M.B.A. students develop marketing strategies for National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Seven teams focused on topics such as marketing, increasing membership, pricing | July 18, 2006

More than 20 M.B.A. students dressed in their best power suits as they gathered for a special class at Hailstones Hall on campus on June 19.

It was a special class for several reasons. First, the students, who had been divided into seven teams, worked on a variety of marketing strategies for one of Cincinnati’s newest landmarks: the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Second, the students presented their plans to John Pepper, non-executive chairman of The Walt Disney Co., the former chairman of Procter & Gamble Co. and recently named CEO of the Freedom Center. Also in attendance at this special class were University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., and Williams College of Business Dean Ali Malekzadeh.

Assistant professor Vishal Kashyap’s Marketing 901 class had gotten the assignment just a few weeks before.

“The project was a wonderful opportunity for the students to connect strategic marketing theory with practice,” says Kashyap. “The Freedom Center is an important part of the Greater Cincinnati area and our students’ involvement with this unique institution is a concrete example of how we at Xavier University try to add value to the learning experience.”

The teams focused on topics such as marketing, increasing membership and pricing and presented their ideas and suggestions in carefully thought out PowerPoint presentations. Some suggestions included changing the pricing structure, providing coupons for admission discounts, emphasizing the use of the Freedom Center’s theater, and enhancing web presence and technology.

One group designed a new logo; another proposed and presented a new brochure. Several teams suggested shortening the name from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to just Freedom Center.

Pepper and Gary Dowdell, the Freedom Center’s chief financial officer, threw out questions to the students during each presentation, as did Graham and Malekzadeh.

“This was a great opportunity not only for our students,” says Malekzadeh, “but it was also a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the Williams College of Business and the Cincinnati business community.”

Pepper said the students presented good ideas and that some of the suggestions were very helpful. “You’ve given us some ideas to think about,” he told the class. “We will go back and digest all of this and may come back to discuss some of them more in depth.”