marketing

Business students team up with local firms and nonprofit organizations

Students in The University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business regularly share their expertise with companies and nonprofits in Tulsa and surrounding communities. These projects not only give the students real-world experience, they also help local businesses and nonprofits find creative solutions to expand their brands and better reach consumers.

Professor Charles Wood wearing a green shirt and smiling
Professor Charles Wood

Professor of Marketing Charles Wood believes that hands-on experience is a valuable tool for learning about the world of marketing. “The purpose of all of these collaboration projects is for students to apply concepts they learn in class to real-world settings,” Wood said. “For an applied discipline such as marketing, real learning occurs best when students are required to synthesize and experientially use theories and concepts in new contexts.”

Dee Harris of Tulsa’s Family and Children Service Center worked with TU business students in both the spring and summer semesters. “Professor Wood’s classes are the perfect example of balancing student learning with community need,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be a partner in real-world learning as it invigorates students and provides nonprofits with a new perspective about our marketing and communication plans. I always look forward to collaborating with students and enjoy watching them discover, create and solve.”

Integrated Marketing Communication

A potent example of this university-and-community engagement arose in the spring 2020 Integrated Marketing Communication course. In this course, undergraduate students formed teams and worked with seven local nonprofit and for-profit organizations. At the beginning of the project, representatives of the organizations came to campus multiple times to check-in with the students’ progress and provide assistance where needed. Then, once the COVID-19 pandemic altered the semester plans, the meetings between student groups and their organizations continued, albeit online.

Despite the unexpected transition to online classes, the students and their companies maintained a close working relationship that promoted growth for both parties. The student teams developed and managed a full Google AdWords campaign to help their clients achieve their goals. A local social media expert, Joe Hart, came to these sessions and supported the teams throughout the semester.

Consumer Behavior

During the summer, community engagement continued, but this time with graduate students. A consultancy brief project in the master of business administration (MBA) Consumer Behavior course paired small groups of students with 10 local companies including Scoops Rolls and Creamery, Runners World and Marshall Brewing. Each group of students listened to their partner-firm’s concerns and developed personalized plans to meet their needs.

For the summer course, Wood explained, “the only selection criteria provided was that the business be locally owned. Students were encouraged to choose their own clients based on what they believed was the organization’s potential and clear need for some advice and assistance, meet with the owners and then proceed from there.”

All the groups delivered potential aids to the companies, including ideas about better use of social media, customer loyalty programs, community engagement, retail layout improvements, partnerships, branding and promotions.

Danny Donley smiling and wearing a blue polo shirt
Danny Donley, MBA student

One student in the MBA course, Danny Donley, said of the summer experience: “The chance to work hands-on with a real company in our community that is struggling a little extra because of the COVID-19 pandemic was a tremendous experience. My team worked with a small massage therapy company and helped use our knowledge and research to immediately revitalize the company’s marketing strategy and reach. We had the opportunity to put creative ideas into action to test our own skills while benefiting a local firm, which is rewarding in two ways.”


A business degree from TU will bring you in contact with faculty members at the forefront of their fields who are excellent teachers as well as scholars. Learn about this vibrant, welcoming community.

Living the learning

Experiential learning — or learning by doing — gives students the opportunity to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world. Applying skills taught in a classroom, students solve a problem that simulates challenges they will face in the workplace. This type of learning is a hallmark of TU’s management and marketing programs. Not only do students gain valuable experience that carries over to their professional careers, but they also give back to the community through projects that benefit nonprofits and inspire leadership, creativity and innovation.

NOVA Day of Innovation winners

Why incorporate experiential learning?

Traditional classroom settings typically adhere to a structured format and while many professors encourage discussion, that type of instruction only takes a student so far into the material. Experiential learning, however, gives students the benefit of learning from one another in a self-directed manner. Students bear responsibility by creating processes, making decisions and maintaining accountability, keeping them fully engaged in a project. They experience success and failure just as they would in a professional setting.

Connecting with the community

Working with AdWords clients
Students work with local clients to develop a Google AdWords campaign.

Studio Blue, a unique student space in the Collins College of Business, is designed to encourage innovation. Charles Wood, associate professor of marketing, is one of several faculty members instrumental in bringing the concept of an in-house “idea factory” to fruition.

“Part of the strategy behind Studio Blue was to create interesting connections between our students and the community,” Wood explains. “There is a lot of need in the community, and the students need hands-on practice — everyone wins.”

With generous support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation and TU administration, the space opened in 2008. Students use Studio Blue as an agency-like environment to generate product innovation ideas, create business plans and work on projects for businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Wood also worked with the alumnus Joe Moeller and the Charles Koch Foundation to help design the NOVA Fellowship, which equips students with the tools to implement an idea or passion before graduating. The fellowship gives students the opportunity to work with mentors to develop innovative projects outside regular coursework. Students can obtain an Applied Innovation Certificate by taking a set of courses that teach innovation principles and the process of problem solving.

Working with AdWords clients
Students work with local clients to develop a Google AdWords campaign.

In the last few years, students in TU’s management and marketing department and the NOVA Fellowship have led nearly 100 projects on campus and in the Tulsa community. The hands-on projects range from promotional and branding campaigns to large-scale events for organizations including Family and Children’s Services, Mazzio’s, QuikTrip, Women in Recovery and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

Elizabeth Estrada (BSBA ’19), who majored in marketing, worked on a service project for Goodwill during her time at TU. “I think hands-on projects that are offered through Studio Blue and NOVA are extremely beneficial to students’ overall learning,” said Estrada. “Working on the Goodwill project not only taught me great teamwork, time management and multitasking skills, but it was also a great way for us to work with AdWords in a real-life experience. Although our project did not exceed our expectations, we were able to leave with the knowledge of the tool. This was an experience that is not often offered in a traditional classroom, so it was also fun!”

Bringing big ideas to campus

TEDxUtulsaTU’s NOVA fellows have collaborated to organize campus events such as TEDx University of Tulsa and the Day of Innovation that spark creativity and showcase student talent. The Day of Innovation, which began four years ago, celebrates the hard work and bright ideas TU students have developed and implemented to benefit the college campus and local community. Caroline Rodgers, a marketing and French major who will graduate in the spring, said, “Having a small hand in the first and second Day of Innovation here on campus showed me that students and faculty alike crave the opportunity to put their creative skills to the test and moreover, recognition for the projects that they work so hard on — TUDOI gave them both.”

Rodgers explained that being able to help foster a space in which that was possible was such a unique experience and having the backing from the NOVA Fellowship allowed the idea to become a reality within a few short months. “I look forward to the great things that are to come from all TU students in an innovative capacity as the university continues to grow and change.”

Studio Blue works with local organizations

What do you get when you put a team of hardworking TU students from several majors, a creative alumnus, and a puppeteer in the same room? In the case of Studio Blue, that would be a stuffed animal handler character named Joey, a professional film crew, a live boa constrictor, and a level of learning and collaboration not often found even in a topnotch advertising agency.

Launched in 2008 and housed in the Collins College of Business, Studio Blue is an idea incubator that fosters innovation, a cross-disciplinary culture and a creative community. Directed by Charles Wood, Collins College of Business associate professor of marketing, this one-of-a-kind venue is home to classes, meetings, competitions and workshops for students in all majors.

In the past, student teams have tackled challenges such as the development and execution of petition drives for social causes, promotions to encourage food pantry donations, conceiving and delivering an interactive assembly program for children, and forging working mechanisms from pizza boxes.

Funded in part by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Studio Blue works in tandem with the TU marketing program in addition to exploring projects of its own. Each semester, the marketing faculty identifies several nonprofit organizations with a need. Once the partnership is established, the marketing department pulls together a crew of students from many majors who have the skills to tackle the task.

“This is an environment where students can think big,” Wood said.

In 2013, one of Studio Blue’s projects began with a request from the Tulsa Zoo. The identified need was to assist the nonprofit civic animal park with a way to market not only its destination but also its education efforts. Several of the Studio Blue team members were film majors, and Wood reached out to a few local creative professionals from the Tulsa area for strategic counsel. The idea that emerged was the design of a muppet-style spokescharacter, a junior zookeeper named Joey, who could help bring excitement to the zoo’s online educational materials.

After local freelancer Andrew Dale crafted the puppet, the team spent the summer months developing several trial videos that culminated with a presentation to the Zoo leadership. The pitch was a success, and Studio Blue continued the project in the fall of 2013 with the filming of three 2- to 3-minute educational videos with live animals for the Tulsa Zoo website. More are being recorded during the 2014-15 year.

“We are excited with the final product and pleased that we have a wonderful tool to reach kids with quality information about animals,” said Mika Yan, a marketing major.

The first video featured a boa constrictor, and Yan was on hand when additional footage was shot, simulating the concept of Joey’s clubhouse.

“I learned a lot from this practical marketing process, from assessment to research to strategy,” Yan said. “I enjoyed the whole experience including brainstorming ideas and watching the final product. And we got to work at the zoo!”