The Department of Marketing in the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has partnered with Union Pacific Railroad since 2008 to provide students with real world business experience in the marketing special topics course MRKT 490. Shawntell Kroese, assistant vice president of chemicals at Union Pacific and CBA alumna, collaborates with marketing faculty who lead the program.
“I was looking for a way for our company to get to know students. This marketing class was the solution I was looking for,” Kroese said. “When initiating the program I was inspired by the television show The Apprentice. I thought this would give students the opportunity to do real projects with the hope to hire them in the future.”
Each year students apply and the top applicants are selected to participate in the class where they worked in teams on three projects to identify and resolve actual marketing problems posed by managers at Union Pacific. Senior Taylor Parr, a marketing major from Omaha, Nebraska, participated in the marketing special topics class this fall.
“I enjoyed this class because it challenged me more. Most marketing classes are full of case studies and projects, but I wanted something that was hands on, similar to an internship,” Parr said. “For each project we worked in teams to research market value, write papers and give formal presentations to the management team at Union Pacific.”
Associate Professor of Practice in Marketing Rob Simon, who teaches the course, enjoys watching his students rise to the occasion.
“The projects in this course are very general. It's not like a class assignment where you get step by step instructions. This course tests students because they have to find their own paths to do research, business plan development and produce results that are actionable for Union Pacific,” he said.
The special topics course curriculum includes completing and presenting the final projects, a visit to Union Pacific for a Day in the Life where they shadow employees, participating in speed interviews, résumé reviews and learning from recent graduates at Union Pacific about their experiences entering the job market.
Both Simon and Kroese shared how the projects have evolved over time to meet a variety of needs. Prior classes have built a tool to evaluate railroad cars for the company, created a recruitment video to promote Union Pacific to other college students and worked on several business development projects.
Union Pacific has hired nearly 25 students from this course over the years.
Kroese said, “The goal is to teach skills applicable wherever the students go. It is great to see them grow confidence throughout the process by developing critical thinking, presentation and interview skills.”