- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - Room 328 in the Thomas W. Wathen Business Building was abuzz with activity on Thursday afternoon as Vincennes University students hovered around computer screens, rushed to the printer to pull freshly-inked flyers, and chatted about product descriptions.

They were gathered in a classroom, but not for any ordinary class: They were there to grow a business.

This week, the group of 10 juniors, all in the information technology concentration working toward a bachelor’s degree, launched a project dubbed “Very Unique” that will help them learn the ins and outs of driving a business using technology.

They have partnered with Regions Bank as well as VU’s Old Post Bookstore on the project to sell a select variety of VU merchandise online as a fundraiser, with proceeds going back into a scholarship fund. The students are responsible for everything from promoting the shop to processing the orders.

Last year, a similar class project sold coffee and VU tote bags, explained Jaci Lederman, IT department chair and associate professor.

But this year, she had something bigger in mind.

“I wanted to expand upon it, so the Alumni Office really helped me work with Regions to come on board,” she said. “Being able to have a sponsor like Regions actually helped us put money into our fund, to give us some seed money to get going and make the scholarship fund bigger.”

The fundraiser proceeds will go toward a Regions Bank Trending Topics Fund, through the VU Foundation, that students in this degree program will be able to use to get help pay for books or other educational needs.

“These guys are really paying it forward, which is definitely something they’re passionate about,” Lederman said. “I love that about these students.”

The VU students took Lederman’s idea and ran with it. They started thinking of products they might sell, explained Josie Lacy, the project’s graphic designer, and debated things like mugs and fidget spinners.

But then the group reached out to the Old Post Bookstore, and that really helped the project take off.

“They were cool enough to let us use all these products,” Lacy said. “So we make the profit off of it for now.”

With that partnership forged and a product line established, students started building a website to host “SHOP1801,” populating it with images, product descriptions and pick-up or shipping information.

“This is the shop,” Lacy said, scrolling down a webpage of VU gear. “You can just click whatever product you want and it should have a description - we’re still kind of fixing things up - and then once you add it to the cart, you can pick if you want to pick it up at the bookstore, or we can actually ship it to you.”

Figuring out what to do once an online order is placed was the next task.

Gavin Schall, who fills the role of “operations manager,” formulated a comprehensive but easy-to-digest flow chart that tracks an order from placement to fulfillment.

He uses tools like Trello and Google Calendar to keep track of order information and the shift schedule. Two students are “on call” each day, Schall explained, to process any orders that might come in.

“So if I updated the Trello and put more orders on there for today,” he said on Thursday, “I would text Jazzlyn (Walker) and Robert (Schwart) and tell them there are orders that need to be processed.”

The students also utilize Google Drive so that everything is all in one place and easily accessed.

“I definitely think that it’s helped me with my organizational skills already,” Schall said.

The project requires everyone in the group to fill a certain role, from project manager to shipping handler to accountant, but it also requires a lot of teamwork.

That’s one of the main skills Lederman hopes students take away from the fundraiser.

“On a project, you’ll have multiple people doing multiple things and even though your assignment might be done, it’s good to look at your teammates and see what’s missing,” she said. “And they’ll learn how technology is driving business processes. It takes a lot - they had to learn the whole process of setting up a website, getting the images, getting the product description.

“It really is a whole business.”

The fundraiser will also give students firsthand experience in all the other things it takes to run a business, including social media marketing, financing and website management.


Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, https://bit.ly/2IQnOSx


Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com

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