KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Craig Ferry, a junior majoring in marketing at Western Michigan University, recently claimed first place in the Virtual Business Professional Project. Hosted by USC Marshall, the project focuses on global student collaboration and communication best practices in a virtual environment, with companies such as Amazon, Audi, Google, Netflix, SpaceX and Starbucks reviewing the reports the students create.
Ferry worked with Michael Chewning from the University of Dayton; Charmine Foo Zhi Min from Singapore Management University; Than Tran from Hochschule Mainz—University of Applied Sciences, Germany; and Ananta Vishain from BIMTECH, India.
The team analyzed Google’s online presence for six weeks, looking at the quality of the company’s digital assets and reputation, and making recommendations for improvement.
Ferry’s team focused on social media as the place where they could have the most impact with their suggestions. Evaluating Google’s most active social accounts—Instagram, Facebook and YouTube—the team looked at how the company could use content strategies that have proven successful for other companies such as Nike and Samsung. Specific recommendations included creating an emotional connection to content and pivoting the approach in terms of advertising.
A representative from Google assessed all of the submissions, saying, "This report felt polished both in terms of clear structure and quality content, so much so that I felt it could be ready to share with senior stakeholders. The entire report flowed with each section starting with a large idea followed by more specific data points as justification. In fact, it felt like the team had great intuition into what the reader would want to know next. The method to parse a large brief was excellent.”
Ferry was excited when his team made it to the final round of competition. “When it was announced that we had been selected as one of the top three teams, I was super excited and surprised. To top it off with being selected the winner from approximately 85 teams and 530 student participants was such an honor. I am very grateful and happy that we were able to pull off a win all while forming lifelong friendships.”
The connections with his teammates and advancing his abilities in cross-cultural communication are what Ferry values most from the Virtual Business Professional Project. “I learned a lot about engaging with people from different countries and cultures,” he says. “This experience gave me confidence in working with a variety of people, which will benefit me in different work settings and life in general.”
Ferry also notes that the competition helped enhance his skills in communicating in a virtual environment—also a key goal of his instructor, Marie Moreno, who incorporated the project into her Integrated Communication in Business course.
“I am always interested in learning new ways to teach business communication,” says Moreno. “The VBP Project has so many talented faculty members involved in the planning, organizing and teaching of various topics covered, including interpersonal communication, teamwork, collaboration, writing, problem-solving and report writing. I have offered the project in my course in the past, but this is the first time that I have made it a requirement.”
The pandemic has placed greater emphasis on working remotely with teams, and so has Moreno. “In a virtual setting, students focus more on what they are saying and how to carefully craft their communications. Whether in writing or on video, team members can see themselves while expressing their messages and gain self-awareness of how they present, including word choice and body language. In addition to these skills, the project allowed students to network with others outside of WMU and learn best practices for sharing and generating ideas, compromising, developing solutions, applying critical thinking, performing research online, executing plans and proofreading.”
Ferry couldn’t agree more that the VBP Project is an asset—one that sets him apart as he enters his search for full-time employment. “The project enhanced our course greatly. This is a unique experience that will afford me a competitive advantage in interviews and my first job, but more importantly, I believe I will remain friends with my group members and use the skills I learned for the rest of my life.”
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.