PENTA CEO gives college students a reality check

For Immediate Release (September 9, 2011) WORCESTER _ For a little over a year, PENTA Communications, Inc. CEO Deborah Penta has been an Entrepreneur in Residence and part of the Adjunct Faculty at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Penta teaches Clark students essential communications modules to further enhance their understanding and execution of communications, persuasion, negotiation and marketing as it relates to entrepreneurship. Through weekly lectures, Harvard Business School case studies, interactive workshops, hands-on projects and assignments, students gain knowledge and a grasp on entrepreneurship – and most importantly how to communicate with confidence as an entrepreneur in today’s competitive global business landscape.

On occasion, students in Penta’s class meet nationally renowned authors and experts who make guest appearances, and are also given the opportunity to participate in projects that blend their learning with practice. Penta refers to these opportunities as moments that “connect the dots” in learning, something she believes is essential in understanding entrepreneurship.

One such project that resonated with her culturally diverse class last semester was entitled, “The Massport Challenge for Worcester Airport.” Students who participated in this project were from all parts of the United States, Switzerland, China and France. And, with all of them having a familiarity with air travel, this project provided a deeper understanding of what it takes to run an organization at the level of Massport – and to embrace the challenges of an acquisition from a marketing, branding and public relations standpoint.

“The Massport Challenge assignment was an excellent opportunity for students to integrate their learning with a quasi-public government agency,” said Amy Whitney, Clark University associate director for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program. “The students were given a real-life problem and asked to find innovative and creative solutions. This experience allowed the students to demonstrate their abilities to integrate knowledge and skills from the classroom to the world.”

“Worcester Airport has always been a challenge for the region,” said Penta “The students learned about the complexities of this challenge, were charged to research, understand public opinion and look at all of the angles that were difficult from a marketing and public relations standpoint.”

“Students were directed to act as ‘consultants on the project.’ They were prompted to think about what strategies they would use to make Worcester Airport a viable and desirable airport, as well as what Massport needed to do to make the Airport marketable for college students to use and recommend it to others,” Penta continued.

Penta said the students rose to the challenge, and at the end of the assignment senior management leaders from Massport were brought in to judge the students’ work.

“My students were excited to be part of something big and while some were skeptical about whether the airport could be successful; they took the challenges head-on and worked in groups to devise strategies that they believed would work. They were told that social media had to be part of the solution as well,” said Penta.

Danny Levy, director of Communications and Marketing at Massport was one of the participants in the judging.

“I thought this was terrific that Deborah provided her students with such access. There was just a phenomenal dialogue,” Levy said. “The students got to talk with people in the trenches and I thought they were so smart. I loved the questions and the students were so engaged.”

Levy noted that a few marketing ideas the students presented intrigued Massport authorities.

“A couple of ideas they shared with us to pilot we’re going to consider and see if they are doable,” Levy said. “I would recommend more of these classes.”

“We had one student group that designed and executed their own online survey,” said Penta. “Others focused primarily on branding, while others had more grass roots and guerilla marketing initiatives.”

Clark students felt this will give them a competitive edge after graduation and that the experience was a valuable way for them to see what it will be like for them in the “real world after college.”

“In school we learn all about abstract concepts, but the visit was very useful in connecting the dots between the concepts we learn and real world application that goes on every day, not only for this small airport, but also for businesses all over the world,” said student Zach Eaton.

“I’ve never really had an opportunity to discuss business ideas with professionals in my field of interest before. I can read about it, and listen to lectures about it, but it is very beneficial to experience it first-hand,” said student Caitlin Childs.

Penta noted the hands-on assignment was a success for all concerned, and plans on continuing these types of special projects in her classes. “Many of the students were amazed that high level executives from Boston not only came out to meet with them early on in the assignment, but then later came out to hear their presentations. We had students in dark business suits presenting as teams to C-level Boston executives. It was great.”

Over the course of her work at Clark, Penta hopes to integrate more projects like this one into the curriculum in an effort to help provide her students with the opportunity to apply and practice what they are learning in her entrepreneurial communications class.

“Being part of the faculty in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at Clark has been a wonderful, albeit challenging experience.” said Penta “Clark has put together an excellent program and continues to seek out ways to make it a front-runner to give students the competitive edge in the market.”