By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill
An undergraduate team of Flinn Foundation Scholars has moved on to compete globally in theGoogle Online Marketing Challenge after blowing away judges with its campaign to boost visits to the Casa de los Niños website and increase volunteers for the Tucson-area nonprofit.
The team, Flinnovation, is made up of students enrolled in an Eller MIS course taught by McClelland Professor of MIS Sudha Ram. The team is comprised of three UA honors students — Ravi Ram, Teddy Ware, and Daniel Fried, who teamed up with Arizona State University students Ryan Lane, Hugh Chung, and Nikil Selvam.
Fried is a computer science and math major; Ware is a management information systems and math major with minors in Spanish, Chinese, and Arabi; and Ravi Ram is a molecular and cellular biology and math major, with minors in computer science and Portuguese.
Ram’s MIS business intelligence course, a mostly graduate student class, helps students better understand how web analytics, data warehousing design, implementation, utilization, and marketing improve outcomes for companies.
“I teach students how to leverage and harness social media, and part of the class is to be able to implement what is learned in a real-world scenario,” Ram said.
It is the fourth year of the Google competition, but the first year that Google has allowed students to work with nonprofit companies. Ram had students in her class enroll in the competition for the first time last year, and this year, 12 teams in the MIS class competed with one another for the chance of a global run-off.
For each competing team Google provides $200 of free online advertising using Google AdWords. The teams then work with local businesses to devise effective online marketing campaigns. They outline a strategy, run a campaign, assess its impact, and recommend additional online marketing enhancements. The results determined by independent judges who review students’ final presentations and reports.
Members of the Flinnovation team knew one another from the Flinn Scholarship Program. They agreed to work on the campaign Casa de los Niños marketing director Bill Finley contacted Ram about joining the Google competition.
Casa de los Niños offers a variety of programs designed to prevent child abuse and to care for children who have already been abused. It offers a crisis shelter safe haven for abused, neglected, and at-risk children younger than 12 and foster homes that care for more than 140 children.
Finley worked with the students to identify areas of web-based need or improvements that were in line with the Casa de Los Niños mission to recruit volunteers, increase donations for its wish list, raise awareness of its website, and promote the Nights for Children campaign.
“The existing Casa website was great but the struggle has always been to direct people to it and once there, to ultimately get the visitors to act,” said Ravi Ram.
With members located in both Tucson and Phoenix, the team used Skype and other social media such asFacebook and a blog to communicate with one another and with their instructor.
Casa de Los Niños saw big improvements in all areas of need over a three-week campaign devised to test the student’s efforts.
The team drew glowing reviews from the panel of judges — a group of web business experts — and has just finalized and submitted a report to Google for the global competition in July.
“I have been teaching for more than 20 years, and I was blown away by these students,” said Ram. “They were so enthusiastic about working for Casa de Los Niños. What really worked for them was their passion.”
Said Fried, “We were already good friends before the competition and now we are even closer. We owe a lot to Professor Ram and Casa de Los Niños for letting us work with them.”