Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-4299

January 8, 2007

NIU student project assists mental health agency

DeKalb, Ill. — Most student projects result in a paper and perhaps a presentation. However, one group of students at NIU recently delivered something more tangible.

Students from the NIU College of Business not only devised a promotional strategy to boost awareness of resources to assist those suffering from depression or bi-polar disorder, but also were instrumental in brokering a partnership that allowed Group Hope (a Rockford-based organization devoted to assisting those with such disorders and their families) to create a new chapter of that organization on the NIU campus. The chapter was created in partnership with the NIU Women’s Resource Center.

The team of six business students took on the project as part of a class offered through the Experiential Learning Center in the NIU College of Business. Projects conducted through the ELC provide the opportunity for qualified Northern Illinois University students to work with organizations on real-world business issues. Students take on the role of junior consultants while working in a cross-functional business environment.

“It is unusual for a team to produce such a concrete result as part of an ELC project,” said their faculty coach, Joan Petros, a professor in the NIU College of Business. “This team was presented with an opportunity to help create this group and was smart enough to seize upon it and turn it into a reality.”

The creation of a Group Hope chapter on the NIU campus was part of a much larger undertaking which included extensive interviewing of local mental health experts and health care providers; surveying the NIU community to assess awareness of mental health issues and the need for mental health resources; and the development of a marketing campaign to raise awareness of those resources.

Like all ELC projects, those activities allowed students to apply the lessons learned in business classes to a real-world situation. It was an extremely valuable experience, said members of the team.

“I had created marketing plans in classes, but it was a much different experience applying those skills in the real world where you encounter and have to work around obstacles,” said marketing major Aliya Husain.

The experience of working on a cross-functional team also was a revelation for some of the students.

“I came away with a greater appreciation for the importance of communication between team members,” said finance major Joe Wronkiewicz. “You really have to have a sense of what everyone is working on at all times or you end up wasting a lot of time and effort.”

As a group, the team also developed a much greater appreciation of the need for mental health resources.
“I never realized that one in five people has some sort of mental disorder, and that 80 percent of those people do not get the appropriate treatment,” said marketing major Jenny Wiatr.

Other students working on the team were marketing majors Kathryn Froeter and Gabrielle Koeppel, and finance major Alexander Prendergast .

The group realized it might be able to help that population when it met with representatives of the Women’s Resource Center at NIU. They approached the center to ask if it would be willing to sponsor a support group for people suffering from depression or bipolar disorder, only to learn that one already existed. From that conversation was born the idea of connecting the Women’s Resource Center group with Group Hope.

“The students were wonderful, they really took the bull by the horns,” says Marianne Tomlinson, acting assistant director of the NIU Women’s Resource Center. “They did all of the leg work for us. It was great.”

In addition to making introductions to Group Hope representatives, that leg work included developing a new brochure to promote the group, creating promotional flyers and designing print ads to run in the campus newspaper.

While those efforts are still in their early stages, the initial success has been promising, says Tomlinson, noting that several new members joined the group’s most recent meeting and all had learned about it through ads sponsored by the ELC team.

Being affiliated with Group Hope also will yield other benefits, Tomlinson explained, “As a branch of Group Hope we have more opportunities to talk to others running similar groups. It will provide us with support and allow us to share our insights with others.”

Dr. Charles Smith, who sits on the board of the Mental Health Association of the Rock River Valley (which runs Group Hope), was not surprised at the success of the students. This is the second time he has coordinated a project between MHARRV and the ELC, and both times he has been very pleased with the results.

“The students did an excellent job,” Smith said. “They listened closely to us, did their research and got to work. What they achieved in a matter of six or seven weeks, as far as increasing awareness of mental health resources, took me three years to accomplish in Rockford. I’m thrilled with what they have done.”

The NIU chapter of Group Hope will meet from 6 until 8 p.m on the second and fourth Thursday evenings of the month, Jan.11 through May 10, at the Women’s Resource Center, 105 Normal Road.