Students Gain Real-world Skills Through Opus Tech Program

This summer, St. Thomas students were busy collaborating online with a museum in New Mexico, gaining transferable skills, new friendships, and accomplishments to be proud of.

Six students, spanning different majors and backgrounds, participated in a three-week online sprint with the Business in a Digital World (BDW) initiative at the Opus College of Business. The initiative focuses on developing leaders who understand the power and potential of technology and can harness it for the common good.

The Bernalillo Community Museum in Bernalillo, New Mexico, was chosen out of many potential partners, and the project provided consulting and real-world experience for the students outside of their classrooms. The museum features exhibits highlighting Bernalillo history and migration.

Bernalillo County Museum Migrant Exhibit

When choosing a nonprofit to work with, BDW selected Bernalillo because it provided a unique opportunity to focus on human-centered design and applying technology solutions while learning about Mexican and Native American culture. As a community museum, it allows local residents to own and showcase the history of the area, telling their stories firsthand.

Having opened in 2019, operating amid the pandemic unveiled a shortcoming the museum hadn't expected. “We found our community outreach stymied by the coronavirus, so the natural first step of any museum is to make sure that we have a solid relationship with our neighbors, but we had none of that,” Emily Stovel, director of the Bernalillo Community Museum, said.

“The focus of this initial pilot is human-centered design,” Kevin Quiring, a BDW executive fellow and faculty adviser for the project, said. "It’s one of the competency areas that we feel is extremely important in developing leaders that have a confluence of business and technology and applying those for the common good.”

Students and faculty members smile for a Zoom screenshot.

The project’s main goal was to increase visitor traffic and engagement to the museum through new mediums. Students and BDW faculty conducted ethnographic research, including phone surveys, local census data, and Qualtrics surveys.

After collecting and reviewing the data, they created visitor and local personas of Bernalillo to plan marketing strategies. These personas ranged from retirees passing through the area, to those visiting the museum multiple times during their trip. The students mapped out five active personas and presented the client with multiple digital and non-digital strategies to support reaching potential museum-goers.

The Newsroom caught up with Natalie Crandall '23, one of the students working with BDW, who shared her experience with the Bernalillo Museum project.

Natalie Crandall '23

Q. What was the most valuable aspect of the experience?

A. The most valuable aspect of this experience was the self-confidence that I gained, from learning how to use Microsoft Teams to successfully delivering presentations to our client. This was my first time being involved in a project like this and now I feel prepared to work on other projects in the future!

Q. How was it different than a classroom experience?

A. It was different because it was a student-led structure which allowed for the team to become tightknit. We quickly learned and adapted to everyone’s strengths and divided the tasks at hand based on that. I wasn’t worried about being right or wrong, but instead I was focused on learning as much as I could during the three-week sprint!

Q. How will this experience help you to be better prepared for the future?

A. This experience allowed me to put my foot in the door and be immersed into what it’s like to be on a project team with a real client who is seeking our knowledge and guidance. It helped me to develop my leadership skills, learn how to effectively communicate ideas, and have my work reflect the mission of an organization, all of which will be beneficial to me in my future endeavors.

Q. Why would you encourage other students to participate in an experience like this?

A. Because of the skills you have the ability to improve upon. You get to be in a space where you can be a leader, think creatively, use your business knowledge outside of the classroom, and learn how to collaborate with an organization to satisfy a common goal. The best part is the support you receive from your peers and the BDW team!

The three-week project proved a success, leaving Stovel with new marketing strategies mapped out and a greater understanding of the residents. "The great thing that St. Thomas was able to provide was the opportunity to call visitors and find out what they thought about town and what they thought was missing, what was needed," Stovel said. "This project really allowed us to get the to-do list to figure out what it is exactly that we need."

She was grateful for the work and enthusiasm the students and staff brought to the project. "There were a lot of really creative solutions, really innovative ideas from people who've not been here, that's the remarkable thing," Stovel added.

BDW Executive Director Kristina Schatz was thrilled with both the student experiences and the project deliverables. “We set out to help the museum solve some of their business challenges and so much more happened along the way. When asked what you would like to share with potential students, our participants said: “This project provided me an opportunity to test skills I learned from class in a real environment. I got to work with my peers and had the guidance of an experienced advisor. It is a great place to learn, experience, and make an impact.” “Best cohort ever!”

Schatz said, “What more could you ask for? I would call this project a true success for both our students and our client!”