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Marketing Students Study Up on Terrace Community Middle School, Present Plans to Boost Image

By Keith Morelli

Students giving presentation

TAMPA (November 30, 2017) -- Splashing a nonprofit, charter school's website with vibrant colors and adding more photos, starting a "Trick-or-Treat Street" and keeping better track of alumni were just a few suggestions offered by Muma College of Business marketing students to help the Terrace Community Middle School boost its profile in the community.

The seniors in Assistant Professor Mark Bender's marketing capstone class came up with several plans to shine more of a light on what one director called Hillsborough County's "best kept secret" and help out a school full of high-achieving, middle-school students along the way.

The marketing course is always on the lookout for projects to help outside businesses, organizations or, in this case, a public school. It's part of the Muma College of Business effort to connect with the community and establish itself as a resource for solving problems through analytics and creativity.

Terrace Community Middle School, located just a few miles from the University of South Florida's Tampa campus, has twice won the U.S. Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award since 2007 and is the top ranked public school in Hillsborough County – and fourth in the state – based on 2016-17 Florida Standards Assessments scores. It has received an "A" grade every year since 2000.

And yet, the school's board of directors wonder if enough is being said about the school's strengths. So they reached out to the Muma College of Business to get some fresh ideas from some marketing majors, who studied the issue as part of group projects and came up with presentations this week.

"This is a live project," Bender said. "Students work in groups to identify and address the needs of the school in a formal written plan and accompanying presentation. While other professors who teach this course have their own selection criteria, I try to work with local businesses who may have limited resources to plan their own campaigns or create their own marketing plans.

"TCMS was interested in generating ideas for a campaign that would help increase awareness in the local communities," Bender said. "Given that charter schools have become politicized in our current political climate, it was especially important for TCMS to consider campaigns that would clarify the mission statement of the school.

For many in the class, this is the first time they have had the chance to work with an actual organization, Bender said.

"This allows the students not only to learn how to properly manage expectations and ask the right questions as they create their plans," he said, "but also to receive feedback on their projects from the client."

Most presentations agreed that much more can be done to upgrade the school's online presence and social media pages.

"Your website, we believe, is the biggest area that needs improvement," said Megan Dias, a senior in the class, addressing TCMS board members and administrators seated across much of the back row of BSN 118. On a PowerPoint, Dias showed a proposed makeover of the school's website, with splashes of color and photographs and a list of upcoming events.

"More photos, less wordy," she said. "People like going to a website that has pictures."

Marketing major Brianna Fields suggested creating a YouTube video, something special that could go viral to reach a wider audience. YouTube, she said costs nothing, except for the time. Other suggestions included creating a professionally produced video and get a professional athlete or local celebrity to support the school. That could actually be feasible, said one school representative. Dave Andreychuk, former Tampa Bay Lightning player, is a former member of the TCMS board.

Each student team examined the middle school's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; weighing all the factors before making recommendations on how to get the word out about the positives offered by TCMS, which now, most agreed, relies primarily on word of mouth.

Lew Kirk, founding member of the TCMS Board of Directors, will recommend to the board, which meets in December, that it adopt several of the ideas from the class presenters.

"The first is to initiate two marketing internships at TCMS each semester," said Kirk, who attended the presentations. This would provide an on-going foundation for the marketing function at the school. I liked the idea of developing a mobile app for TCMS and YouTube video testimonials by a variety of members from the TCMS community should also get serious consideration."

Greg Mesaros, a member of the TCMS Board of Directors, attended the class to get, firsthand, the advice from the students.

"Overall, I felt the students put in thoughtful effort and came back with interesting marketing concepts for TCMS," he said. "They appeared eager to apply the knowledge gained from Dr. Bender's course to a real-case scenario and did so in a concise, practical and meaningful way. Their suggestion to have USF students implement the strategies discussed as part of an ongoing internship program between USF and TCMS is one that the board should strongly consider."