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Experiential Learning Center

Projects ~ 2009

The Bradford Group

The Bradford Group (BGE) is a privately held, direct marking company specializing in collectibles, home decor and an ever expanding variety of product forms. Founded in 1973, BGE has an unyielding commitment to product quality and exceptional customer service which has helped them become one of the premier direct marketing companies in today's global economy. BGE asked an ELC team to examine social media platforms and other online social media techniques for The Hamilton Collection, a division of BGE that focused on developing and selling lower priced, affinity-themed collectible products. In response, the team developed a marketing strategy using social media to find viable new marketing programs to increase product awareness and interest, driving sales and promoting customer retention.

Dennis and Stacey Barsema

This project was a continuation of the spring 2009 Microfinance Simulation project. The team continued the development, testing, and marketing of a simulation for the Microfinance course taught by Dennis Barsema. A team of students picked up where the spring students left off in developing a simulation in the 3D application "OpenSim". This student team consisted of students from Art, Computer Science, and Business. The simulation provided the "player" with the experience that a typical Microfinance entrepreneur would have surviving and trying to start a small business in Mexico utilizing a virtual world environment. The student development team continued to create the 3D graphics and programming, developed field testing, further developed and designed the simulation game and provided market research for the simulation focusing on student use and the reselling of the simulation to other universities.


Broadcasting Productivity Performance
Each day, Eby-Brown posts its own productivity performance records on a bulletin board in the break room. Each department has different information regarding its performance. Eby-Brown has all of the data, however, the data is spread across many different departments and is not consolidated. Eby-Brown contacts asked the ELC team to create a system that digitally display all of this information in an effective and eye-catching manner. The core objective of the project was to design a system to broadcast the information on a large screen in Eby-Brown at key employee gathering places. The team developed a system in which to digitally display all of the performance information as well as company and employee announcements.

Category Purchase Information Report
Currently, Eby-Brown's sales representatives have access to information regarding their customers' past purchases through a product software system called DAISY. Through DAISY, there are several proprietary online reports that have 25 months of item level, sub category and category purchase history. They asked the ELC team to use the information found in DAISY to create consolidated sales reports for each sales person. These reports should be a snap shot for each customer so that it is clear to the salespeople what their customers are buying and what they could buy in the future in order to increase sales. The reports will use the information found in DAISY but will be compiled in a manner that will allow sales persons to analyze the past customer purchases and make suggestions for future purchases. This information will help a sales person quickly see customer performance and potential items for future sales. It will also help managers develop sales objectives and targets for each sales person by customer.

Hall Associates Flying Effects

Hall Associates Flying Effects designs, builds, installs and operates mechanical systems used to lift and support performance artists during live theater events, sporting events, movies, commercials, and industrial shows. This local company is one of three major companies in the USA and one of ten worldwide who offer this type of service. The company has experienced exponential growth recently was looking for assistance from an ELC team in a variety of areas. These included the creation of a staffing model, and streamlining their accounting systems and/ or creating a growth/ maintenance model for the rental segment of their business. The ELC team responded by determining the focus and the scope of the project.


McDonald's is one of the world's most well-known and valuable brands. With 31,000 restaurants in 118 countries, McDonald's serves over 50 million people each day. They asked an ELC team to research and identify the top ten trends that could impact the company and its charity in the coming years in a variety of areas: organic, economic, immigration, telecommuting, technology, etc. They also asked a team to create an action plan for McDonalds to continue to investigate and act upon these top trends.

In response, the ELC team identified five unique trends that McDonald's needed to focus on in future decision making. The team included benchmarks from other organizations along with recommendations and tactics for McDonald's to capitalize on these future trends.

NIU Digital Convergence Lab

NIU is launching a Digital Convergence Lab (DCL). This lab will focus on the study and application of digital media and distance education technologies. This includes game and simulation development, mobile information and access, social network application, marketing, and distance learning as well as emerging technologies for higher education, K-12 partnerships, and workforce development. The DCL asked an ELC team to shape its mission, programs, and projects. The team provided in depth on analysis on:

  1. Fit/gap analysis of current resources across campus for both faculty and students to engage in digital convergence activities
  2. Identification of 21st century skills students need and how those might shape the DCL activities and services
  3. . Examination of successful models and programs at other Universities to suggest program structure, funding, elements, projects for the DCL
  4. Description of how the DCL could benefit the library and the digitization project
  5. Creation of a comprehensive marketing plan for the DCL to attract faculty, students, and grants

In response, an ELC team developed comprehensive business, operational and marketing plans based on benchmarks of other institutions, resources currently available, and analysis from feedback from focus groups, surveys and interviews. They provided the project stakeholders with key recommendations and strategies centered community engagement, utilization of new digital media, experiential learning opportunities, shared research and development, scalability and sustainability of the DCL.


Wal-Mart asked an ELC team to address a strategic finance business issue addressing the metrics and impact of cross-store cannibalization of four types of Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart commissioned an ELC team to analyze the effects of different types of stores being built in a geographic region and what impact that would have on existing store sales.

In response, an ELC team developed a solution using a set of metrics with geo-mapping techniques and built an analysis tool using historic sales data provided by Wal-Mart.

Spring 2009


The Alberto-Culver Company manufactures and markets beauty, personal care and household products in more than 120 countries. A $1.4 billion company, Alberto-Culver is responsible for brands such as Alberto VO5, TRESemme, Nexxus, St. Ives, Mrs. Dash and Static Guard. The brands manufactured and marketed by Alberto-Culver are more recognizable than the Alberto-Culver Company brand. This makes employee recruitment a challenge.

Alberto-Culver asked an ELC team to create a marketing and branding strategy to increase awareness of the company and of why it is a great place to work. In response the team conducted primary and secondary research then developed nine recommendations to position Alberto-Culver as the employer of choice.

Dennis & Stacey Barsema

Dennis Barsema teaches a Microfinance course for the NIU College of Business each fall semester. In the past he has taken the students to Mexico to see microfinance in action. This model limits the number of students who can enroll and is not sustainable long term.

Mr. Barsema asked an ELC team to investigate and create a simulation for a Microfinance course to use in place of the trip. In response this virtual ELC team researched technology platforms, chose one and started the development of the simulation. A second ELC team will continue their work in fall 2009.


Since 1936, Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) has focused on providing low-cost, high quality insurance. With over eight million auto policyholders and insuring more than 12 million vehicles, GEICO is now the fastest growing auto insurer in the U.S., and is currently the third largest private passenger auto insurer in the nation. GEICO, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, also enjoys the highest ratings in the industry for financial strength and claims-paying ability, including an AAA rating from Standard and Poor's, AAA from Moody's and A++ from A.M. Best.

GEICO has partnered with the Northern Illinois Alumni Association for several years. This partnership provides the NIU alumni with an additional discount on their auto insurance, which averages 8%. GEICO asked an ELC team to create and execute a solid marketing plan within a defined budget to increase the number of NIU alumni who receive a quote.

In response, the ELC team created and implemented marketing campaigns using multiple platforms targeting current students and young alumni. The team was successful in creating a buzz around campus as it generated an article in the Northern Star campus newspaper. Link to article


The McDonald's U.S. Controller Group is a world class organization of innovative committed financial experts who are essential business partners in McDonald's success. The SpendSmart team supports the strategic sourcing initiatives performed by the U.S. Controller Group which will drive company savings in excess of $20 million a year.

McDonald's SpendSmart Department charged an ELC team with analyzing ways to control their commodity risk for non food items such as fuel, steel, nickel, restaurant equipment and furnishings, services, construction, etc. The team developed recommendations in the following areas: Supply Availability; Commodity Correlation; Financial Instruments; Contracts.


McKesson is America's oldest and largest healthcare services company dating back more than 174 years. It is the largest pharmaceutical distributor in North America, delivering more than a third of all medicines used daily by pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes and doctors' offices. McKesson has 30 Forward Distribution Centers varying in age and size. Many are reaching capacity. In the current business model, orders are placed overnight and all products are delivered by 12 p.m. the following day. McKesson asked an ELC team to analyze an alternate business model that differentiates the level of service provided and delivery method by fast and slow moving products. The team was challenged to identify the slow moving products, quantify the impact of the proposed business model on the customers, and determine the benefits of the new model. In response, the ELC team developed different scenarios for centralization and product delivery; analyzed the affect of each on profitability; and made recommendations for further action.

NIU College of Business - Board of Executive Advisors

The College of Business Board of Executive Advisors Strategic Directions committee is actively evaluating growth opportunities for the graduate programs in business, particularly the MBA in its various formats (evening, Professional, Executive). To enhance the planning and decision making, the Board charged an ELC team to conduct a market analysis study of the Chicago and Chicago suburb market for MBA programs. They asked that the study include potential market size by region and program type and the competitive environment. The Board also requested secondary and primary sources for research.

In response the ELC team employed a multi-staged market research study to determine how to better position the NIU College of Business MBA programs. Their study included secondary research, exploratory research (in-depth interviews, focus groups, campus intercept interviews and phone interviews) and primary research (four surveys). After analyzing the data, the team delivered six recommendations to the Board of Executive Advisors.


Wal-Mart asked an ELC team to work with the Real Estate Reporting, Systems and Strategy Team to develop a Realty Systems and Strategy Dashboard. The objective of this dashboard is to provide Real Estate management an automated and integrated view of key portfolio information across Real Estate. The dashboard will facilitate decision making across the portfolio. Some of the key information vital to this dashboard include but is not limited to: (1) Realty Systems and Strategy Portfolio Statistics; (2) Program Health; (3) Project Alerts; and (4) Capacity and Resource Breakdown.

In response, the team analyzed technology platforms. After choosing one, the team created a dashboard for Wal-Mart that will provide cost savings, improve time efficiency, increase productivity and store project information in a centralized location.

NIU Outreach - Market Research

With the help of state funding, the NIU College of Business offers the last two years of the Bachelor of Science in business administration (BSBA) program on the NIU Rockford campus. The Rockford BSBA program, started in fall 2004, is offered during the day for full-time students. It is an exact replica of the BSBA program offered on the DeKalb campus. The on campus BSBA is the college's fastest growing program. After several years, considerable expenditure on various marketing initiatives, and continued efforts to work with Rock Valley College to develop a pipeline for the Rockford BSBA program, NIU has yet to achieve the kind of robust enrollment which would justify the appropriation received for this program. NIU Outreach, a division within Northern Illinois University responsible for researching off-campus market opportunities for degree programs, asked an ELC team to complete a market analysis comparing Rockford with the western suburbs for the BSBA program. In response, the ELC team conducted primary research. This included interviews with academic and business professionals and surveys given to students in accountancy courses at Rock Valley College. After analyzing the data, the team presented seven recommendations aimed at improving enrollments in the NIU Rockford BSBA program.

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