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By Liz Warren-Pederson

Students in challenge

Eller undergraduate students talk with a judge in the 2011 Social Responsibility Communications Challenge.
Photo by Alex Smith.

During the spring semester, 100 Eller undergraduates volunteered to participate in special, social responsibility-focused sections of BNAD 314, a required course in business communication designed to build “soft skills” in teamwork, client management, and presentation.

Instead of preparing for the traditional case competition that culminates the class, these students took on 25 projects designed to improve the quality of life for refugees living in the Tucson community — in partnership with Arizona Refugee Connection (ARC).

ARC is a UA student-run organization that aims to help the more than 8,000 refugees — people targeted for oppression because of ethnicity or religion — resettle in Tucson by providing opportunities to develop employability, business and financial skills, and social acculturation. Cindi Gilliland, senior lecturer in management and organizations, is ARC’s faculty advisor and founded the organization.

Business communication senior lecturer Diza Sauers Sauers and co-instructors Robin Breault and Kim Marchesseault worked with Gilliland to create the opportunity for the students, who completed projects such as directing and creating marketing plans, organizing supply/donation drives, and coordinating community events.

“The students worked completely in real-world situations,” Sauers said. “They answered to themselves and project managers, with the results of their projects determining their success.”

The semester culminated in a competition that whittled the 25 teams down to four finalists. On May 3, the finalists shared their projects in a tradeshow format that was open to the public.

“The event showcased to the community the corporate social responsibility practices that Eller has been promoting in its business communications and management classes,” Gilliland said.

The teams presented their projects to a panel of judges including Brian Johnson (managing director, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort), Carmen A. Marriott (senior counsel, Office of General Counsel at Raytheon), Jim Nintzel (senior writer, Tucson Weekly), Ron Sable (president, Concord Solutions, Ltd.), and Laura Shaw (senior vice president of marketing and communications, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities).

A judge evaluates one of the student displays at the 2011 Social Responsibility Communications Challenge. Photo by Alex Smith.

A judge evaluates one of the student displays at the 2011 Social Responsibility Communications Challenge.
Photo by Alex Smith.

The school supplies project took top honors on May 3, but, said Sauers, “It was a dynamic classroom experience that also delivered 25 projects to improve the quality of refugee living here in the Tucson community.”

Finalist Projects

School Supplies
Fifty-nine percent of the 845 refugee students enrolled in the Tucson Unified School District lack funding. Children who used to rely on the schools for supplies are now left with little to nothing. TUSD tasked this team with hosting a supply drive of much-needed items for the students.

Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network
The Iskashitaa agency organizes local unwanted fruit and vegetable harvesting, bringing in over 100,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to feed refugees and donate to food banks in Tucson. The agency has expanded rapidly over the last eight years, but needed assistance in building awareness of its services among grassroots refugee organizations.

Arizona Refugee Connection
This student-run organization needed a new, dynamic, and easily accessible website. The team focused on identifying the website’s primary users and their usage patterns, then designed a strategy to increase its functionality and sustainability.

Refugee Sports Camp
This project is a free camp designed especially for refugee children. Its goals are to help refugee children learn popular sports in their new culture and also learn important language and social skills to help them thrive at school.

Learn more about the Business Communications program and the Department of Management and Organizations.