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Marketing Students Get Real-World Experience

Pat Quinn never thought the most embarrassing moment of his burgeoning professional life would lead to his first job, but that’s exactly what happened for the 2011 University of Iowa graduate.

Quinn was giving a presentation for his course in the UI Marketing Institute when he realized the buttons on his suit jacket were buttoned wrong.

“I tried to fix it, but I actually made it worse, so I just took the jacket off and tried to play it off,” Quinn said.

After the presentation, a local businessman approached him and told Quinn he’d never seen anyone handle a situation like that with such poise.

A few weeks later, someone from the Technology Association of Iowa contacted Quinn. The businessman who saw his presentation had recommended him for a new position with the association.

Now the 22-year-old works as the organization’s marketing and membership manager.

“I was kind of in disbelief when she contacted me. My path was so contrary to what most people expect,” Quinn said.

Making such industry connections is one of the primary goals of UI’s Marketing Institute, said the institute’s director, Rob Rouwenhorst.

Rouwenhorst helped form the institute about three years ago to give UI’s top marketing students experience working on projects for actual businesses and to provide opportunities to network with business people and executives.

“The big thing is experiential learning, giving students the opportunity to have real-world consultation experience,” Rouwenhorst said.

In the past, students have worked for ACT, Elevation Inc., a digital ad agency in Chicago and Young Africa, a nonprofit organization focused on helping young adults in Mozambique and Zimbabwe learn vocational skills.

Bradley Burt, president and chief executive officer of the Maid-Rite restaurant chain, turned to the Marketing Institute last year for help establishing a social media platform.

“We worked with a team of students on a yearlong project that culminated in a social media plan we implemented for franchises and the company,” Burt said. “We also completely revamped the website, developed new design concepts for the restaurants, and came up with healthier menu concepts.”

Burt said he enjoys working with the students, not only because they bring fresh ideas and energy to projects, but also because it provides an opportunity to help the next generation of businesspeople.

“It’s a very rewarding experience for us in meeting all these incredible students,” Burt said.

On Friday, he was one of several businesspeople from local and national companies who met with students at the Pappajohn Business Building, where they participated in mock interviews and gave resume and cover letter advice.

Though the institute is young, its alumni have a 100 percent placement rate in jobs or further education once they graduate, Rouwenhorst said.

Students can first apply to the institute during their junior year, and about 16 new members are added each year. Admission is competitive and about 25 percent to 30 percent of those who apply are accepted, Rouwenhorst said.

Niki Feaster, a 22-year-old UI junior from Johnston, joined the institute in November, and this spring she’ll work with a team to help review current marketing practices and materials for Veridian Credit Union.

“This is the type of experience you’re not going to get in class,” Feaster said.

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