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  • Writer's pictureSarah Caron

Professor Spotlight: Kathy Micken

"It’s not about RWU going into the community to “do good,” but rather it is working with community partners in ways that help them accomplish their goals."

Kathleen S. Micken is a Marketing Professor here at Roger Williams University. She teaches several classes like Promotion, Web Marketing and Consumer Behavior. Prof. Micken has been including community engaged projects for several years.

Last spring semester, Professor Micken taught a course called "Qualitative Marketing Research" (MRKT 315). A group of students in that class worked with the Warwick Center for the Fine Arts (WCFA), in Warwick, RI.

Last Spring, she also partnered up with Carolan Kelley, who had a Hassenfeld Fellowship to continue (and finish) the work with Riverzedge Arts that was begun in the fall 2018 semester in the Marketing Research (MRKT 305) class. (To learn more about this project see the video below)

The WCFA was interested in learning what Rhode Islanders, though more specifically, people living in Warwick, RI, wanted from an arts organization. They wanted to learn about the kinds of offerings, programs and services that people desired. They also were seeking suggestions and ideas from the students conducting the research about how to enhance the Center’s offerings. This information gives the organization data to use in its next strategic planning process.

The WCFA project was an attractive one because it fit well with the class, and focused on one-on-one interviewing as a way of developing a deeper understanding a topic. That research approach was of interest to the WCFA — as opposed to, say, a survey. Additionally, the WCFA wanted a deep dive into the demographics and psychographics of its local community.

The Riverzedge Arts project is part of a multi-year association between RWU and Riverzedge. It has been a great partnership that has been beneficial to both parties.

What does Community Engagement mean to you?

"Community Engagement, to me, means just what the phrase suggests: students and faculty becoming part of the communities in which we live and work; part of our job is making that community better in some way. 

If there is one constant, it is that we live in a world with other people. So it is important that both students and faculty figure out how to make that “world with other people” a better place. From a pedagogical perspective, students learn more deeply when they learn what they need to know in order to accomplish the goals that they have. Hopefully these Community Engagement projects provide the means to that end. I say that with the caveat that the benefits should not just flow in one direction — not just toward us. There also have to be benefits for the community partners. Professor Paola Prado has a great phrase to express this idea: “fair trade education.” It’s not about RWU going into the community to “do good,” but rather it is working with community partners in ways that help them accomplish their goals. Not me; us."

Professor Micken has been doing community engaged projects since 2007. The first CPC project, though, was in 2013 with the East Bay Coalition for the Homeless

"It’s hard to pick a favorite or a most memorable project!" said Micken, "If you force me to pick a favorite, it would be Riverzedge, because RWU has developed a really deep relationship with that organization that’s extended beyond my class CPC projects, to projects between Riverzedge and other faculty." The collaboration has also included a mentoring relationship between a RWU student, a student organization, and a Riverzedge student. 

There are a number of tangible impacts, such as logos, websites, Facebook pages and surveys that we developed or redesigned that are still in use today. Partners have incorporated the data collected by RWU students and analyzed it in their annual reports and in reports to granting organizations. They have adopted some of the marketing strategies suggested, by the students. There are intangible impacts as well from the personal relationships that develop through these projects.

For students, working with partners provides an opportunity to understand first-hand how not-for-profits and municipalities operate. Budgets are more constrained and quite often people wear more than one hat. Students get to see first hand how “messy” the real world often is and how important it is to adapt as the situation shifts. Just think about what faculty are asked to do in preparing for a class. "We are told that we should lay out the semester class-by-class, week-by-week on the syllabus." Micken said "But the world doesn’t operate that way." These projects give students insight into how organizations really operate and how even with the best of intentions, what you thought was going to happen just didn’t. Students learn how to adapt and still make things work. Community partners certainly get work/deliverables they might not be able to afford through more traditional routes. They also get a cadre of interested students who take on their (the community partner’s) hopes and dreams and goals. The best partnerships are ones in which the students can take on the partner’s challenges as their own. 

We also asked Professor Micken some fun questions about her!

1. Who is your hero?

 Perhaps Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farm in Virginia. He’s not only figured out how to make farming sustainable, but also humane for the people who work there and for the animals they raise. He has taught many others about that approach. I think it is incredibly important that we figure out how to get our food supply back to providing us food that is not overly processed and not raised in ways that are destructive to the land, to the people who work in agriculture and to the animals. We’ve developed this crazy approach where we process food within an inch of its life and then add back in synthetic nutrients to make it “good” for us — and preservatives so it will be "shelf-stable."

2. If you could live anywhere, where would you be?

Just about anywhere north of San Francisco, along the coast. Alternatively, in Vermont.

3. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Lemon — but only when I make it, because I make it with both lemon juice and limoncello! If it’s from the store, then Haagen-Dazs strawberry or dulce de leche.

To see some of the projects Prof. Micken has been working on, click here:

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