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John Kratz

Marketing professor John Kratz worked with the UMD Office of Civic Engagement to identify community clients when he implemented a competitive format in his class.

Apprentice to civic engagement

Public engagement spotlight

By Stephanie Wilkes

Brief, Jan. 17, 2007

"You're fired!" Donald Trump's catchphrase from The Apprentice stands for capitalism and the world of business. But at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, the popular television show has inspired civic engagement for a crop of marketing students.

John Kratz teaches Advertising and Marketing Communications. After seeing the show a couple of years ago, he decided to put a new spin on the format.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to pit a team in one section of the class against a team in the other section, and see what happens?'" says Kratz. He was thinking of student involvement, quality of work, and motivation. And he wasn't disappointed.

In fall 2005, Kratz introduced the new format in his class, which had two sections of about 35 students each. Each section was divided into an equal number of groups. Then he assigned two competing groups--one from each section--to clients in need of a marketing campaign.

One pair of groups was assigned to UMD's Office of Civic Engagement (OCE). Director Casey LaCore asked the groups to create a campaign centered on awareness of one of Duluth's most prevalent problems: methamphetamine.

"It was not only the most valuable class in my college career," says student Pam Chihak, "it was the most fun, too. It taught us how to work using the whole team's ideas and opinions and turn it into something. It was rewarding to put our talents to work and actually create an end product that could help the community."

People were impressed with the students' work, and so was Kratz. He says their success had a lot to do with their buy-in and emotional attachment to the cause--they were dedicated to the anti-meth program.

"The students respond to the competitive framework of the class because they know the client is going to pick a winner," says Kratz.

He repeated the format with the fall 2006 class, too, which included several non-profit clients. One of them was Northern Community Land Trust, which raises money to buy property for building affordable housing in the Duluth area. They asked to be part of the class, knowing the students and their campaigns would help raise the trust's visibility in the community.

Kratz credits part of his class's success to OCE and its director, LaCore.

"Casey was able to marshall resources and community contacts to assist me as an educator to find a worthwhile community cause and then help me offer it up to the students," says Kratz. "I like OCE because it gives you a one-stop resource to focus and channel initiatives."

UMD's Office for Civic Engagement: link to the Duluth community

OCE grew out of UMD's Darland Connection, established in 1993. LaCore became the Darland Connection's director in 1998, but it was not very long before her job began to change shape.

"Vice Chancellor Vince Magnuson was interested in the ideas of citizenship and helping UMD students to be more aware of their roles and responsibilities as citizens," says LaCore. "We started having conversations about citizenship, public engagement, and public work."

A task force formed in 2003, then a steering committee and reading group. OCE was formally created in 2005.

Casey LaCore
OCE director Casey LaCore

"The real purpose is to assist faculty in incorporating civic engagement activities into their curriculum," says LaCore. "But we are also looking more broadly for ways we can assist UMD students in being better citizens and understanding what that means."

Faculty members can get involved in a number of ways. Reading groups continue to define engagement and identify concrete ways to integrate it at UMD. Workshops for faculty and community members on various issues are another opportunity--it was a workshop on meth in Duluth that led to the involvement of Kratz's marketing class. And last year, OCE awarded $20,000 in mini-grants to faculty members toward their projects in the community.

Students may get involved through a class like Kratz's. They can sign up for a class with a community learning component. Or they can volunteer in their free time.

Sophomore Allison Schmidley has a student job at OCE and also uses the office to find volunteer work.

"It's easy to only interact with students and faculty as a college student," she says. "OCE helps students broaden their perspectives and interact with Duluth's diverse community."

When LaCore became director of the Darland Connection in 1998, about 200 UMD students worked in the community each year. By fall 2006, OCE was placing more than 900 students in the community in just one semester. That means about ten percent of all UMD students are engaging in community work.

"Our numbers are high for the size of campus we have," LaCore says. "But within those numbers, we have good quality control going on, so we have a really high level of trust with our community agencies. That is incredibly valuable, and we protect that." LaCore credits the dedication of the staff for working to maintain the quality of UMD's community work.

LaCore has been a part of the Duluth community for more than 12 years and sits on several boards. She says it's a tight-knit community, but for outsiders or newcomers, becoming part of the community isn't always easy.

"If you are young and you didn't grow up here, or if you are a person of color, this is not an easy place to be," says LaCore. "I think that the concepts and ideas behind being engaged in the community and understanding how community works are really important to this problem. An effective way to break down cultural barriers and stereotypes is to be engaged, especially with people who aren't just like you. Working around a task unifies people. You become just people working together on an issue, learning to appreciate each others' differences."

LaCore sees more growth on the horizon as people turn to UMD to help meet community needs.

"It can be frustrating for a citizen to try to figure this place out, but our office provides a way in," she says. "The community is starting to realize that OCE is their door to the University--to the knowledge and expertise of faculty and students."

It is this approach to community engagement, adopted by OCE at the Duluth campus and by the Office for Public Engagement (OPE) at the Twin Cities campus, that is encouraging faculty members like Kratz.

"I appreciate the recognition of members of the faculty and other collegiate units who are doing these kinds of things," says Kratz. "It helps me learn about what others are doing to engage in the community."

Stephanie Wilkes is a junior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail .