Business students help campus ministry blossom
By Mary P. Walker
“A ministry isn’t a business, but the study of good business practices can help ministries do God’s work better,” said Gerry Hince, campus minister at St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University in College Station. Hince speaks from experience. Last summer, she asked the services marketing class of the nationally ranked Mays Business School at Texas A&M to advise the Catholic Center on how to improve their outreach and programs.
St. Mary has the responsibility of providing Catholic campus ministry to the estimated 15,000 Catholic students at A&M and Blinn College, which is about 25 percent of the student population. Although thousands of students attend Mass and participate in the programs and activities, there are many others whose faith is not an important part of their lives.
Dr. Janet Parish, clinical professor and assistant department head of the marketing department, teaches the services marketing class. The course requires students to apply what they learn in the classroom to advise a service-based business or nonprofit organization. When St. Mary approached Parish about being a “case study,” she was happy to consider the request.
Most of the class was not Catholic or familiar with the Catholic Church. Hince explained that this had both advantages and disadvantages. Staff from St. Mary had to educate the class about the importance of the Mass, the sacraments, and the faith-based components of the ministry. However, because the non-Catholics brought a fresh perspective in analyzing how the ministry could improve, they had no preconceived opinions about how things “should” be done.
Parish divided the 13-person class into three independent teams, and each team conducted an audit of the programs, facilities and outreach at St. Mary. They then made recommendations to the staff.
The teams attended Mass and meetings, interviewed staff and students, and conducted surveys and focus groups. Each team worked independently and did not share their research.
“Because of individual backgrounds, skills and interests, the projects develop quite differently. This gives our clients a more thorough snapshot of where they currently are and a broader set of recommendations that they can evaluate and potentially implement,” Parish said.
After the audits, each team used business tools to analyze their data and presented their recommendations to a group of staff from St. Mary. The audits showed that the students who come to the Catholic Center had many positive things to say about the ministry. However, the audits also showed that St. Mary could do a better job of finding and welcoming students who are not integrated into the life of the community.
According to Hince, the recommendations were especially valuable because they were specific and included a roadmap for implementation. In addition, each team made a unique contribution to improving the ministry — a tribute to the creativity and diversity of the students participating.
Over the last year, St. Mary carefully considered the recommendations, and has made progress in implementing those that would most benefit the ministry. One recommendation was to improve outreach on the campuses; and this fall, four Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionaries will begin that effort. FOCUS has an excellent reputation for respectful, on-campus evangelization and leadership development, said Marcel LeJeune, the assistant director of campus ministry at St. Mary.
“Partnering with the Mays School students provided us with key data, which helped us secure funding for our new FOCUS missionaries, who are being sent to reach students we wouldn’t reach otherwise. Our hope and expectation is that our outreach and evangelization efforts on campus will help even more students grow closer to Jesus,” LeJeune said.
Another recommendation was for St. Mary to develop an app, which would engage students where they spend a lot of time, on their smart phones and tablets. The audit not only suggested the features of the proposed app, but also researched app developers to help St. Mary choose a provider. As a result, the now-popular app had a successful launch last spring, and new functionality is being added this summer.
Other recommendations being implemented include developing a Catholic freshmen leadership organization and establishing a student internship to market St. Mary.
Hince praised the professionalism of the students and Parish, “We received free quality consulting, and the students can look back on their work and see they have made a difference. This is certainly a project that they could add to their resumes.”
The business students also appreciated the experience, and enjoyed working with an organization that directly serves their peers. Jeff Beseda, one of the Catholics in the class and a recent graduate, said, “It was uplifting for me to use my business education and skills to help the church. I’m especially excited to know that our work will bring students back to the faith.”
Grace Goetze, another recent graduate, learned the importance of listening to ideas with an open mind.
“Our group had our own thoughts about what could be done at St. Mary’s to improve the experience, but when we talked with the Catholic students, some of our ideas weren’t valid. They had some fantastic points we hadn’t thought about,” Goetze said.
Goetze and Hince also believe that similar projects could benefit other campus ministry programs. Many colleges have business schools with expertise that could help ministries grow and be more effecitve. In fact, St. Mary’s partnership with Mays was such a success that the Episcopal Student Center for A&M and Blinn was accepted as a case study for this summer’s service marketing class.