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Eighth-Grade Consultants Surprise OBU Students

April 26, 2012

The middle school kids, from Celina, Texas, just happened to be the external consultants responsible for 20 percent of the OBU students' course grade. They call themselves "Team TEXAS" for Team of Educated Xcellent Academic Scholars.

Early in the semester, Dr. Vickie Ellis assigned participants of her course, Applied Communication (APCM 2003) Organizational Communication, to develop a fictitious organization. Students were responsible for writing a mission statement, designing an organizational chart, and developing a list of policies and goals for the organizations. The assignment included coordinating their ideas with an outside consulting team responsible for contributing to the ideas as well as endorsing them. The teams knew they would present the fictitious organizations to the class at the end of April.

OBU students Evan Ogden (left) and Neal Ellis (center) greet the eighth-grade students from Celina, Texas.

Among other teams in the course, "Team Bison" consisted of Neal Ellis, a junior from Midlothian, Texas; Audrey Leyva, a senior from Montebello, Calif.; Evan Ogden, a sophomore from Round Rock, Texas; and Lauren R. Smith, a junior from Greenwood, Ark.

Dr. Ellis perpetrated the prank against the OBU students with the help of her longtime friend, Kaye Jones, teacher of the Gifted and Talented class at Celina Middle School. When Team Bison stood to introduce their organization, Team TEXAS burst upon the scene, with one student shouting, "Hey, we're Team TEXAS!"

"Watching the faces of Team Bison was something I won't soon forget," Dr. Ellis said. "They were stunned and, for a moment, motionless."

Once they overcame their astonishment at the eighth graders' intrusion, Team Bison embraced the opportunity to meet the younger students who had been a large part of their work in the course. They darted toward the kids with mystified smiles and warm handshakes, said Ellis. She enjoyed seeing her communications scholars deal with an unexpected nervousness resulting from the presence of their young consultants.

"I was shocked," Neal Ellis said. "As soon as they came in, I got even more anxious about our presentation than I was before. It was nice to be able to look at them as we were on stage, and see their faces as their hard work was being presented."

Dr. Ellis, who serves as associate professor of communication arts, said it was interesting to observe how some of the teams and their consultants grew together -- such as Team Bison and Team TEXAS -- while some of the teams and consultants grew frustrated. Teams and consultants were matched randomly, so there was no regard for team interest, age, gender or geographic region.

Other consulting teams included Team Keokuk, a group of students in a business class at Keokuk High School in Keokuk, Iowa; BCG (Bungalow Consulting Group), product managers in Palo Alto, Calif.; Foreign Language Tutors, senior undergraduate linguists at Penn State University in State College, Penn.; PFJ (Physicists for Jesus), two doctoral physics students at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.; The Four Pillars, retired speech and debate coaches and a current national parliamentarian from Vallejo, Calif.; and Baker's Dozen, gifted-and-talented fifth-grade students from Bolivar, Mo.

"Developing a conversation with individuals you've never met is always exciting, but knowing those individuals (external consultants) could have an impact on 20 percent of the course grade made the interaction even more consequential for all," Dr. Ellis said. "In terms of pedagogy, I felt the 'external consultant approach' would be a 'keeper' or a nightmare."

"Team TEXAS," a group of eighth-grade students from Celina Middle School in Celina, Texas, pose with "Team Bison" from OBU in front of the Oval fountain.

After hearing the presentations, Ellis said the method seemed to have been profitable in some cases but unsuccessful in others, depending upon the consultants chosen.

"Building even a fictional organization takes a lot of time and effort," Neal Ellis said. "There is no way we could have done as good of a job on the organization without our consultants' input. The teamwork involved was immensely important."

The project advanced the education of OBU students, but also provided a unique learning experience for the consultants. In a colorful PowerPoint presentation by Team TEXAS, they explained the reasons they came to Bison Hill included: "We didn't trust you!" "To make sure you used our ideas!" "To make sure you didn't waste our time!" and "To scare you!"

Team TEXAS members included Harley Hoffman, Jacob Maday, Stori Smith, Michelle Shirley, Oliver Delgado, Jakob Butler, Hasan Stansberry and Halah Winner. Their trip to OBU involved a demonstration in the Wood Science Building by Dr. John McWilliams, associate professor of natural science; a chance to climb the rock wall, facilitated by Amy Riggins, director of the Recreation and Wellness Center; and a warm welcome and gift of Bison T-shirts from Josh Trimble, an OBU admissions counselor.

"Our visit to OBU was a tremendous learning experience for my students!" Jones said. "Not only did they learn about organizational structure and communication, but they also developed skills in decision making and teamwork. The students, faculty and staff from OBU were great to work with. They made the university experience a wonderful memory for Team TEXAS!"