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Putting Students in the Driver's Seat

Corporate immersion project brings Mazda to the Bentley classroom

Mazda recently faced a challenge: The automaker had created an iPad app designed to improve its customer experience — and ultimately sell cars — but needed to conduct research on its effectiveness. Thanks to a relationship Joe Shaker ’90, president of Shaker Automotive Group, has with Mazda, the company partnered with Bentley students to take on the project.

“We have done projects for Mazda with Bentley graduate students in the past and got great results,” explains Shaker. “When I developed an iPad app for Mazda and wanted to test it, this time, Bentley suggested using an undergraduate marketing class. Though it’s rare for businesses to work with undergrads, we are thrilled that we did because our results were phenomenal.”

Immersive Study, Real-Life Learning

The Mazda project is just one of the most recent examples of Bentley’s corporate immersion courses, which offer a hands-on approach to learning by bringing actual marketing problems from real organizations into the classroom.

Founded by Perry Lowe, also founder of the soon-to-be-launched Bentley Corporate Immersion Institute, these innovative courses have been a hallmark of the Bentley curriculum for more than 20 years, and are built on the belief that much impactful learning comes from real-world situations.

“The hands-on experience is compelling because our final product isn’t just an exercise, but has real relevance to a real company,” says Deanna Desharnais ’13, a Marketing major.

For the Mazda project, students in James Pouliopoulos’ Corporate Immersion Marketing Project course were divided into groups and charged with conducting calculated research on how Mazda salespeople were using the app, and making recommendations to Mazda on how they could use it more effectively or implement other technological changes to improve the sales process.

To learn about the auto business, students:

  • Gleaned data from Business Source Premier, JSTOR, LexisNexis, Mintel and ProQuest databases in the library
  • Gathered data from consumers and dealership personnel using Qualtrics online surveys and videotaped focus groups in the Center for Marketing Technology (CMT)
  • Posed as mystery shoppers to collect data at Boston-area Mazda dealers
  • Crunched their results using IBM’s SPSS analytical software

Throughout the semester, the class also video-conferenced from the CMT with Mazda executives on the progress of the project.

“I didn’t feel as if I were teaching,” says Pouliopoulos, a lecturer in marketing. “It was more like I was project managing a consulting group made up of four teams.”

A Win-Win for Mazda and Students

Final presentations were made to Mazda corporate executives, who traveled to Bentley specifically for the class.

“The information we received from the student teams is tremendous,” said Lawrence Chao, Mazda’s group manager for sales integration and training, who has been working with Bentley on the project since June. “They looked at our problems in a unique, out-of-the-box way, and each team took a different approach, so each point of view was invaluable.”

The hands-on approach opens up a new road for learning, supplementing the curriculum students receive in their other classes.

“I pulled together concepts and content I learned in other classes and applied them to the problem,” says Juanita Barberi, also a Marketing major. “Doing this type of work develops skills that are impossible to learn from a textbook.”