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Working virtually, students help create commercial for Sycamore business

June 3, 2020

Advertising students in Professor David Henningsen’s class learned more than expected from a final project.

Northern Illinois University communication professor David Henningsen.

They knew they’d gain valuable hands-on experience working with a real-life client to create a commercial, but they didn’t know the project would involve a lesson in adaptability.

Teams of students began working with The Music Connection of Sycamore this past spring just as the pandemic hit.

“They literally had to do everything virtually,” said Henningsen, a professor in the Department of Communication. “We still kept the heart of the assignment, but I had to modify the project a bit.”

Typically, the client comes to speak to students. The students then create sales pitches they present to the client and do focus group testing, Henningsen said, but much of that couldn’t happen.

So Henningsen and his students adjusted. Students connected remotely with The Music Connection Owner Ben Weaver, an NIU alumnus, and came up with creative ways to create video material.

Despite the challenge, five teams of students created short commercials, with Weaver choosing a winner.

“The students were kind of in a unique situation,” Weaver said, “but I think they did a good job.”

Looking to target young families, he plans to use much of the students’ material on his website and social media pages to promote his business.

“I’m just really appreciative of Professor Henningsen’s willingness to let me partner with his students,” said Weaver, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1998 and his professional educators license in instrumental K-12 music in 2016 from NIU.

“I’m hoping I can help somehow with their journey toward greatness,” he said. “Hopefully, when things get back to normal we can do something in person.”

Paige Vanderstuyf, the project leader of the winning group, saw the experience as a way to enhance her video editing skills and understand the logistics behind marketing. The 23-year-old Wheaton native plans to graduate in December with a degree in communications and pursue a marketing job.

“I’m someone who learns best visually,” she said. “It was definitely an adjustment to say the least, just like every student that had to go online had to make the last couple months, but it was very interesting to be able to take this project and do something we’ve never done before. It was really cool to delve into the world of marketing and advertising.”

Students often cite this engaged learning assignment during job interviews after college, Henningsen said.

“I think it’s important for them,” he said. “It gives them a chance to put theory into action.”