Tapping Students as University Consultants

An undergraduate capstone project helps a business school plan its future direction.

B-SCHOOLS OFTEN LOOK off campus for opportunities for students to work on real-world projects, but why not turn to students for advice on their own strategic plans? The University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business in Tampa asked undergraduates in a senior-level marketing course to do just that for their capstone project.

The students used data analytics techniques to study the impact of the university’s consolidation of three campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota-Manatee, explains Rob Hooker, an associate professor in marketing who taught the capstone course. Specifically, they were asked to recommend the best ways for the business school to market its programs once the consolidation is complete.

Students worked with SiteZeus, a company co-founded by two USF alumni, which uses AI technology to gather geography-specific data. The students examined that data to determine factors such as how far students traveled—and in what kind of traffic—to get to their courses.

They then used techniques such as geo-fencing (which looks at people’s movements within a defined geographic area) and social media analysis, to determine that USF could use traffic pattern data and heat maps of the area to determine the best times to schedule classes and student group projects. They also found that the school could use data about the most desirable majors in each campus location to create targeted marketing campaigns.

The students presented their findings, including data visualizations, to SiteZeus executives. Hooker says that the students’ findings will be shared with Muma College’s programs committee.