For Illinois State graduate Anthony Suggs ‘04, partnering with the Innovation Consulting Community (ICC) at his alma mater is a win-win.

ICC is an extracurricular opportunity open to undergraduates and graduate students from across campus. It provides participants with valuable professional experience by giving them the opportunity to work on a consulting project for a real-world client.

Suggs works as the vice president of marketing and merchandising for Jewel-Osco, and for the last three years, the grocery store chain has served as a client and valuable community partner for the ICC program.

“We find that partnering with students as they seek real-world experience with a real business problem is exciting and rewarding. The ability to coach students and watch them develop over the course of the project shows the power of hands-on learning. As a bonus we are left with a business solution that we can incorporate into our go-forward strategy,” said Suggs.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, a team of ICC student consultants worked with Jewel-Osco on developing strategies for engaging millennials through cooking. They brainstormed digital and merchandising solutions and researched and recommended a social media approach.

“The topic of cooking is important for Jewel-Osco because cooking at home is becoming increasingly important for customers as they have developed new habits through the pandemic. Couple that with the growth in the population of the millennial generation and you have a very real need state,” Suggs observed.

For senior Integrated Marketing Communications major Sarah Hastings, participating in the project not only provided a professional learning opportunity but also meshed well with her personal interests.

“I love cooking. I watch cooking shows all the time, and I am a young millennial, so the content hit home for me,” said the student. “I think the topic is important because there is this perception that millennials are lazy and don’t enjoy activities like cooking when that is far from true. We are just busy people and need solutions that adapt to our hectic lives, and that is what we set out to address in our project.”

Alanna Veytsel, also an Integrated Marketing Communications major, described how the ICC team researched the types of foods and health topics that interest millennials. The senior particularly enjoyed the process of interviewing people about “what food trends they gravitate to” and what captures their attention when buying groceries.

Suggs commended the Illinois State consultants, saying, “The students that volunteered did an outstanding job organizing a plan of attack for our business problem. The process of research, insights, concept development, and testing allowed for an outstanding final proposal. The team did a great job of collaborating and presenting their plan.”

Nichola Racey, a junior majoring in both Integrated Marketing Communications and Advanced Marketing Analytics, joined the team in order to gain experience working with a client outside of a traditional classroom setting. She also saw this particular project as an opportunity to better understand how different age groups respond to marketing promotions.

Looking back at the experience, she observed, “I learned how to better work as a team and gained a lot of insight about the marketing industry … From a student’s perspective, (ICC) is a great way to apply concepts you have learned in class to real-world scenarios.”

Veytsel agreed that ICC provides “a perfect opportunity to get your feet wet and have a hands-on project and work with a company.” The senior also noted the experience is a great resume addition.

Hastings, who served as the project manager, also described participation in ICC as a way for students “to prepare themselves for a career after college.”

“The ICC is essentially an internship where the process to join is fairly simple but the experience is at a high-quality level,” she continued. “It allows you to make valuable connections with your peers and real-world clients and to develop something you can be proud of that employers would love to hear about … I learned so much that it is hard to sum it all up here! I learned about how marketing strategy and design is done in a more professional setting outside the classroom, which was very valuable to me as a marketing student. I also learned a lot of soft skills, such as working with a client, managing a team, and project organization. We also did modules on innovation and design which were very informative and helped guide our project.”

Additional student consultants on the project were Kylie Petersen and Alex Bebenek. Dr. Peter Kaufman served as the team’s mentor.

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