West Windsor, N.J. – This semester the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Business and Technology Division rolled out a first as part of its long-running and highly successful International Business Practice Firm course (BUS 296), in which students run a virtual travel agency and assume a number of jobs, just as they would in a real workplace.
The course was presented as a hybrid, with students signing on remotely on Monday evenings, and meeting in the practice firm on Wednesdays. Grant funding enabled the college to acquire iPad Minis, which were distributed to students to use in video conferencing.
According to Professor Kristen Callahan, who developed the modified curriculum with Alexandra Salas, Director of MercerOnline, the course placed major emphasis on online activities and skills. “So much of business today relies on the use of video technology, Internet applications, and mobile computing and collaboration. We wanted to give students that experience," Callahan said, adding that the flexibility of the hybrid approach also appealed to working adults.
The students, a small group of dedicated future business people, responded with enthusiasm. In addition to assignments related to the course’s standard curriculum, the class decided to take on a semester-long project to create a digital travel magazine. The inaugural issue of “Travel On a Dime” featured articles and video on destinations as well-known as Disney World and as remote as the Galapagos Islands. It also featured ads the students solicited from area businesses.
The class celebrated the magazine’s launch on Nov. 23 with MCCC President Jianping Wang, faculty, and community guests. In addition to a student presentation about the magazine, the evening’s program included a talk by Joan Brame, a small business owner who signed on to advertise in the students’ magazine. Brame enrolled in the Business Practice Firm course more than a decade ago, after retiring from a job in health care. She said the course was instrumental in helping her launch her Lawrenceville fitness business – first as part of the Slim ’N Tone franchise and then as Empower Fitness, an exercise and wellness center for women ages 40 and older.
Victor Buri, who is studying for his associate degree as an Administrative Professional, recalls his initial bewilderment at the course’s hybrid element. But before he knew it, he was immersed in the virtual world – with meetings and ongoing communication via the Internet.
“As the class progressed we all started to recognize how much information we were absorbing,” Buri recalled, adding that teamwork was a key component to completing the magazine. “Different opinions brought up constructive criticism. It was a hands-on process to evaluate ourselves. This class has given me a new sense of self-confidence,” he said.
In order to create their magazine, the students acquired a variety of new skills. Office Systems Technology student Linda Paciotti said, “We often had to step out of our comfort zones -- from creating a mission statement, to designing the logo, to writing and editing magazine copy, to producing a business plan and annual report. This is the perfect course for someone who wants to experience what running a business is like."
Karen Mulligan-Nardelli, a part-time student who works full-time in cash management at Princeton University, said that she learned a lot about her work preferences and her ability to juggle new tasks. She especially enjoyed executing business transactions and planning the launch party.
After completing her degree in May, Mulligan-Nardelli plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in Labor Studies and Employment Relations through the Rutgers University program on the MCCC campus.
“Eventually I want to be a college advisor or recruiter. I have a strong desire to continue my education and work in a career that is not only fulfilling personally but will help others reach their goals,” she said. “Mercer is bridging the gap between where I am and where I want to be.”
The "Travel On a Dime" magazine can be viewed by clicking here.
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