High school students partner with Goodman to help Heartland Forest

A youthful perspective was just what Elisabeth Graham was looking for when she entered a lecture hall packed with high school students from the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN).

Graham, Executive Director at Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls, was at Brock University Tuesday, Dec. 11 to judge the final four student teams as they presented their findings in a term-long marketing project aimed at bringing more people to the local nature centre.

The exercise, which was facilitated by Brock’s Goodman School of Business, saw students from A.N. Myer Secondary School in Niagara Falls and Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in St. Catharines deliver 15-minute presentations focused on various marketing opportunities available to Heartland.

Heartland Forest Executive Director Elisabeth Graham with Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School student Gage Mitchener.

While preparing for their final presentations in front of Graham and a panel of other judges, students from both high schools met with mentors from the Brock Marketing Association to plan their strategies.

“We wanted to expose high school students to what it’s like to complete a university-level marketing exercise,” said David DiPietro, Co-ordinator, Experiential Education in Goodman.

For 16-year-old Sir Winston Churchill student Gage Mitchener, the knowledge gained from the preparation sessions unearthed new strategies she hopes to use in post-secondary-level business studies in the next few years.

“My presentation skills became more relaxed and I learned how to target my audience,” she said.

Mitchener’s group, which also included Grade 11 students Austin Holtby, Griffen Mason and Ryan Daniel, focused their presentation on an improved social media presence for Heartland while also proposing additional initiatives, such as external community involvement opportunities and online merchandise sales.

Graham said the new ideas offered by all four teams would be taken back to the organization to engage additional audiences.

“Heartland is for all ages and all abilities, so certainly the high school age group has a very distinct voice,” she said. “They were full of unique ideas that we have not explored before and that is really inspiring.”

When it came time to choose a winner, Graham and the other judges awarded first prize to Mitchener and her teammates.

“It felt really good to win,” said Mitchener. “Seeing our work recognized outside of school and knowing that our marketing plan could be used in the real world was great.”

DiPietro hopes partnerships like the one between DSBN and Goodman will continue to introduce students to the type of experiential opportunities available at Brock.

“We try to implement experiential exercises in programs across the board,” he said. “Learning how to complete them effectively while still in high school can be extremely beneficial and better prepare students for their next steps.”

For Graham, regular partnerships between Heartland Forest and Brock represent ongoing growth for the University and the nature centre.

“Whether it’s with graduate programs, in Goodman or on this new project with high school students, there have been benefits from every single project we have worked on with Brock,” she said. “Our partnerships always further Heartland’s mission.”

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