Experiential Learning at Elmira College, Part 3 of 4: Understanding Consumer Behavior
Elmira, NY (08/15/2019) — Knowing how consumers behave is a potential goldmine for businesses: for example, knowing the dining preferences of customers can help the bottom line of a food service operation, and in retail, the shopping patterns of consumers influence logistics such as staffing and inventory. In her course on consumer behavior, MKT3250, Elmira College Associate Professor of Marketing and Corning Incorporated Foundation Chair in Business Alison Wolfe combines pedagogical concepts about consumer behavior with unique real-world experiences, where students get to test out course concepts with a real organization.
In the Fall term of 2018, student consulting teams in MKT3250 did term projects in collaboration with Elmira College's bookstore and Parkhurst Dining facilities, exploring consumer behavior for each of these facilities. Each student-team met with their client in person to define the research problem, then conducted both primary and secondary research. At the end of the term, each student consulting team presented a 40-minute presentation with a 5-10 minute Q&A from the client and instructor, together with a detailed written research report.
The projects exposed students to many of the real-world concepts behind consumer behavior research, including qualitative research, ethnographic and observation methods, situation analysis and environmental analysis, as well as a literature review of current findings in this area. They also gained valuable experience on how to document and present their results, preparing them for real-world careers of learning how consumers think, as well as selling an action plan to address this. For their presentations, client representatives attended from Parkhurst Dining and The College Store, along with guests from the College community, including Elmira College President's wife, Mrs. Janna Lindsay.
This experiential approach to learning was well-received by students, who enjoyed working with actual clients on their own campus. According to Anthony Parrucci '21, "While studying Consumer Behavior at Elmira College, I was able to learn the importance of not only learning course material, but also gaining real-world experience by gathering information and collaborating with the team as well as Parkhurst Dining, to help the management team bridge the gap of communication with Elmira College students. Professor Wolfe along with Parkhurst Dining and my colleagues allowed me to grow my knowledge of the topic exponentially throughout the term."
These projects were also a good experience for the on-campus organizations who took part in these class research projects, and contributed real value to these organization. Brittany Muthard, general manager of Parkhurst Dining, notes that, "The consumer behavior class project that was completed to assist Parkhurst Dining in understanding the Elmira College community dining habits was not only well researched and documented, but it was also presented in a professional and impactful way. The students were knowledgeable and articulated their message well. The ideas and suggestions derived from the consumer behavior project have been and will continue to be useful in our dining practices as Parkhurst Dining continues to grow and improve here at Elmira College."
Real-world projects like these are part of a larger strategy to introduce experiential learning concepts to business and marketing students at Elmira College, including guest speakers, site visits to organizations of all sizes throughout the Northeast, and student consulting projects such as this one. For Wolfe, who has researched and published extensively on experiential learning in postsecondary business education, strategies like these help give Elmira College students a competitive advantage for their future careers, while engaging both the students and the organizations that work with them.
(This is the third in a four-part series of articles on experiential learning for business and marketing students at Elmira College.)