NORFOLK, Neb. - The end of the semester for any student is loaded with final exams and other work to wrap up the academic year. With COVID-19 hovering down on life this spring, agriculture students in one particular class at Northeast Community College had to adjust in the way they would normally make final project presentations.
Instructor Brandon Keller said instead of the usual face-to-face method, students in his Agricultural Marketing Systems Course had to prepare to give their business marketing presentations in a virtual classroom setting - via the Zoom communications portal that millions of people around the world have come to adopt over the past several months.
“The overall goal of this particular project was to provide our agriculture students the opportunity to apply the concepts they learned in class to a real business through the completion of a multi-part business analysis as it pertains to marketing and marketing evaluation,” Keller said. “Each year I seek out 10-14 locally owned agricultural businesses to participate in the project.”
To date, Keller has had representatives from golf courses, bakeries, pumpkin patches, greenhouses, recreation businesses, chartered hunting businesses, county fair boards, grain boards, vet clinics and a high school sophomore’s custom beef business participate in the project, which is in its third year.
Each portion of the project has a direct link to topics that were covered in the course. They were built upon the work that had been completed in pervious portions of the project, which is essential for each group to remain organized and in communication to ensure their success.
Keller begins the semester by randomly assigning groups of students to a business that they work with for the duration of the semester. From there, he said students build relationships with the business owner or representatives of an organization.
“Students work closely with them to gather information to complete a business analysis in the areas of competition, pricing, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, and marketing and promotions for the business,” he said. “The project wraps up at the end of the semester when students create an executive report of the business and then give a formal presentation about their business and what they learned.”
The pandemic brought new challenges to the project when student groups moved to working remotely following Northeast’s winter break in March. The project continued as planned, however, the students were introduced to a different way of working through virtual meetings with Zoom and Facetime, communicating via email and instant messaging and collaborating on shared document programs such as OneDrive and Google Docs.
Keller said, “Since the formal presentations at the end of the semester couldn’t be given in the classroom like normal, students instead had the unique experience of giving their group presentation via Zoom to a panel of Northeast employees.”
Presentations came complete with a PowerPoint and each member of the group took the opportunity to present to the panel. After the group finished their presentation, the panel asked group members questions about their business, their analysis and their experience with the project.
Businesses participating in the project included: Eldorado Hills Golf Course, Norfolk; Johansen Greenhouse and Nursery, Norfolk, Nebraska Sorghum Board, North Fork Bread Company, Norfolk; North Fork Outfitting, Norfolk; Pfanny’s Farm, Randolph; Ritter Cattle Feedyards, Beemer; R&M Meats, LLC, Norfolk; and Stadium Sports, Wayne.
Keller admits he was initially concerned about transitioning the project to a remote learning format, but was pleased with the outcome.
“The student groups had enjoyed the hands-on collaboration time in the classroom and I feared that the remote setting would take away from those valuable experiences. However, our Northeast students once again rose to the challenge and overcame adversity creating an excellent final result for their partner businesses.