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Going the Distance
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Students in a Bentley course offered last spring faced the typical array of required readings, class discussions, papers and exams. Oh, and they had to run a 5K.
“Run” as in plan and orchestrate an event to raise money for a cause. The inaugural “5 for the Fight” race, held on campus last April, collected nearly $900 for the American Cancer Society/Relay for Life at Bentley.
“It’s a practical-application course in sport event management, but can apply to any type of event,” says William Gillespie, adjunct assistant professor of management. “I really leave it in the students’ hands to figure out what they can and can’t accomplish. They use the campus as a learning tool for reaching out and getting people involved.”
After agreeing on a type of event and a charity, students in the course joined one of three departments: marketing and registration, sponsorship and budgeting, or operations.
“We had to decide what we wanted to be most heavily involved in,” explains Management major Tyler Ash ’15, who served on the sponsorship and budgeting team. “Then we set our goals: This is the experience we want to provide and this is what we’re going to need to do it.”
Working with Bentley staff and student organizations proved critical for marketing and registration team member Mikaela Gillick ’15. She reached out to Student Life to reserve outdoor space, and Student Affairs helped set up online registration. In addition to using social media for marketing, Gillick partnered with the student organization Colleges Against Cancer (she is the group’s VP) to coordinate a bake sale and email blast.
Students working on sponsorship and budgeting went beyond campus to collect in-kind donations from local businesses. Bentley’s LinkedIn network delivered an unexpected benefit.
“When I posted about the race, I heard from an alumnus [Chris Wheeler ’94] who runs a website called Dedicating Dollars, which organizes fundraisers,” Ash says. “He allowed us to use it at a discounted rate as a platform to collect donations from people who couldn’t attend but wanted to be involved.”
Sharing the right information at the right time was a key challenge. “During class we presented updates on work completed and tasks that still needed to be done,” says Gillick, who is majoring in Marketing. “We learned how we could work better together, and recognized which departments needed more help.”
“We found out the hard way that communication is important,” adds Ash. “People from different departments were working on the same thing for different reasons. But ultimately it got better.”
Learning to improvise is par for the course in event management, says Gillespie, who runs a sports consulting business. “There’s always damage control and fixing problems on the fly. We can talk in class theoretically, but when you’re out there trying to put something together, it doesn’t always run the way it’s supposed to. This is something students had to deal with.”
For example, operations team member Angela Vassalotti ’16 developed Plan B when arrangements for a food truck fell through just a week before the event.
“It was a struggle not knowing whether we could find someone else and get approval to have them on campus,” says the Marketing major, whose team was able to line up a popcorn machine and ice cream truck. And lesson learned. “Events don’t come together as easily as you think they will, especially when it comes to the very end. You don’t know what can happen.”
Race day arrived with what three-season runner Gillick calls “perfect weather” for putting foot to pavement: sunny and breezy. Students reached their participation goal of 100 runners, and were happy to learn that their work will serve as a foundation for the future.
“It’s nice that the event will continue,” says Ash. “We were able to utilize traditional classroom experience with a hands-on opportunity that could become a legacy for people to learn from.”
Gillespie seconds the enthusiasm. “You may think of a 5K as a bunch of people showing up, running and going home. But students worked for three months, right up until the end. And next year it will be even bigger.”
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