Marketing students connect in virtual world with industry professionals

‘An example of adaptability’

As campus basically shut down, digital marketing Instructor Jessica Gibbons-Rauch thought about everything students would miss out on.

Like her fellow faculty and staff at NIU, she sought ways to keep students connected despite the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. That’s where her knowledge of the digital world came in handy.

In her first year as a professor at NIU, she’d already taught online, held office hours in Zoom chat rooms and communicated with her students via text. She loves being on campus, but knew how to thrive in a virtual world.

 “What I wasn’t prepared for was working with a class of students, many of whom lived and worked on campus, but were suddenly thrust into a digital world,” she said. “They weren’t necessarily prepared for this kind of work and had to adjust extremely quickly.

“While each educator did amazing things to bring their traditional class environment into a digital landscape, there is still so much that can be missed outside of the classroom.”

Enter #promochat.

A “chef” for PromoKitchen, a non-profit organization focused on mentorship and education of the promotional products community, Gibbons-Rauch saw an opportunity.

The organization hosts a weekly forum on Twitter called #promochat in which people from the industry collaborate and interact digitally with one another in a virtual forum.

They were looking for topics. Students needed interaction.

So Gibbons-Rauch suggested her students stop by for a chat.

“I’ve been in a million conversations where everyone’s trying to connect with new graduates,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to bridge that gap and fill that void of conversation topics.”

Five of Gibbons-Rauch’s digital marketing students participated. Students asked perceptive questions, and professionals from throughout the country supported them with answers and advice.

“The fact that we weren’t physically in Barsema Hall didn’t limit our ability to share experiences and advice,” Gibbons-Rauch said. “It was an example of adaptability, and showed the future has no boundaries.”

She’d like to see similar opportunities develop for students in a variety of other areas of study and with a range of industry forums.

Students interacted on an informal, personal level with those in the industry, Gibbons-Rauch said.

 “That’s one of the great things about digital marketing,” she said. “It’s not about removing the personality from it. It’s about communicating in a different way.”

For Joylyn Ortiz of Ottawa, one of Gibbons-Rauch’s students, the #promochat experience and the past semester helped clarify her goal to one day work from home in the digital marketing field.

Expecting to graduate in August 2020 with a marketing degree, 35-year-old Ortiz was able to network, while her two young daughters played nearby.

“I thought it was so fun,” she said. “The people who were working in the industry were definitely having a good time, sharing GIFs, cracking jokes, but there was a lot of great practical tips mixed in with it. It was a great way to learn those things in a fun way.”

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