Students help Ohio residents aspire to greatness with critical rebrand

May 2017

Elizabeth Jenike

Every year, Pi Sigma Epsilon, a professional business fraternity with a chapter at the Farmer School, undertakes a different mission or project as an opportunity to both expand the academic and professional skill sets of its members and to present research at the national convention.

In 2016, the Ohio Department of Higher Education reached out to Miami University with a unique opportunity: to perform qualitative research with the participants of the Ohio Adult Basic Literacy Education program, with the end goal of ensuring that the program’s branding accurately represented the people who were actually using these resources. The powers-that-be at Miami knew that this was a job for PSE, so they reached out to Pat Lindsay, faculty adviser and instructor of marketing, who laid the task at the feet of the student teams.

Re-painting the picture

When the students began this project, they didn’t know what they would find. Project manager and senior marketing major Sam Wilkes noted that most PSE projects focus on quantitative data and analytical tools to make concrete predictions and prescriptions. However, with the ABLE rebrand project, the Farmer School chapter was directed to take a qualitative approach.

That meant conducting focus groups. They journeyed to Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron and Toledo to hold focus groups of 20 to 25 adult participants - two groups in each city.

What the students found via these focus groups was that the person they had in their heads as the “typical” ABLE participant - lower-class Americans that hadn’t graduated high school and were studying for the GED - was not entirely accurate. Instead, there were people from all over the world that were taking advantage of Ohio’s resources to learn and strengthen their English skills - only part of the time in service to acquiring a GED.

As the focus groups progressed, the PSE team was able to develop a more accurate description of the average ABLE participant. They came from literally all over the world. There were two people from Senegal, a handful from Japan, some from Russia and others from Africa. Some participants had university degrees from their home countries that didn’t translate well when they came to the U.S., so they were working toward the English skills necessary to take classes here.

One man, Sam said, worked at a factory at night and went to class during the day. When asked about his experiences in the U.S., he made it clear that he loves this country and is grateful for the opportunity provided by the ABLE program.

“They’re so appreciative of what’s going on,” said Don Norris, faculty adviser for PSE and associate professor of marketing. “The teachers will go out of their way to help students, even pick them up for class. The program is helping the integration of these foreign nationals into the U.S. and making them more employable.”

The result: Aspire

Data in hand, the students put a presentation together that included entirely new branding for the ABLE program. In order to accurately represent the diversity of life paths that intersected with ABLE, the students came up with four new directions: Path, Aspire, Launch and AIM (Advance, Inspire, Motivate) were all thrown out as ideas for renaming ABLE. The team’s graphic designers created new logos for each. Then, for the final step, PSE presented to the ODHE in January, and Senior Vice Chancellor Gary Cates thought that Aspire was the answer.

After all, it’s about more than simply providing literacy skills and education - it’s about helping people fulfill their potential.

Sam, who starts in a marketing rotation position at Johnson Controls in Boca Raton, Florida, in June, was grateful for the experience. As project manager, it was his job to train the PSE members involved in running the focus groups and ensure that the conversations followed a general script. His team of 13 traveled to conduct these focus groups under his supervision.

“I had a really good team,” he said. “It was a very qualified group of people, and easy to manage.”

It was a good experience, he said, because it helped him strengthen his team management skills, but it was also a great introduction to working within strict government boundaries. This will no doubt help him down the line as he branches out into the business world and in his new job.

Because of all his hard work, Sam brought home the second-place honor for project managers from the national convention at the end of April. The group itself also came in second for their project.

Check out the story in the Dayton Daily News about the rebrand.

Aspire logo