Accomplishing their goal to add a new venture this semester, Wildcat Ventures acquired Right Hand Media (RHM), making it their sixth student-run business on campus. President of Wildcat Ventures, Riley Simpson, originally founded Right Hand Media as a freelance videographer. However, seeing that it would thrive in the market Wildcat Ventures caters to, the team made the decision to bring the business on board, hiring Tres Cox as the CEO.
Tres is a marketing and management major from Lewisville, TX. Working alongside Tres is account manager Bekah Penton, content creator David Mitchell, creative designer Ashley Lang, videographers/editors Emily Shafer and Tavian Miles, and videographer and web designer Matthew Jungling.
Tres sees RHM as helping to fill a communication gap on campus. “In this season, everyone is looking for an effective way to connect with their audience, and visual media is one the best ways to do that. Our services help our clients make an impression and make connections.” RHM specifically works in video production, digital marketing, photography, and design.
CEO, Tres Cox
Cox said that their customer base is varied. “Our services are businesses and organizations who want to present themselves and express their message with quality content. At Right Hand Media, we encourage our partners to play their best hand.”
RHM has worked on many projects over the semester that encapsulates the mission behind that statement. Every project has elegant evidence to show for the team’s workmanship. The company has been working closely with Dr. Dennis Marquardt and Nick Gonzales from the Lytle Center to produce the Leadership Link podcast. Nick is a fan of the work of RHM, saying, “What is unique about Right Hand Media is that they are an organization that is very easy to work with. Their adaptability is a trait that no one should take for granted. They have worked with the Lytle Center for multiple episodes and each time we pitch a new idea or have second thoughts on something they are quick to go with the flow, brainstorm, and even build upon ideas.” Gonzales noted that working with RHM means “working with excellence” and gives high praise to the team’s professionalism and collegiality.
RHM filming Mary Gregory’s Class
Another great testimony about what RHM is helping clients accomplish is the growth of painter Mary Gregory’s online painting class, Egg, Feather, Nest. Cox detailed how RHM has worked to help Gregory market her talents. “Our team films and produces the video lessons that go into her courses, creating graphics and promotional content, and managing the digital marketing strategy for the company’s online presence. It’s been an incredible journey, taking Mary from teaching only small workshops when she had the time to now teaching hundreds of students online.”
Account Manager, Bekah Penton
Not only have these client accounts created experiential learning opportunities for RHM student employees, but the students are also building on their strengths and gaining valuable experience for their future careers. Bekah Penton said, “Working at Right Hand Media has been different than any other position I have held before, but I have learned something new every day. While I have done freelance social media management before, this position at RHM has allowed me to take more of a leadership role on a team instead of independent work. It has also allowed me to continually grow in my knowledge of digital marketing such as social media, email, and content creation.”
Creative Designer, Ashley Lang
Ashley Lang told us that she loves her team because “Our people are diverse and incredibly creative in unique ways. Everyone has something different to bring to the table, and we get to utilize those strengths to create killer projects that cater to the needs of our clients. Each of us is heavily involved in things outside of RHM, and I think that reflects the potential for leadership and the amount of talent that exists within our team. These are people that come willing to learn and try new things together, and I couldn’t be more excited about it!”
Inspiring and equipping students is part of the vision of the College of Business – to connect business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. The creative spark that the Right Hand Media team shows through their work to help others shine while continuing to learn and excel at their professional skills is something that COBA aspires to instill in all of its students. To follow RHM’s team on their Instagram page click HERE.
Wildcat Ventures Team
Wildcat Ventures (WV), part of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, is a student organization that hosts six student-run businesses. Each business has its own student CEO and set of employees. WV includes the Crossing Cafe (located in the Mabee Business Building), Aperture Research Group, Purple Collar Tees, Wildcat Software, Purple Outfitters, and Right Hand Media.
Junior marketing and management major, Camyrn Eason, and junior marketing major, Ale Ceniceros, are serving as the vice presidents of Wildcat Ventures this year. They hope to see their CEOs grow, learn, and overcome the extra challenges that this year brings. We asked both of the VPs, as well as the president of WV, junior management major, Riley Simpson, to share some of their expectations for this year and the challenges that COVID-19 is bringing to the student-run ventures.
What are your expectations this year for Wildcat Ventures?
WV President: Riley Simpson
Riley: “Wildcat Ventures is a club of the most entrepreneurial, problem-solving, ‘figure it out’ students on campus. We opened this year with an almost completely new team of executives and CEOs. I was hired the week that school went online (last spring) because of COVID, and our whole club is facing unprecedented challenges. Things started with a sense of what in the world are we going to do? But I am incredibly thankful for two vice-presidents and 5 CEOs who have rolled up their sleeves and dove into creative problem-solving. I’ve seen a lot of hard work in the face of adversity. We are approaching this year as a year of unique opportunity rather than a year where everything falls apart. I’m looking forward to a year of innovative solutions alongside an exceptional team.”
Camryn: “I definitely think this year will be a big challenge and learning opportunity for everyone involved. I’m excited to watch our CEOs adapt and use creativity to solve problems.”
Ale: “I hope to just see learning. I think a big part of WV is learning from mistakes and hardships that come along. Learning to work through these with the people in your company is important. I believe that this is what will help us be better leaders and business professionals.”
WV Vice President: Ale Ceniceros
What changes do you see being made this year?
Riley: “In the past the CEOs of WV have operated in more independent ways, focusing on their companies without much connection to one another. This year we want everyone in WV to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. We’re out to bring positive change to ACU and develop leaders that will carry the Kingdom into the business world. You can’t do that alone and this year we want to create a thriving collaborative community. We are also honing in on creating sustainable systems that will outlast this year’s team. With student organizations, the turnover rate is so high. This year we want to create club-wide systems that will keep the momentum going even when we are gone.”
Camryn: “I hope to see better systems put in place for WV this year and easier transitions. As an executive team, we are working super hard to reform the systems to make them more simple and eliminate a lot of communication gaps. We also want to focus on the transition process from year to year so that when a new executive team and new CEOs are put into place, they will have an easier time transitioning. Of course, I would also love to see Wildcat Ventures turn over a bigger profit than previous years.”
Ale: “I think a big change this year is collaboration. The executive team is hoping to create a culture where WV is all one entity instead of 5 small companies with different systems, ideas, and beliefs.”
WV Vice President: Camryn Eason
How do you think COVID-19 will impact the businesses this year?
Riley: “COVID-19 changes the landscape that WV operates in. We are running a cafe without much seating, selling shirts when there are no events and doing marketing research for a constantly shifting market. The pandemic is forcing us to be creative, and it is also forging our leaders. I know we can have an incredibly successful year. When the pandemic pushes us to the limits we just have to push back.”
Camryn: “COVID-19 will definitely have a big impact on all of our business this year. With department budget cuts, some of our project-based companies could see less business, but I am confident in our CEO’s abilities to overcome this problem. There will also be several changes made in the Crossing Cafe to follow CDC and university guidelines.”
Ale: “COVID-19 has already impacted our businesses a lot. Some of them have been taken online, others are thinking of ways to stay open in person. This is where creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset will be helpful. It will be so fun to see what the CEOs come up with.”
While the president and vice-presidents of Wildcat Ventures oversee the entire operation, it is up to each individual CEO to manage their specific business. We interviewed two of the CEO’s, Ben Fridge and Maddy Crockett, to ask them what they anticipate the new year to bring. Ben is a junior management and marketing major and is the CEO of Aperture Research Group (ARG), a market research and analytics firm. Maddy is a junior management and accounting major and is the CEO of Purple Collar Tees, a custom apparel screen printing company specializing in t-shirt design.
Why did you apply to be a CEO?
Ben: “The WV President painted a vision of a club I wanted to be a part of. The opportunities we can provide the Wildcat and greater Abilene community is immense and exciting to be stepping into before I leave school.”
Maddy: “Wildcat Ventures drew my attention with the hands-on opportunity they provide to students. The leadership this year is top-notch, and I’m excited to be working with a team of like-minded people who will push me to be better.”
ARG CEO: Ben Fridge
What is your plan going into your business?
Ben: “I want to streamline systems within ARG and grow our clientele this semester. Transition is a big part of student-run organizations that operate on a semester to semester basis, and I was blessed to be handed this company in great shape with exciting things on the horizon. For that reason, I want to be able to truly leave ARG better than I found it!”
Maddy: “My plan is to be persistent, be excellent, and be collaborative. My business is largely sales-driven, so communication with my team and our customers is key. Being excellent in customer service is our top value proposition, and we get countless opportunities for that throughout the year. Finally, collaboration with my team is a great way to create ideas and teamwork.”
What challenges do you anticipate?
Ben: “I think the word ’streamlining’ can be hard to quantify and easy to boast about. If we truly want to maximize efficiency and simplify processes, we will need to be honest about what is truly serving our systems and what is ‘fluff’ that has no bearing whether it is cut or kept.”
Maddy: “I think the most challenging part of this position is the fact that we are all students, with several other commitments outside of Wildcat Ventures. The greatest aspect of change in my plan will be challenged in staying on task and of course, specifically when life outside of work gets crazy.”
What changes would you like to make?
Ben: “I want to greatly expand our portfolio of clients on ACU’s campus using referrals and my analyst’s network of connections. I believe there is a great need for more organizations to be data-driven (especially on ACU’s campus), so reaching further in our circles would reveal deficiencies to these groups. Also, with a broader range of projects behind us, ARG can focus on more involved ideas in future years.”
Maddy: “I want our image on campus to be as a business that goes above and beyond with top-notch products. I’d like for our team to be unified in the way we sell to customers and be persistent in the way we communicate.”
PCT CEO: Maddy Crockett
How has COVID-19 impacted the way you are operating?
Ben: “Beyond Zoom interactions with the employees hired, ARG can function in an online world more easily than many of the other companies. One of the exciting changes within our changed world is the potential for organizations needing data and insights about the way people are consuming and participating in commerce today. Market research opens the door to understanding how culture has shifted and how businesses or groups need to shift to retain individuals and thrive in this season.”
What does your business specialize in?
Ben: “Market research and data analytics regarding the success of events or programs has been a major focus in past years. Reviewing collected responses to satisfaction surveys or creating focus groups to determine how well an organization is performing at a point in time is an area that ARG has mastered.”
Maddy: “My business specializes in custom apparel and merchandise products for individuals and organizations around Abilene. We partner with people who have a design idea, and we help initiate and finish the process of bringing that design idea to life.”
Why should groups/students on campus use your business?
Ben: “The unique insights we provide have made waves in the decision-making process of all our clients. The value of having data and research behind initiatives deeply matters in an era that craves certainty and evidence. ARG strives to create the most value for whatever your business, organization, or campaign is driving.”
Maddy: “PCT serves the ACU community by providing top-notch products at a competitive price. Not only do we walk with you step-by-step through the creation process, but we also deliver your items directly to you – you never have to leave campus! If you can create it, we can make it a reality.”
WV president, Riley Simpson, knows the plan going forward this year may likely change but feels that the organization is ready to adapt and grow. “We are currently working on launching two new companies this year. I know we can do it, but we have to have the right people in place. We need to find the people who see things differently, who aren’t afraid to fail, and who won’t quit when they get knocked down. We are in the business of developing resilient leaders who are crazy enough to think they will change the world. We know we will. If you’re one of those people, find me and let’s make it happen.”
We hope that this will encourage you to think of the services that Wildcat Ventures offers the next time you need a cup of coffee, a t-shirt made, or help to form a strong strategy for your organization. You can read more about each of the businesses by clicking here. If you are interested in becoming a part of Wildcat Ventures, fill out this form or check out their website.
When Matt Boisvert (’97), President and co-founder of Pharos Resources, graduated from ACU with a degree in marketing he never would have dreamed that his professional life would be so heavily influenced by his time as a student and as an educator. Matt has given back to his alma mater by being consistently involved in helping current students with professional development by providing internships and support at Pharos Resources as well as serving on COBA’s Visiting Committee.
After graduating from ACU, Matt began his career at C&W Manufacturing in Alvarado, Texas as the Director of Marketing. It didn’t take long for Boisvert to return to the classroom. In 2001, while working on his MBA in Services Marketing and Management at Arizona State, he began interning with Hallmark Cards at their headquarters (Kansas City, MO) in their Specialty Retail Group, implementing and measuring the grand opening marketing strategy for Hallmark stores. Matt received his MBA in 2002 and came back to ACU’s College of Business Administration to become the Director of COBA’s Career Development Center, building a comprehensive career readiness and employer relations program for business majors.
Some of the colleges and universities that Pharos works with.
In 2004, Boisvert became the Director of Career Development for ACU and, in 2006, the Executive Director of the Office of Career and Academic Development. It was during these years that he learned about the challenges of student success, as this office was tasked with overseeing the “Support Our Students” program and related SOS software, as well as providing career development and academic counseling services to students. In 2007, Matt returned to COBA and served as the Assistant Dean of Marketing Operations and as a marketing instructor. He said, “Teaching taught me the power of actually ‘seeing’ your students in the classroom… identifying those who were struggling in academic and non-academic ways. At the same time, I was consulting with ACU to help commercialize the SOS software for the higher education market…which led to me making an offer to purchase and transfer the ACU-developed technology to a newly formed entity (Pharos Resources) in 2008.” In 2010, Matt entered Pharos Resources in the Springboard Ideas Challenge and won the “most fundable” business plan. It was time to fully pursue growing Pharos Resources – which meant leaving ACU in order to do so. However, this did not mark the end of his relationship with ACU. In fact, it has led to many opportunities for Matt to collaborate with COBA through Pharos Resources. Today, Pharos Resources serves 61 institutions across the United States and Canada. Its solutions are used by over 10,000 faculty and staff and provides support to over 125,000 college students.
Faith has played a vital role in Boisvert’s work throughout his life. “Having my identity in Christ has sustained me during the lows and keeps me humbly grateful in the highest highs. It is an incredible experience to be able to create value, impact lives, and build a team of people who are passionate about meaningful work. I feel so blessed to do this work.” Matt allows his faith to guide him day by day in all seasons, reminding him that he is uniquely made and loved by God. “God is investing in me, wanting to teach and continuously lead me for His plan. That has given me the freedom and confidence to create Pharos in a way that honors Him.” This is lived out by the way that Pharos treats their clients, how they interact with competitors, and how they invest in their client’s success.
Mission First with Anthony Melchiorri
Pharos’ current challenge, like most of the rest of the world, is helping clients navigate COVID-19. In May, COVID-19 forced universities to face difficult decisions about their summer and fall reopening plans. After hearing Anthony Melchiorri on the daily podcast “No Vacancy”, Matt reached out to the “Hotel Impossible” host and hospitality expert to see if he would share his insights from the hard-hit travel industry to improve the success of higher education institutions during the pandemic. Anthony is an expert on how to create clean, safe spaces with visual signs of sanitization, and provides an exceptional understanding of how to deliver service excellence. The Travel Channel host, Melchiorri, is known for being direct, honest, and committed to excellence. In addition, he is deeply passionate about student success! Melchiorri points to his own higher education and military experiences as life-changing and the fact that he has three daughters in college right now makes his investment clear and personal. He is also involved in the business of higher education, by serving on the board of Park University, his alma mater. Anthony’s response was immediate and definitive: “If this partnership can change the life of one student, it is worth it.” Pharos Resources is partnering with Anthony through 2020 and has already hosted four Mission First webinars with him, providing practical advice and encouragement with an engaging and entertaining format: readers can access those webinars at the links below.
Helping Boisvert and Melchiorri drive the Mission First marketing campaign is Tres Cox, senior marketing major from Lewisville, Texas. Tres has been a marketing intern with Pharos since fall of 2018. While the Mission First marketing campaign promotes the Pharos partnership with Anthony Melchiorri, Tres has had the opportunity to work on a wide range of marketing projects for Pharos including COVID-19 resources, brochures, conference sponsorships and exhibits, digital/social media marketing campaigns, and marketing new product launches. Boisvert is highly complimentary of Cox, saying, “He is incredibly talented, with a great combination of valuable skills. It is clear that COBA continues to develop talented students into business professionals. Tres has added significant value to our brand and the team.”
Matt’s student experience at ACU, especially with faculty members, was formative as he described each of his COBA professors as exceptional and still appreciates them for connecting him to real-world applications while in the classroom. He said that COBA gave him confidence in his ability and instilled in him the value of service as a Christian leader in business. Dr. Rick Lytle was Matt’s overall favorite professor for the reason that “he modeled a life in Christ through his love and leadership” which has greatly influenced who Matt has become.
Boisvert’s favorite ACU memory? That would be Welcome Week during his senior year. “For my friends, roommates and me, it was junior/senior wars and my house was the de facto headquarters for seniors. My roommates and I had crates of eggs set on the roof of Bob Hunter’s rent house as massive egg fights erupted. In the middle of this ‘war’, I met my wife Melissa and we have been together ever since.”
Matt advises incoming freshmen to complete at least one internship before graduation. “They expand your network, allow you to explore your career options, and will test your competence.” And to current students, he says, “I would strongly encourage COBA students to invest in learning more about who they are and how they can make an impact in the world. Then, to prepare for their future, I really encourage students to develop their ACU network: peers, faculty, mentors. The value of a college degree is more than the classes you take…the people who love the ACU mission will be valuable connections for life.”
The ACU chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) hit the ground running as they began their second year back on campus. One of the goals of the AMA chapter is to equip students through professional development and provide real-world experiences. With this goal in mind, the chapter officers and advisors have set a goal to have an annual spring trip to the DFW area where they engage with alumni to visit their workplaces and show students what the life of a marketing professional in different fields looks like.
Even though this year’s trip had to be canceled due to the current pandemic situation, the officers and advisors didn’t want members to miss out on such an opportunity. As the team joined to brainstorm ideas to provide a similar experience to students, they used technology to their advantage and decided to plan the first AMA virtual event. There were a few challenges to take into consideration as the event was being planned, “I think there was a lot of uncertainty about the event during the beginning. Questions like, would students attend something like this? How long should the event be? Would it be weird to do it via zoom? How do we make it personal?” Lindsay Palmer commented. The faculty and staff advisors, Dr. Jennifer Golden and Lindsay Palmer, partnered with ACU alumni who could tell students about their marketing experience and personal branding, from the comfort of their homes. After reaching out to professionals from various industries and marketing areas, four alumni joined with ACU AMA to tell students their stories. The panel included Jay Swinney from Indeed, Katherine Hall from Schaefer Advertising, Rachel Gilliam from Lev, and Reagan Morgan from PFSweb.
Alumni Panel: Jay Swinney (’09), Katherine Hall (’13), Rachel Gilliam (’13) and Reagan Morgan (’08)
On June 8th, ACU AMA members and students from the College of Business Administration joined these alumni on Zoom for the virtual event, “What Now? Five Ways to Brand Yourself During a Crisis”. The event was kicked off by Dr. Jennifer Golden, who shared five ways for students to continue working on their personal brand during COVID-19 and stand out amongst job applicants. ACU AMA also partnered with COBA’s Professional Development office to offer additional opportunities and resources for students. Then, the alumni panel was introduced and each professional shared about their roles in their respective companies. From data analysts to account directors, each of the alumni had a different experience and perspective to share that was valuable for the wide range of interests of the students attending the virtual event. To provide a personal networking experience, students entered into break-out virtual rooms of 5 as one of the alumni guest speakers conducted a Q&A session.
Besides learning practical ways to grow their network and develop their personal brand, students were able to connect with alumni and peers on LinkedIn with the information provided by the ACU AMA advisors. Social distancing did not limit the ability to connect with marketing professionals and learn insightful skills for the future. The alumni who willingly shared their time and experience with the students, once again, showed how ACU’s community is still valuable long after graduation. “We have such awesome alumni at ACU and in COBA specifically. They were all so willing to give up some of their time to advise and pour into current students. Overall, the event was a huge success in my opinion. It was cool to see how engaging the students and alumni were with each other. I think this event also helped bring a new opportunities to our students. I can’t wait to see what else AMA does.” Lindsay added.
Students joined by ACU Alumni for the virtual event via Zoom
The ACU AMA chapter is looking forward to another year of professional growth and events that empower students to fulfill their career goals. As the year was kicked off with an incredible event, the new officers and advisors hope to provide similar opportunities to all members throughout the 2020-2021 academic year.
Click here to check out the landing page created for the event with the bios of participating alumni. Follow ACU AMA on Instagram @ama_acu to hear about our next event. If you have any questions about membership, please email ACU AMA advisor, Lindsay Palmer.
Have you ever struggled to make a decision when given too many options? Choice overload, or overchoice, is a cognitive process where people have difficulty making a decision due to a variety of options. Why does this happen?
As part of the lifelong relationship vision of the College of Business Administration, Associate Professor of Marketing, Dr. Ryan Jessup, and SITC Director and Professor of Computer Science, Dr. John Homer, partnered with ACU alum, Levi Ritchie (’15), to research the choice overload effect. Their paper, “Hurry up and decide: Empirical tests of the choice overload effect using cognitive process models”, was featured in the American Psychology Association’s April issue on decision. According to Scimago Journal & Country Rank, this journal is in the top 10% in psychology, neuropsychology and physical psychology subfield.
Dr. Ryan Jessup
While in graduate school at Indiana University, Dr. Ryan Jessup collected data to study a theory of decision making that prompted him to conduct this research as a follow-up from that work. As the lead author, Dr. Jessup generated the research idea and designed the experiment which was programmed by Dr. Homer. Levi Ritchie helped program part of the experiment in Python, recruited participants, and collected data before analyzing the data along with Dr. Jessup. The team combined their expertise in their respective fields to compile and edit the paper that was then published in the APA Journal. Dr. Jessup described the goal of their research as, “We wanted to test between multiple competing hypotheses that I had proposed in an earlier paper for the choice overload aka too much choice effect. The effect is that people purchase more when they have fewer options to choose from, violating basic economic principles.”
Levi Ritchie (’15)
The science of cognitive psychology is broad and contains a variety of potential research studies; however, Levi Ritchie described the importance of studying the choice overload effect as essential to the business field, “From a business perspective, understanding the elements that moderate the effect is crucial to marketing. Even when your selection of alternatives is plentiful, it may be beneficial to only present the strongest subset.” Similarly, Dr. Jessup commented on how important the understanding of this effect is when selling or promoting a product, as well as for personal decision making.
“An interesting thing about conducting quality research is that it makes us better at teaching. In my case, it is particularly true because I tend to teach courses on how to conduct or analyze research. But, even if I were teaching a different type of course it would still improve my teaching for several reasons. First, when teaching on a relevant topic, I would be far more aware of the pioneering research – in some cases because I would have been the one to do it; in other cases, it would be because I had to examine all possible theories and explanations when conducting my research, simultaneously giving far more breadth and depth than I would have gotten had I just read about it in the textbook or merely just read a few things about it. In essence, researchers know more about these findings because they are the ones making them – we are not merely reading about them. It is the ultimate in experiential learning”, Jessup said.
The conclusion of this research was explained in-depth in their publication, but Jessup summarized by saying, “We found that one of our proposed explanations well predicted the data whereas another one – the one that is commonly espoused as causing the effect – did not appear to play a role. A specific conclusion was time pressure appears to really drive the effect; so, if you are trying to sell things to people who are often hurried – think drive-thru’s or situations where people often have little children with them – you are better off giving them a very small set of options.”
Levi Ritchie is currently pursuing a career in Data Science, while Dr. Jessup continues to work on research on an improved theory of decision making that combines choice with learning. He is currently working on another project that involves the choices of married individuals and economic games with professors Katie Wick, John Homer and, recently graduated marketing major, Luke Stevens (’20).
In the fall of 2019, Dr. Mark and Dr. Laura Phillips embarked on a semester long journey with a group of students on a study abroad trip to Leipzig, Germany. If you are interested in studying abroad, or simply hearing about the adventures that happen abroad, Dr. Laura Phillips has given us a beautiful recap of what it looks like to immerse yourself in a different culture for an extended period of time. Thank you to Riley Simpson, junior management major from Dripping Springs, TX, who studied in Germany with the Phillips for the amazing photos in this blog post.
“The students all took 6 hours of German through a local language school that was about a 30-minute walk or a 20 minute tram ride from the villa. We had class in three hour blocks and class met either two or three times per week. The classes were taught by native German speakers, which was great. (I took the German classes with the students.) All the students also took the Global Studies class which covers German history and culture. Mark taught that class and the in-class materials were supplemented with guest speakers and field trips within Leipzig as well as trips to Berlin, Wittenburg (important in the story of Martin Luthur and the reformation), and Weimar (where we visited Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp).”
There were also several business classes offered, including: Principles of Marketing, International Business, and Life Design, a class taught by both Mark and Laura as an honors colloquium and one hour business course. Students were allowed to take any online classes they wanted to add to their schedule. Most classes were taught at the villa in Leipzig, but they would also occasionally meet for field trips. These included: Spin Lab, a startup business accelerator, Blüthner Pianos, and the BMW factory
I asked Mark and Laura to recap their semester abroad and this was Laura’s response:
”How do you recap an entire semester abroad? A few things I can share that may give you a flavor of the trip/experience.
- We went to Berlin as a group after the students had been in Leipzig one week. Our trip was three days and we were able to see and do some very interesting things. Even after having lived in Leipzig for only a week, at the end of our Berlin trip multiple students expressed how glad they were to get back “home.”
Founded in 1853, Blüthner Piano is one of a handful of ultra high-end piano makers on earth. We learned about the company, oddly enough, at church in Leipzig, where we met an American who worked for Blüthner in California and now heads their marketing efforts. An hour-long series of bus rides (including one stop where some of our people failed to get off) took us to the factory. There we had free access to walk through and see how deluxe pianos have been hand-built since the 1800’s. Today the company is seeing growth in demand from China, even as Europeans and Americans are less interested. It has also added a second line of less expensive pianos for those unwilling to pay the premium their brand can still charge.
As American companies and their customers battle back and forth over privacy, the European Union has moved much more quickly to protect consumers. And the demand for privacy is even more vocal in former East Germany, where for decades the government and a vast network of citizen spies kept tabs on everyone. At the height of the Cold War, 1 in 8 East Germans was spying on other East Germans for the secret police; part of the current resistance to Christianity there is because so many clergy were revealed to have been informing. Leipzigers are very uncomfortable having strangers take their pictures, and children are strictly protected (we hosted a group of children from a nearby school for a meal and only the school’s designated photographer was allowed to shoot pictures. American companies doing business here must move carefully in order not to offend.
- Over the course of the semester we all found some favorite cafés, restaurants, and parks.
- We became comfortable interacting with a city where all the signs are in German. Students who traveled outside of Germany for long weekends expressed how comforting it was to get back to the airport or train station in German and hear people speaking German again (even though we still couldn’t understand much of it).
- We had students who used their travel weekends and week to explore other regions of Germany as well as hit a number of other destinations in Europe, but it was cool because they didn’t just explore the normal destinations of London, Paris, Rome. They also went to Budapest, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, Milan, Pisa, Florence, and some less well-known destinations in Switzerland and Norway. Several of the students even rented cars and took road trips!
- We had a good sized group of students who became very involved at ICF–the church to which Lindsay (who lives on site at the villa) belongs. They became involved and connected even though the services were in German!
- We experienced true German culture by attending a Red Bull soccer game and participating in the crowd chant that occurs after every goal. We had numerous chances to practice the chant because Leipzig won 8-0! We also attended an orchestra concert (the Leipzig orchestra has been a performing group for over 200 years!) and a handball match. Over the course of the semester groups of students attended concerts and/or the ballet (Nutcracker) on their own.
- At one point some students from the Oxford group came to Leipzig to visit. Our students were surprised at how tentative the visitors were because of the language difference (which they hadn’t experienced in Oxford). Until then I don’t think our students realized how much they had grown because of the difference in languages and how comfortable they had become in spite of it. Knowing they can live and thrive in a country that speaks a different language gave them more confidence as they headed out to
explore other destinations.”
In their time abroad, the Phillips made sure to build time in to go on interesting excursions to different countries and experience different culture, one of these being Greece. “Greece was amazing. It came at a great time in the semester. We had just finished our first “semester” of German and the weather was getting cooler in Germany. It was awesome to take a break from classes and spend 10 amazing warm, sunny days in Greece! We saw super cool archaeological sites like the Acropolis, ancient Corinth, the ancient Olympic stadium in Olympia, the oracle of Delphi, etc. We had very knowledgeable tour guides that helped make each of these sites interesting and meaningful. We had a free day in each destination so we were able to explore the towns, hike, go to the beach, rent a boat, and so on.”
“Whatever we did during the day, whether it was together or on our own, we regrouped for a meal together each evening. It was a good time to reconnect and share stories from the day.” Next, they adventured to Prague and integrated what they had learned to what they were seeing. “We took a four day group trip to Prague late in the semester. For this trip the students served as tour guides for the different sites we visited. They prepared their research and then delivered their information to the rest of the group as we took a walking tour around the city. At one site a couple of women from Italy were sitting on a bench nearby. As our student went through her spiel, they held up numbers on their phones, rating her presentation. It was fun to interact with other people who were seeing the same cool sites that we were. In Prague we had our family meal at a Mexican restaurant! It was fun to have some “familiar” food in a far away place!”
(Picture by Laura Phillips
As with anything, there are always cool, funny, interesting, and strange stories to tell. Halloween was no exception to for the bunch. “We planned to have a pumpkin carving activity on October 30th so that afternoon we headed to the store as a very large group to pick out pumpkins. Lindsay said there were plenty in a big box outside the store but when we arrived, there were no pumpkins. We went to two other stores (as a very large group) but no luck. We ended up having to go back to the first store and the students picked out various things, such as small cooking pumpkins, butternut squash, and in one case two cabbages! Needless to say the carvings were interesting and unique and the students did an awesome job of improvising. Halloween isn’t as big of a deal in Germany but the students wanted to trick or treat at the villa. To make this feasible, students could volunteer to be a ‘host’ or they could choose to trick-or-treat or do both or nothing. Everyone who wanted to trick-or-treat had to dress up and then the hosts spread out around the villa. Since just visiting five or six rooms and getting candy would take about 10 minutes, it became a trick-and-treat activity. There was an activity at each ‘house.’ Some of the activities included solving riddles, playing MarioKart, playing pictionary, writing and then reading a Halloween poem, and doing a TikTok. Two of the students dressed up as us!”
And it is no surprise that a few travel issues were involved:
- “On one of the early weekends, a group of girls made their hostel reservations for the wrong nights and ended up having to sleep in the common room of the hostel the first night.
- A group of guys took a camping trip in Norway. Two of the guys slept outside in hammocks and it was a bit chillier than they were prepared for.
- Coming back from a small German town by myself (with my bicycle) the train I was on split into two pieces. Only one half want back to Leipzig and I was on the wrong half. I discovered this when we arrived at a city I knew was the wrong direction from where I wanted to go. I had to get on another train back to where I started and try again!”
To end their time in Germany, there was a closing ceremony in which many of the students demonstrated their musical talents. “One of the students spoke and then at the end, four of them went up for the closing number and unexpectedly busted out with a very energetic version of ‘I Will Survive’. It caught us all off-guard but was hilarious and so awesome! The students could give you many more funny moments.”
Phillips ended with, ”It was a great semester of exploration, bonding with the group, game nights, devos, group meals, getting lost, being confused…”
-Laura Phillips + a ditto from Mark