Capstone classes bring together skills and theories that students have learned throughout their academic careers — and LSC capstones do all of that and more.
“We strive to give our students an education that blends theory and practice to best prepare them to be leaders in their field after graduation,” said LSC chair Dominique Brossard. “A capstone experience is a great way to bring it all together.”
One LSC capstone is LSC 515: Public Information Campaigns and Programs. The course focuses on social marketing strategies and each semester the class focuses on research and communication strategy for a different group or nonprofit in Madison. In line with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences strategic goals, campaigns focus on science, health or environmental issues.
This year the client was the Wisconsin Bike Fed. The Bike Fed is a member-supported, 26-year-old, statewide bicycling nonprofit that works with cities and the Department of Transportation to make better bike laws, educate children and adults about bike safety, and encourage more people to get on bikes more often.
“The class is designed as a comprehensive course that allows students to utilize the skills, knowledge and wisdom they’ve accumulated from their LSC classroom experiences over the last four years,” explained Mike Flaherty, who taught the course this semester. “We chose the Wisconsin Bike Fed, which was looking for a very specific sort of social marketing campaign. In this case they needed a membership recruitment drive to attract young people to join.”
The class was divided into six teams of about six members, each team having a team leader, social media director, research director, public relations director, creative director, and an earned/paid media director. Each team then developed its own strategic social marketing campaign plan to present to the leaders of the Bike Fed at the end of the semester.
“As always, LSC students did an amazing job,” Flaherty said. “They impressed me and the Bike Fed and made LSC proud. The students did a great job combining their skills and will have successful careers.”
The teams first had to perform both qualitative and quantitative market research based on focus groups and survey data they collected. They then used that data to develop their marketing plans, drawing upon theoretical insights and skills in creative work, social media, web design, video production and photography taught in the LSC curriculum.
“The structure of this class is tough because students have to work both with their teams and independently to provide their team with excellent ideas and content based on research,” said Sarah Makoski, who was the “uber” research director for the class and served as the liaison between the Bike Fed and the entire class. “Our professor is not telling us what to do, which is great practice for the real world, but it challenges us to dig deep into our brains to use what we have learned throughout LSC to provide the team with quality content.”
Currently the Bike Fed has just over 4,000 members, but fewer than 50 are under the age of 25. The campaigns were designed to reach the UW-System’s 26 campuses, which have approximately 180,000 students total.
Students presented their campaigns to the leaders of the Bike Fed at the end of the semester. They first discussed the results of their audience research, allowing those findings to educate the rest of their plans.
Each group then had unique and creative solutions to increase college student membership in the Bike Fed. One group suggested doing away with the print version of their magazine and going to online only. This allowed the group to put more funds into recruitment events.
Another group framed their ideas around school spirit and mascots to create a sense of community among college students. They then took advantage of this to increase student membership. Other tactics included starting a student organization for the group or creating paid student internship positions to serve as campus ambassadors.
Three leaders from the Bike Fed worked with the class this semester: Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director; Chris Aalid, Marketing Coordinator; and Betsy Popelka Massnick, Membership Director. Cieslewicz served as mayor of Madison from 2003 to 2011.
“I have known Mike (Flaherty) for probably 20 years since his days as a reporter in the Capitol and also worked closely with him during my time as mayor,” Cieslewicz said. “Mike approached me about his class and when I brought the idea back to the Bike Fed staff they suggested that we could use help appealing to students and young people, a demographic where we’re much too weak and where we should be able to grow as an organization.”
After the last presentation he spoke a few words to the students about how much the ideas presented will help the organization meet its goals.
“All of the groups did really great work,” he said. “There were so many unique approaches and common themes that we can’t wait to try to incorporate into our strategy. With younger people, we’re discovering how important the social aspect is for business and marketing so this partnership has been extremely helpful.”
Overall, the students found the experience to be very rewarding. Team leader Taylor Holterman said the opportunity to work with her fellow seniors on such a collaborative project was very good experience for their future careers.
“LSC 515 allowed me to do what I love best: organize,” she said. “Having the opportunity to go through a capstone class with the other LSC seniors was an outstanding addition to my undergraduate education. I learned so much from my peers, whether it was in or out of class, through simply working together and having similar goals to obtain the best education in life sciences communication we could.”