When Michael Brown, '87, was a student at Albion College, creating a brochure for Albion's Downtown Development Authority put him on the path that led to his current position as interactive director with Full Circle, a marketing and interactive agency in Grand Rapids.
Nearly 25 years later, Brown's career has completed the full circle. This time, he's mentoring a group of economics and management majors in a consulting project as the city of Albion evaluates the redesign of its website. In a management course taught by Vicki Baker, the students have broken into five teams working with Brown.
"Our firm does a lot of design and digital development, but this project represented much more to us than another response to a request for a proposal," said Brown, who took on the mentoring project after receiving a call from Liz Fraser. "We realized it was a great opportunity for hands-on experience for these students. They'll help develop something that will live on and contribute to this community long after they've graduated. This is a beneficial project for a lot of people."
"It is important to me that the final product is interactive, informative, and easily allows residents to get involved in their city." -- Casey Hoffman, '12
"Other cities can learn from what Albion is doing. It impresses me that Albion's city leaders are actively involved in what young people think about the community." -- Lauren Scott, '13
"Vicki Baker has been instrumental in making this project happen. She is teaching us firsthand the skills necessary to be effective business people. You can't learn these lessons in a textbook." -- Rachel Gates, '13
Brown said the college students are engaging in a real-world project where they are forming their own agency and advising the client, Albion City Council member Garrett Brown, on key strategic, structural, functional, content and design elements required for a new website.
"Our primary goal will be to assist our client in development of the overall site strategy and information architecture for the new website," Brown said. "We will ask who it will serve, how it will function and how it will be managed before design begins."
The student teams are currently completing an analysis of best practices for municipal websites.
"Using the best practices research we will develop our proposed content strategy for the Albion city website," Brown said. "This will require development of a detailed site map, outlining all functionality for the new website."
In addition to the research and site mapping work, the college students will research content management systems for the city to use when updating and adding content. The city will issue a request for proposals to agencies for the design and programming of the new website using much of the class' work in the RFP.
"Once complete, we will work with Mr. Brown to review the responses to the RFPs the city has sent to various agencies," Michael Brown said. "Based on our work and knowledge of the content, functional, and technical requirements of this website, we will make our recommendation for the top three agencies for the City of Albion to interview for the design and programming phase of this project."
Merging the Project with the Albion Advantage
The consulting project, Baker said, is a perfect example of the Albion Advantage, where students' critical thoughts are turned into action. She expects that some of the materials the students submit to Council member Brown will become part of their portfolios that they can later use to demonstrate their work experience while on interviews with potential employers.
"The students are learning how to work in teams, communicate ideas orally and in writing, critically analyze situations, and make recommendations on how to improve those situations," Baker said. "They are writing executive summaries throughout the semester just as if they were consulting for a company. It will be a building block on their résumés as well as a conversation starter in interviews.
"In the process," she added, "they learn about the importance of actively engaging with and supporting a local organization."