm the transition plan for Blue IV, and develop a policy in the event that Marcus were to be killed in the line of duty.
Derek DeKoning ’18, the captive’s CEO and Co-Founder, said he’s learned an incredible amount about the industry in which he plans to work—nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes kinds of things such as conforming with regulatory requirements, and the importance of regular and ongoing communication.
“It has taught me how to conduct myself in a professional manner and maintain regular communications with all the parties involved,” said DeKoning, who came to Butler from Atlanta, Georgia. “It has helped my project and time management skills. I believe that these soft skills will assist me in the early days of my career.”
BRIGHT BLUE MARKETING AND PR FIRM: REAL WORLD AND STUDENT RUN
Another of the captive’s missions was to help increase the social media presence for Marcus. For that, it turned to Bright Blue, the Lacy School of Business’ student-run marketing/PR firm. Bright Blue, which started operations in spring 2017, is a partnership between the business school and the College of Communication.
Standifird brought in Joe Ellsworth, who was a Principal in a marketing/communications agency for 30 years in the Evansville area, to serve as Program Director. Ellsworth said Bright Blue has been set up to be as much like a real-world agency as possible.
Student-employees—they are paid—are contributing members of the team. They’re expected to do high-level work that makes the clients happy and, ultimately, turn a profit, Ellsworth said.
Allyson Marks ’18, a Marketing major with minors in Spanish, Strategic Communication, and Art + Design, joined Bright Blue in fall 2017 and moved up from Writer to Communication Specialist. She said one of their most noteworthy clients was an adoption agency that wanted to find more birth mothers looking to put their child up for adoption. (Bright Blue signs a non-disclosure agreement with its clients.)
The Bright Blue team did a brand audit, determining what the adoption agency was, what it stood for, and how it could differentiate itself from other agencies. They created some key messages based on what this adoption agency offered that others didn’t (personal service) as well as a strategic communications plan that targeted birth mothers with brochures, social media, and a website.
In other words, Marks said, Bright Blue did what a professional agency would, but at a fraction of the cost. Bright Blue has also worked with a manufacturing company, a tech company, a bio-healthcare company, and two independent consultants, she said. It’s given the participating students the opportunity to work as a professional team, develop strategies, and find solutions.
“It’s a lot more than students usually get to do in an internship because you’re usually helping on someone else’s project,” said Marks, who’s from the Peoria, Illinois, area. “But on this, we were creating our own projects. That was fun—and as close to real-world experience as I could have gotten.”
That’s exactly the point, Finn said. “It’s a class that feels more like a working environment than a traditional classroom,” he said of the captive insurance class. “It’s them doing things instead of learning about it. I could be teaching about creating an endorsement versus using one an insurance company’s provided or we can actually create one and get the insurance industry to implement it and make the world a better place a little bit and get some notice for the students. They’re doing the things they’re learning about.”