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Implementing Service Learning In Marketing Courses

By Rick Saucier, D.B.A.
Assistant Professor of Management
Management Department
St. John’s University
Collegeville, MN 56321

Telephone: (320) 363-2048
Fax: (320) 363-3298

Submitted June 20, 2003


Service Learning provides opportunities for students to put in to practice marketing theories and concepts learned in the classroom. This study examines my current practices, student and community partner feedback, and how this practice can be effectively implemented in marketing courses.


Service learning is defined as “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities designed to promote student learning and development.” (Jacoby and Associates, 1996) The three principles of service learning include “those being served control the service(s) provided, those being served become better able to serve and be served by their own actions, and those who serve are also learners and have significant control over what is expected to be learned.” Stanton, Giles, and Cruz, 1999)


I was introduced to service learning by the Service Learning Coordinator at St. John’s University. After expressing my interest to incorporate service learning in a marketing class, the first step I took was to ask myself what the purpose of service learning should be and how this concept could be best incorporated in the classroom. I wanted students to serve a community need while at the same time to implement marketing concepts and theories they were learning in class. Students were allowed to work alone or with a group of up to 3 people. They were expected to work a minimum of 15-20 hours outside of class. Next, I needed to find community partners who had marketing projects with which they need assistance. I found it important to outline my expectations for the projects and the ability of our students. The community partners were invited to present their projects the first week of class in the semester. Students were given time at the end of class to discuss individual projects with the community partners. Students were expected to commit to a project within a week of the presentations. Those who signed up for a service project were required to sign a contract that outlined their commitment to the project, insured they had transportation, and waived the college from any claims that might take place off campus. They were also expected to immediately set up an appointment with their respective partners.

Once students projects were underway, my job was to monitor both the community partners and students to ensure they were meeting to ensure both parties were working together and that there were no misunderstandings. I found it important to follow up early in the process to determine that both parties were meeting and that everyone understood the project’s goals and each party’s point of view. The parties designed their own plan as to how best complete their project. Students were expected to complete two written progress reports during the semester and to present this to the class. At the end of the semester, students handed in a five page paper reflecting on their results and how they incorporated marketing techniques to assist the organization. Their report included documents that supported their efforts.

Upon completion of the service projects, I surveyed both students and community partners to find their level of satisfaction with the service learning activity and to provide feedback as to the benefits as well as improvements that could be made to the program.


In collegiate discussions, I discovered that faculty initially attempted service projects as an optional part of the course. As instructors discover techniques that are most suitable for their class, the projects become a mandatory graded part of the class. In my case, students had the alternative of completing a service project or to complete readings in the field. It is important that the options are perceived as equitable by students. I found from feedback that it is valuable to create highly structured projects for students that provided a definite outcome. Some examples of projects that worked best for me included designing advertising brochures for American Red Cross and Big Brother/Big Sister, crafting a marketing campaign to encourage college students to attend St. Cloud Symphony concerts, and creating a promotional campaign for the Festival of Lights at St. Cloud Hospital.
My students’ feedback strongly endorsed service learning in a marketing course. They enjoyed the opportunity to apply their learning to a real world organization as well as to help a non-profit agency in their community. The community partners in turn found the students’ assistance to be valuable and a positive experience.


Jacoby, Barbara and Asociates. Service-Learning in Higher Education.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996

Stanton, Timothy, et al, Service-Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999