I had the strangest semester this quarter at Bergen Community College where I work. The semester started off normal and was the typical night class. I would get in about an hour and a half early and prepare for class. Then it was lecture, class participation and then quizzes and exams. I had just given my midterm exam and then we left for Spring Break. I knew the outside issues that were surrounding us but the problems of the COVID-19 seemed so far away.
Even so in the back of my mind I knew this was going to be a problem experiencing what I did at the New York Restaurant Show and at the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown in the same time frame. Even Groundhog’s Day and the Big Ten Championship seemed subdued. I guess I just waited for someone to finally pull the plug and did they EVER IN A BIG WAY!
Two weeks before we left for Break, I reopened the Bergecco-Parc Consulting Inc. concept for my Introduction to Business class and gave out the Team Project and went over the guidelines of the project. I have to say that the students seemed pretty excited about the prospect of running a company. My President and Senior Vice-President were raring to go and the next two classes, the last one being the night of the Midterm, we were able to meet and it gave the students time to meet up and get to know one another. I knew it would be a successful project.
The Bergecco-Parc Consulting Inc. logo
I had thought about this semester’s Team Project for the class while we were presenting the Paterson Project last semester and thought about what many students had told me about their experiences at the College. Most seemed alienated from the other students. Others who had attended bigger four year colleges in the past felt their was no cohesiveness to the school, no connection because it was a commuter school. Others told me that they did not know anyone at the school until they did their group project. The one thing was true was there was no school spirit.
This gave me the idea this semester to do something to focus on the students and their experience at the college. While my Marketing class created a project for tourism in Historical Bergen County, I had my Introduction to Business class create a Student Ambassador Program that would welcome students to the college starting with the student getting accepted in high school and then take them on the whole experience of welcoming them once they got to Bergen Community College.
I decided to expand the “Welcome Week” project I did two years ago (see ‘Day One Hundred and Twenty Seven’ in MywalkinManhattan.com) that welcomed students and alumni back to the college and create an ambassador program as another part of welcoming students to campus. The Welcome Week project gave the students an opportunity to be involved with the campus when they graduated but I wanted to see something when they first got the letter of acceptance. So I created a Team Project that would combine the whole experience.
The Welcome Week Project-“Follow the Yellow Brick Road back to Bergen Community College-Welcome Week 2019”:
The Welcome Week Logo of 2018
My questions was ‘How do we engage students when they are accepted to the college and then when they get here?’ ‘How are we sure that they do not get lost in the crowd?’ Since it is a commuter campus, how do we keep them engaged once they start classes? This was the challenge for the students to tackle with this Team project. We used the last two classes of the semester to meet and get everyone acquainted and have the Teams start the project. It started very smoothly.
Here was the inspiration for the Ambassador Program:
Here was the welcome to the college from the “Welcome Week” Team!
While on Spring Break, I got a memo from the college while attending the Restaurant Show that the college was going to extend the Spring Break a week to see what the State of New Jersey was going to do to handle the COVID-19 situation.
So I just continued on with the first week of break, attending the Restaurant Show, going to Blondie’s on the West Side to the Alumni Night for the Big Ten Championships, attending a 90’s Tech retrospect at the Anthology Archives and going to the Members night at the Met Breuer. All of this while I felt that everyone I was with at these events with were looking over their shoulders wondering what would happen next (See Day One Hundred and Sixty-“On Leave from “MywalkinManhattan.com” in MywalkinManhattan.com).
I was planning on visiting my mother on Thursday of first week of break so after the Restaurant Show closed I got my car serviced, my haircut, my dry cleaning and banking done and finished my housework in anticipation of my upcoming trip. Still everything loomed in the distance. The next morning all hell broke loose and the borders were shut in the United States and the stock market went wild! The market was dropping like crazy.
So in between talking to my mother, my broker and other family members everything was cancelled and I stayed home and by March 13th, the whole country started the lock down. I could not go into the City and continue my walk of the Theater District or work in the Soup Kitchen as everything in the City immediately shut down. I just wondered how this would play out with the College. Even before the break many of my students had been asking questions about this that I could not answer.
While we were on break a lot of my students kept in touch with one another and we were working on the project during the second week of the break. I was only allowed to email students if they emailed me (they were still on their break) but I would CC everyone on my emails to keep the lines of communication open. It was only at the end of the second week that we knew we would not be going back to school and all the classes would go virtual. It was then I was emailing my students and going over what we needed to do to proceed with the project. This is when the project got interesting.
Some of the students had kept in touch over the break and had gotten the framework done for their sections and had some ideas of what they wanted to do. So we were better prepared than the other class I had who had one afternoon to get their game plan together. When we realized we would not be going back to class and everything would have to be virtual, it made the class even more interesting and a big challenge. Most of the students had a good handle on the work and many parts of the project had been started.
The Ambassador Project:
The project was broken down into sections. Bergecco-Parc Consulting Inc. (an acronym for Bergen Community College-Paramus Campus) is a hierarchy in company form. I set up my Executives and broke them down into different divisions. My President and Senior Vice-President ran the show. They would report to me and let me know how the project was progressing. They were in charge of putting the Power Point presentation together and finding our headquarters.
The slogan that the Team came up with for the project.
My Talent Division was in charge of setting up salaries, the benefits package and the office space design for a three month period that we would be working on the proposal for the client. Once the President and Senior Vice-President of Operations found the location for the offices, it would be the Talent Team’s responsibility to design and furnish the office. They would also set up a series of ‘perks’ for the office, things like snacks for the office, team building projects and employee relation items like Daycare and transportation reimbursement.
My Marketing Team was responsible for setting up the Corporate Website (based on the one that had been set up for the Paterson Project) and expand it to include all Bergecco-Parc Consulting Inc. projects from the past, shoot commercials welcoming students to campus and what it is like to attend Bergen Community College and set up the logos along with the Spirit Division and then find ways to ‘market the college’ to the incoming students. They were also in charge of designing the new “Ambassador” uniforms for the Student Ambassadors to wear when attending events.
My Spirit/Special Events Team was responsible for all the ‘spirit’ related projects. They were responsible for setting up our Spirit Welcome’s to incoming high school students and once they got to campus, organizing a series of events to get the students involved in the campus. They were also assigned to set up the special events to welcome parents and students to campus.
On the High School Level, the Spirit/Special Events Division was to create a “Spirit High School Welcome” that entailed the Student Ambassadors visiting each high school in the are where students had been accepted to Bergen Community College along with some students athletes and hold a “Meet & Greet” over a pizza lunch with the incoming students to welcome them to campus.
Here is the commercial that welcome’s new students to campus!
On the College Level, the Spirit/Special Events Division was to create a series of events for when the incoming students arrived as well as events that current students could attend called it the “College “Bulldog” Spirit Welcome” and this included:
*A formal Campus Tour that each student was to take when they arrived on campus. This way each student knew where things were located on campus and become acquainted with what services were available to them.
*A Parent’s of Athletes Reception and Pep Rally which was to be an evening exclusively catering to student athletes coming to Bergen Community College and their parents which included a light dinner and pep rally that included the cheerleaders, the dance team and other student athletes that was to be held the night of our rival Men’s Basketball game with Passaic Community College.
*A Parent/Student Barbecue which was to be held the weekend of the first home Men’s Soccer game that invited all incoming students and their parents plus the members of the Men’s and Women’s Soccer teams and their parents. The barbecue was to have an extensive menu of all sorts of fall favorites.
*A First Night at the College that was to be held the First Friday after the College resumed that included a night in the gym getting to know the clubs and organizations on campus. This also included snacks provided for the evening and then the evening ended with a concert for all the students.
The Spirit/Special Events Team was also responsible for designing a new School Mascot, Spirit Shirts for the the Men and Women’s Basketball Teams and create a School Fight Song. I know it would be a lot of work but it is fun to see the creativity of the students when put under pressure.
Here is the commercial that promotes the college when students come to campus!
It was even more pressure when we did not return to campus and the whole project had to be done by email and then Zoom meetings. I would not see my students again for the rest of the semester and because of school policy I could not speak to them over the phone. Until I learned what Zoom was and was allowed to have video conferences with them toward the end of the semester, I have never written so many emails before in my life. I swear I was on the computer everyday all day especially on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I never left my home office the whole day.
It got even more confusing when a few of my students disappeared at the beginning of the semester, a few students got sick and then it was the disagreements and misunderstandings you have when emailing people. I had never worked so hard pulling a project off before. Communication was limited until the use of Zoom videoconferencing came into play. Even then that was toward the end of the project so everything was being done through long lengthy emails.
Then for about two weeks I heard nothing from the team as members of the Executive Team had not been in contact with me. We were at the height of the COVID-19 crisis and I was worried about my students. Some just stopped answering emails and I would find out later that some of them or their family members were sick. It was a trying time in the trenches.
Then I sent out an email about two and a half weeks before the presentation and everyone started to contact me. What floored me was how far the students had come along with the project with little assistance from me. Some of them took me ideas and just ran with them.
Some of them came up with their own version of my ideas which I liked. They created home and away shirts for the basketball games, set up spirit sections, came up with new ideas for food venues like having Boston Market take out meals for the ‘Parent’s of Athletes Reception’ and the Team’s creative ideas on a new school fight song. The Team even developed a new school mascot, “The Bulldog”.
The new Bulldog Mascot Costume
We ended up having both a WebEx meeting and a Zoom Meeting before the presentation on Friday, April 24th at 8:00pm. It was so nice to see everyone again. I had not seen my students since the Midterm exam and it was good to see that everyone was doing okay. Their lives like my own were turned upside down but we all had to make the best of it.
On the night of presentation was interesting. It was not the most pleasant weather and I was afraid that the computer would go down. We lucked out that everything went by smoothly and the presentation went by fine. What was nice was our Head of Athletics and our Head of Public Relations for the college were able to join us for the presentation.
Here is the new Bergecco-Parc Consulting Inc Website:
Here you can see the full Power Point Presentation and the Commercials.
I could not have been prouder of a group of students who under all the pressure of not being in class, people suffering from the illness. family situations at home, job issues and personal stress made the project work.
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The students at Bergen Community College’s Business/Hotel Management School proved to me that they can compete with the best. I was happy to give a lot of “A’s” this semester!
Professor Justin Watrel, CEO & Co-Founder
Bergecco-Parc Consulting Inc.