Searching for Impact: Stevens Students Place 7th in International Google Competition
Team Helped Hoboken Nonprofit Attract Applications to Mentor Local Children
As executive director of a small not-for-profit aiming to create opportunities for children in Hoboken, NJ, Katie Eades doesn’t have time to dig into the weeds when it comes to the technical side of her business.
Fortunately, she has just the neighbor to turn to when it comes to such challenges — the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology.
A team of business students overhauled TRUE Mentors’ website to improve user experience, then launched a digital marketing campaign that placed near the top of 2,600 schools in an international Google competition. The Stevens team finished seventh in the social impact category, winning the AdWords Social Impact Finalist and AdWords Business Semifinalist awards.
Skills from the classroom, internships
The students credit their success to a strong combination of business, technology and marketing skills gleaned from their Stevens classes, as well as on high-profile internships at companies like Verisk Analytics and Daiichi Sankyo.
“We each brought some experience to the table, but our classes helped us with the conceptual aspects and provided context to apply them at work — in terms of understanding what your client wants to accomplish and how to leverage your skills to meet those goals,” said Rush Kirubi, a student in the master’s program in Business Intelligence & Analytics.
Kirubi and Philippe Donaus, an undergraduate student in the Quantitative Finance program, are both able technologists who have experience working on back-end website development; Kirubi also has used Google tools during his career. Meanwhile, Thushara Elizabeth Tom, also in the Business Intelligence & Analytics program, and Archana Vasanthan, in the master’s program in Information Systems, brought their talents in marketing analytics and audience targeting to ensure TRUE’s message and revamped website got in front of just the right audience — male volunteers to mentor children. Rounding out the team was Salvi Srivastava, an MBA student at the School of Business management at NMIMS, in Mumbai.
“Our classes give us a very strong understanding of how tools like Google Analytics and AdWords are applied in real scenarios, which gave us invaluable depth for this project,” said Vasanthan, who worked as an analyst at Accenture in India and interned at ParkWhiz as a student.
The team didn’t have to look far for Donaus, who got involved with TRUE as a volunteer with Chi Psi, then signed up to be a mentor for a year. He also was able to keep current with TRUE’s needs since he was interning at Vbout.com, which shares an office building with TRUE.
‘Comfortable with your skills and able to apply them’
And he wasn’t intimidated being the only undergraduate on a team full of master’s students.
“The QF courses made me feel comfortable, with entering something like this — it prepares you to really engage with the technology,” he said. “Trying to optimize a website can be daunting at first, but the program really prepares you to be comfortable with your skills and able to apply them.”
That’s a hallmark for the School of Business, which emphasizes how data, analytics and technology can help identify trends and make decisions in real time, creating competitive advantages. Team members said their Marketing Analytics and Experimental Design courses were of greatest help to them on the project.
“It’s not just business or just technology out there,” said Tom, who completed an internship in market research and analytics with New York-based startup iPullRank in the summer. As team leader, she organized the students’ collaboration with TRUE Mentors and ensured the team met its deadlines. “When you’re interviewing for internships, you can see that it’s highly interwoven — you have to have the technical skills and the business knowledge. Stevens helps make us comfortable in using technology and knowing how to derive business insights from it.”
The team was advised by Theano Lianidou, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Stevens. Lianidou has more than two decades of marketing and management experience at companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Pepsico.
“She took the role of a business executive,” said Kirubi, who has extensive professional experience in his native Nairobi, Kenya. “She would look at our reports and very pointedly tell us, ‘I’ve spoken with you and I know your story, but I’m not getting that story in this report.’ That helped us to better focus what we submitted to Google.”
Committed to the cause
Lianidou said she was most impressed by the students’ perseverance, enthusiasm and collaborative skills.
“The technical skills they got from their classes certainly played an important role,” she said. “But so did their commitment and willingness to work hard. I gave them some comments on their last report right before it was due, even though I thought it would be too late. But they made the changes in time to submit it.”
Google has announced it has ended the Online Marketing Challenge going forward, but the team’s work — on a budget of just $250, allocated to each school competing in the event — created impact. Eades said TRUE saw “a huge influx” of mentorship applications in August, “which is not traditionally a time when we see that level of activity.”
“The Stevens students were very professional and very easy to work with,” she said. “They were proactive about following up and keeping me in the loop, which was incredibly helpful. And they wanted to make a difference — as they started to get a handle on the challenges we face, they not only promoted events, they showed up to them.”