GMU Team Wins

by Jeff Kulick

I don’t think I’d ever seen four happier people when the Mason School of Business team connected with me on Face Time right after winning this spring’s Collegiate MAXI. Bianca Bonilla, Colin Ceresa, Jake Doiron and Alex Fagan joined to form the team in late February, and they put together a balanced presentation that worked. Professor Betsy Tretola and I worked with them all along the way, and we were both very proud of what they accomplished.

The students really appreciated the MAXI itself. “I think the competition as a whole is a great way to bridge the gap from academic to professional experiences and opportunities.”


We hadn’t entered the MAXI competition until this spring because we did not have a direct marketing course and other student clubs weren’t appropriate. In short, we thought there was not enough student knowledge to prepare for a competition.

In the past few years, the Marketing Area has introduced some new courses and Direct Marketing is one, offered for the first time in fall 2016. Our intention was to make the competition a voluntary project in the spring.

By the way, we need a shout-out here to DMAW/EF Board member and secretary, Scott Huch, who came to speak to the class and who followed up during and after the course with information about the Collegiate MAXIs.

The Team

I put out a call to see if students were interested. Three of the students—Bianca, Jake and Alex—were in the Direct Marketing class. Colin joined them to form our team.

This semester, they are all in the Marketing Research course taught by my colleague and co-advisor, Professor Betsy Tretola. While the MAXI was not an official class project, the students could combine the research they were doing for the competition for the class.

Students tend to divide projects into separate tasks, then hope and pray it all comes together. Betsy and I stressed a different model. We focused their attention on sharing research insights and ideas. For the final presentation, though, Bianca was the lead in the creative side, Alex took the budget, Jake the SWOT, and Colin coordinated additional research.

What did we do as the faculty advisors? Our central roles were constantly bringing the students back to the case brief and coaching their presentation. We asked a lot of questions.

There were several big ideas that just didn’t pan out. In working with student groups this is an important lesson. As one of the students said, “One of the biggest takeaways from the competition was how important it is to focus on the overall goal and how we can achieve it within the guidelines of the project.”

From another student, “By meeting professionals in the marketing field and receiving feedback, I have gained so much insight and reassurance about the path that I have chosen for my education, and ultimately my career.”

Did they learn about direct marketing? Did they learn about integrated marketing communications? Did they learn about professional presentations? Did they learn the differences between class projects and business realities? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

What’s next?

Is there another MAXI in the future?

It’s too early to tell. We won’t be able to offer the Direct Marketing course this fall semester, and the spring hasn’t been set.

Will there be other students who want to compete in the Fall MAXI? That’s another open question. Many students in the fall course will be graduating. But, once word gets out about winning the competition, there is bound to be additional enthusiasm.

Closing thoughts

First, it is very clear to Professor Tretola and to me that DMAW/EF was superlative in reaching out to us, in making the students comfortable, and in giving them useful and candid feedback. I don’t think there is anything more the association, host, and judges could do to make this better for us. It was outstanding.

We really hope the American Red Cross will be able to use the ideas the students developed. I think I can speak for all the teams saying the students really dedicated themselves to helping the Red Cross. And, the Red Cross has a whole new set of advocates.

I sincerely regret I was unable to attend. I was part of a ceremony that had been on the books for more than a year. The students were texting me throughout the day, and then with the great news at the end. It wasn’t the same, but it helped.

In conclusion, I’d like to support a presentation-only MAXI. I don’t think we could have done a written and oral presentation, given our timeframe. Plus, this format really does offer students an outstanding learning opportunity.

Jeff Kulick is completing his eleventh year of teaching full time at George Mason University’s School of Business. He is in the Marketing Area, teaching 25 different courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has taught in India and Korea. Before GMU, he had a 30+ year career in marketing, management, and consulting. He is a member of DMAW and has been actively involved with the DMAW/EF for many years