August 15, 2011

Business students, alums learning by doing

by John Schumacher

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two current Southern Illinois University Carbondale students and two recent graduates are enjoying the learning experience of a lifetime as they help organize a new interactive marketing conference.

Two students and two recent graduates from the SIUC College of Business are working for the Digital World Expo 2011, set for Sept. 25-27 in Las Vegas.  The participants are Matt Dickson of Springfield; Robyn Phelan of Bridgeview; Hannah Rummel of Carbondale; and Zach Weinstein of Las Vegas.  Dickson, Phelan and Weinstein are all living in Las Vegas for the summer. Rummel is currently in Carbondale but has been able to play a major part in helping the expo as well.

Shawn Rorick, conference chair and SIUC alumnus, interviewed and selected these four students, offering them the opportunity to play a large part in putting together a first-year conference with more than 50 speakers and thirty-four classes. They will work through the summer and fall to make sure the conference is planned and carried out effectively.

Rorick said that out of all of the interviews, a major reason he selected these four was their communication skills.

“These students were simply able to communicate effectively during the interview,” Rorick said. “This was a great indicator of their capability during day-to-day activity. If they could not communicate their ideas and thoughts efficiently and effectively to us, then they wouldn’t be able to do so talking to a major company head or representative.”

Each of the students has both individual and shared responsibilities for the conference. They all play a part in analytics, marketing strategy, communications and reaching out to businesses to inform them about the conference. The individual responsibilities include managing the conference’s Facebook and Twitter pages, monitoring the website, putting together analytical data from their audience and securing things like sponsorships, exhibitors and advertisers.

Rorick said since the Digital World Expo has 34 separate classes and workshops, the students are forced to become experts in the material if they are to successfully influence other companies and individuals to participate in the conference.

“The students are exposed to every single facet of digital strategy that exists today,” Rorick said. “The experience provides them with the knowledge and vocabulary that can be brought to their future employers. I would be surprised if any topic regarding digital media strategy and metrics in the near future is thrown at them and they are unable to speak to it with some degree of confidence.”

Dickson, who graduated in May with a degree in marketing, said that the knowledge gained within the first few weeks of working with Rorick are comparable to knowledge gained from an entire semester of learning in some classroom settings. He said the experience is another dimension of learning and can’t really be taught in a classroom.

“The things we are learning here are not typically taught to marketing students in a classroom, or at least not yet,” Dickson said. “I can’t wait for the conference simply for the fact that I am eager to add depth to the breadth of my understanding.”

Weinstein, a senior studying business management, describes the experience working at the conference as invaluable because of the people they have met.

“The connections we’ve been able to make while we are here in Las Vegas have been extremely significant,” Weinstein said. “There are a number of high-ranking individuals we have met since we started working. This alone makes the entire experience worth it.”

Connecting and networking with individuals has played a large part in Rummel’s experience as well.  Putting in 40-hour weeks for the Digital World Expo has allowed her to become completely immersed in the Las Vegas conference, even while she is not in the city.  Managing the Facebook page allows her to reach out to people while she is in Carbondale.

“In 2011, you have to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter if you want an event as large as this to be successful,” Rummel said.  “Everything about the conference is a long process and takes a lot of work, but when our group makes progress, you realize that putting together something this big is attainable.”

Phelan, a May 2011 graduate with degrees in both marketing and speech communication with a public relations specialization, is just happy that she made the decision to accept the offer in the first place.

“At first, I was a little hesitant,” Phelan said.  “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to going to Las Vegas.  But I talked to my professors, and they were unbelievably supportive. It was their influence that really helped me make the final decision. They told me to take a chance, and I’m so glad that I did.”

Phelan, like the others, said that the experience is life changing. Though she is extremely thankful to have met so many people and participate in this nearly priceless experience, it is the future of the event that she is most excited about.

“It is incredible to know that we are putting together the first Digital World Expo,” Phelan said. “I can come back 20 years from now, look around, and have a great feeling inside because I know that we played a huge part in putting this together.”

For more information regarding the Digital World Expo or to register for the conference, visit