POSTED BY: | October 19, 2009

Strategic Marketing & Research, Inc., collaborated with students and faculty at Ball State University, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent in Indianapolis, and Marsh Supermarkets to create a campaign to fight childhood obesity. This article from the Spring 2009 issue of Ball State Business magazine is reprinted with permission.

By Sue Spence
Joey Mitchell brings a personal passion to educating youth about the perils and pitfalls of childhood obesity.

The Ball State senior marketing major knows what it’s like to be overweight. By the time he was a sophomore at Ball State, his weight had ballooned to 293 pounds, and the former high school football player was getting winded just walking up a flight of stairs. One summer day about two years ago, he took a look in the mirror and at the scale and decided he had to make some changes.

“That summer, I made the lifestyle decision—and it is a lifestyle decision—to start eating better and to start lifting weights and running,” the Elkhart, Indiana, resident says. “Now the habits I have formed have become part of my everyday routine.” He cut out fast food except for an occasional indulgence, he started running and playing basketball, and he started enjoying healthy foods. And he lost 100 pounds.

Mitchell, who plans to work in sales for Hormel Foods Corp. after graduation, is one of 11 Ball State undergraduate and graduate students working diligently on a Building Better Communities Fellows outreach project. In addition to marketing majors, the group includes students in advertising, public relations, dietetics, nursing, physiology, wellness, and health education. The project, funded in part through the university’s Building Better Communities initiative, focuses on developing a campaign to educate central Indiana children and families about childhood obesity.

The Fellows’ partners are Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent in Indianapolis, Marsh Supermarkets, and Strategic Marketing and Research, Inc., in Carmel. The group is led by faculty mentor Jennifer Bott, associate professor and program chair of human resource management in the Department of Marketing and Management in the Miller College of Business.

“This is a unique opportunity to let those who seek the experience bring to life what they are learning in the classroom,” says Jim Ittenbach, chief executive officer of Strategic Marketing and Research, Inc. and a 1971 Ball State alumnus.

The Building Better Communities, which receives funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc., focuses on turning academic knowledge into business solutions by sending a faculty mentored-student team to a business or organization to work on a problem-based project to improve services, quality, or competitiveness; increase business; or develop new job opportunities.


Ittenbach, past president of the Miller College of Business Alumni Advisory Board and member of the college’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, had the initial idea to bring Ball State into the project. Through his marketing research firm, he has worked with St. Vincent Health for more than 20 years and Marsh Supermarkets for 25 years. In a discussion with his clients about potentially collaborating on a campaign to fight childhood obesity, Ittenbach thought of Ball State.

“What a great opportunity to build a very dynamic and powerful team together,” he says, noting that he fully supports the emphasis President Jo Ann M. Gora has placed on immersive learning opportunities within the university’s strategic plan.

“Students need to gain real-world experience and connections while they are in school. It broadens their perspective and helps them learn how to interact with different disciplines so when they go into the workplace they can succeed,” he says.

He brought members of the three groups together in early December. “Everyone got fired up,” he says. “The more we talked about it, the more natural synergy there was.”

Both St. Vincent Health and Marsh Supermarkets are well connected to Ball State. St. Vincent recruits nurses from the School of Nursing. Don Marsh, past president and CEO of Marsh Supermarkets, is a Ball State alumnus and Miller College of Business Hall of Fame inductee. Marsh opened its first store in 1931 in Muncie, Indiana, and currently operates eight stores in the Muncie area.

Ittenbach says his two clients will benefit from working with Ball State.

“The students can develop low-cost, pragmatic, practical ways to reach out to youth,” he says.
Mark Heckman, vice president of marketing for Marsh, says the students provide energy and perspective to the project and help expand the scope of the effort.

“We can learn from them as much as they might gain valuable experiences and insight from this project,” he says. In addition, he notes, students can develop lasting relationships that might lead to future employment or marketing opportunities.

Hollie Adams, system marketing manager for St. Vincent Health, calls the partnership with Ball State a win-win situation.

“St. Vincent Health will benefit from engaging students to actively learn and produce tangible outcomes that will be used to create a positive impact on the greater community,” she says.


Bott, who has led three Fellows projects and numerous classroom immersive learning experiences, says the students will learn teamwork and project management skills.

“These experiences help translate book learning into application and give them a context for all future learning,” Bott says. “It allows them to test out their skills and gain the confidence necessary for success in their working lives.”

The students, who applied for a position on the team and were personally interviewed and chosen by Bott, worked in teams on the following tasks:
• Developing a marketing plan for the overall campaign to fight childhood obesity
• Creating a public relations plan for community outreach events planned for this summer
• Designing materials for the summer events
• Putting together a comprehensive 18-week school program to start in august
• Producing a campaign for Marsh that highlights nutritional food choices children and families can make as they shop the aisles of the supermarket
• Preparing a marketing plan to integrate the Marsh Pharmacy into the project.
“They have a well-defined task, but it’s so wide open in terms of creativity,” Bott says.

In addition, students had an opportunity to apply for a few summer internship spots at St. Vincent and potentially help implement the plans the group develops.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity,” Bott says.

Because the team has members from many different disciplines, members have the opportunity to learn from one another in addition to learning from the three business partners.

Mitchell, who stays current on diet and fitness subjects because of his new lifestyle, says he has learned new information from the dietetics members of the team.

“At one of our meetings, we were discussing childhood obesity and losing weight, and I made the mistake of saying that losing weight was easy as long as you dedicate yourself to it,” he says, noting that one of the members from dietetics cringed and explained some of the physiological aspects affecting weight gain and loss.

“We are constantly challenging each other and forcing each other to consider aspects of the project from different angles,” he says. In the end, the partners will benefit. “When you bring together a group of students from diverse backgrounds, you are going to get the best product you can.”

Alicia DuPont, a second-year graduate student in wellness management and gerontology from Muskego, Wisconsin, agrees with Mitchell. “Our interdisciplinary team brings a wide perspective to the challenges ahead of us. Everyone has strengths that can contribute to the final project,” she says.

Read more about one student’s experience on this project here.

Students receive course credit for the project meeting independent study or internship requirements. Grades are based on participation and the timeliness and quality of students’ work and are determined by Bott, the business and community partners, and their peers.

But ask the students why they chose to participate in the project and they likely won’t even mention grades. Many have a personal desire to help children avoid obesity and the hardships that accompany it. All are eager to gain real-world experience they can put to use when they enter the working world.

“This is a great opportunity to collaborate with three very different but complementary companies to attack the very important—and daunting—obesity epidemic we are seeing in our kids,” says DuPont, who has worked at fitness camps for kids and counseled children and families about nutrition. This project will provide “substantial background for future internships and work opportunities.”

Ashley Keebler, a junior public relations major from Liberty Township, Ohio, concurs.

“I am gaining practical experience that will help me develop professionally,” she says. “I could not pass up an opportunity to work with big name clients on a statewide campaign. It is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am lucky to be at a university that brings these projects to campus.”

Sue Spence is a freelance writer for higher education and health care publications and Web sites. She lives in Carmel, Indiana.