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Aleska Sparks leads Yoga in the Park during UAFS student night at a Living Local event in Van Buren on Oct. 12.

A chance to gain some real world experience they can parlay into an advantage when they look for jobs makes some extra effort worthwhile for students in the marketing research class at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.


This fall students in Dr. Elise Riker’s class worked with Van Buren Original, the Advertising and Promotion Commission and Main Street merchants to devise a strategy to revitalize the downtown area. Students will present their conclusions to their “clients” at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 28 and 30 at the King Opera House. The presentations are open to the public.


Typically classes like this one emphasize case studies, but Riker, assistant professor in the College on Business, prefers to let her students get their hands dirty with on-the-job training in this challenging course.


 “I tell my students, ‘There are a lot of things required in this class, at least one of which you will not like,’” Riker said. “’Statistics, writing, presentations, data collecting, group work: Odds are that one of those will make you uncomfortable and that’s OK.’”


This year’s project resulted from the university’s longstanding relationship with Rusty Myers and Fred Williams of Van Buren Original. The two serve as Executives in Residence in the College of Business at UAFS and are members of the Dean’s Leadership Council.


Class members were divided into nine teams with specific research topics. For instance, one group worked to develop a marketing plan for the King Opera House; another worked with Main Street merchants to identify target audiences and increase appeal. Two other groups focused on events in downtown Van Buren: One group researched public interest in events currently offered, and the other considered what new events would generate interest.


Debbie Foliart, a member of VBO and proprietor of the Chapters on Main bookstore, worked extensively with several groups. She said she is sure the students’ presentations will be valuable to Van Buren.


“What we hope to get from them is information that would cost us an arm and a leg while they are having a chance to learn the process of marketing research,” she said.


She also looks forward to having solid evidence to help in recruiting merchants and investors.


“We will have valid, verifiable information that has been researched, so we’re not just using our guesses or hunches. We can tell merchants, ‘People in our town said they wanted this.’” she said.


Students in the class are enthusiastic about their experiences because they know the practical research will give them the hands-on experience employers want.


Their work also has a kind of satisfaction that’s different from what they get in other classes.


Chasse Daniels, a member of the team looking for ways to market Van Buren to new merchants, explained: “In a lot of classes you see the result of your effort in your grade, but with this class you are going to see the result of your effort when things come to life. You’re actually going to see what happens.”


About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally. To find out what makes UAFS just right for you, go to


Article by Judi Hansen, Advancement Editor
Date Posted: 
Monday, November 20, 2017
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