Montana State University

Business student Santas donate to the Food Bank

December 22, 2006 -- By Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service


Business professor Priscilla Wisner (bottom left) sits with MSU students who helped raise money for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. (MSU Photo by Jay Thane.)   High-Res Available

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Montana State University College of Business students demonstrated how they can make a difference in the community with both their brains and their stomachs.

Stomachs first: One soda or candy bar doesn't cost much, but accounting Professor Priscilla Wisner and her students recently proved that bottles of Pepsi and Snickers bars add up.

This fall, Wisner challenged students in her two cost accounting classes to refrain from purchasing a treat.

"I ask each of you to give up, for one day, buying a soda or a candy bar or a fancy cup of coffee," she wrote in an e-mail message.

Wisner asked her students to consider donating the money they would have spent on coffee or candy to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. To encourage participation, Wisner provided a jar where students could make anonymous donations. As an added incentive, she pledged to double whatever amount students contributed, and she promised to give all donations to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in her students' names.

Wisner stressed that the donations were anonymous, but she encouraged students to participate because it was a good opportunity to help others in the community.

"You will have few opportunities in life to double your money in a day, so any amount you can put in will make a difference to people in need," she wrote.

Wisner's students took her seriously; their contributions after about two weeks totaled $96.05. Wisner rounded that figure up and wrote a check to the food bank for $200.

Heather Grenier, program director at the food bank, said the money the classes donated went into the organization's general operating fund, which could be spent on anything from food purchases to the power bill.

"Donations like these really do help," Grenier said. "We're very appreciative."

The monetary donation is not the only way students from MSU's College of Business have contributed to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank this holiday season.

In addition, students in management 475 created a business plan for a community garden the food bank hopes to start later this year.

Instructor Gary Bishop, who taught two sections of the class, said companies and non-profit organizations in the Gallatin Valley and around Montana applied to participate. After the companies and organizations completed a profile and gave a short presentation, teams of students chose a group with which to work. In all, 68 students created plans for 17 companies and organizations.

Students Chase Cunningham of Billings, Gill Thompson of Littleton, Colo., and Alex Neves and Tyler Staigle, both of Glendive, chose to work for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. The team estimated they devoted between 25 and 30 hours to their plan for a community garden.

The team analyzed whether a community garden would be feasible and researched how it could best be created. In a presentation to the food bank's staff, the team provided detailed information on myriad aspects of the garden, including the garden's target market, a marketing plan, distribution of shares and start-up and maintenance costs.

Program Director Heather Grenier said the students' efforts saved the food bank's staff a tremendous amount of time and work.

"They researched the types of products to plant, how far apart to plant them, how deep, and when to plant, when to harvest," she said.

Those details are especially helpful to the small staff at the food bank, she added.

"We only have three full-time staff here, and we're each being pulled in 12 different directions," Grenier said. "[The students] did a very nice job. It's really comprehensive."

The community garden will be implemented in several different stages, Grenier said, beginning with a garden partnership with MSU this summer.

Like Grenier, the students' professor applauded their efforts. "These students are so good, it's unbelievable," Bishop said.

Bishop said the course is a capstone of management students' education. "Students produce a very salient, professional business plan," Bishop said. "It's the result of four years of very hard work by these students."

In addition to what the students learned throughout the process - Staigle thanked the food bank staff for "giving us some experience outside fake experience" - they also enjoyed contributing their time to a good cause.

"It's nice to feel like we could give back to the community a little bit," Thompson said.

The project is good because both the students and the community are rewarded, Bishop added. "It's as realistic as you can get, working for a business to provide value to a business," he said. "If [students] can do that, they've hit the nail on the head."

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Keli Tondre, ktondre@montana.edu, (406) 994-7026