AT&T Brings Innovation Challenge To Boston University

Sometimes referred to as “America’s College Town,” Boston is an epicenter of higher education and is home to more than 250,000 college students. Intercollegiate academic collaboration is rarely cultivated, however, although it is relatively easy to catalyze. This past Saturday, two of Boston University’s student-run agencies, AdLab and PRLab, sought to remedy the lack of networking and cooperative learning between students in Boston with an event called AT&T’s “Innovate Possible” Campus Challenge.

The two Boston University agencies collaborated to serve their client, AT&T, for the entirety of the spring semester. The company wanted the AdLab and PRLab to raise awareness on BU’s campus about the 10 percent discount offered to students on AT&T products as well as their college development programs.

They hope that by establishing a presence on the university’s campus, they might be able to recruit some of the best minds for their summer development programs, which offer college students the opportunity to gain experience at a large company in management, technology, sales, and more.

When confronted with the task of raising awareness about the opportunities AT&T has to offer students, the members of PRLab and AdLab wanted to do something that would adequately engage the student population.

“We thought about putting up a tent somewhere nice, and people could come and there would be free pizza and balloons, but that doesn’t really get anyone excited or make them experience the brand,” said Christopher Hurlbert, account executive for AT&T’s “Innovate Possible” Campus Challenge. “We wanted to create a sort of experiential awareness campaign in order to really engage with the people in Boston.”

With that goal in mind, Hurlbert and other BU students working on the AT&T account decided to invite students from all over Boston to come meet each other and network, because they believe this doesn’t happen in this city as much as they would like it to, or as much as it should.

In order to raise awareness about the college development program, the team decided to have students come and act as if they were in the program. They were asked to innovate and use AT&T technology in order to solve a social problem. Students arrived Saturday morning at the George Sherman Union Backcourt, where they were allowed to network for an hour before they were asked to form groups of four, with participants from at least two different schools.

Each group was assigned a “challenge pack,” which essentially asked the students to come up with a creative answer to the question: Using AT&T technology, how can we increase graduation rates among high school students in the U.S.? To aid their thought process, groups were also given background information on AT&T’s Project Aspire, which is the company’s signature philanthropic initiative.

Project Aspire, originally launched in 2008, is AT&T’s investment in what it believes is one of the most important assets for a nation: a well-educated workforce. Since the program began, AT&T has impacted over one million students in all 50 states, and it has pledged to invest $350 million in order to increase graduation rates in the United States. The company hopes that students will not only graduate, but will also graduate with a level of education that has prepared them to enter college or the workforce.

With an idea of what AT&T had already done, students worked together to brainstorm how to further improve education in the country. Hurlbert explained that, although they had a big vision for this project, it didn’t pan out exactly the way they had imagined due to budgetary constraints.

They were hoping to get about 80 participants, but were only able to raise awareness by sending emails to invite people to come. A few over 30 showed up, which Hurlbert says actually worked out well because it provided for an intimate and engaging environment. The team was also pleased with the number of schools that showed up-students from eight universities were there, including BU, BC, Harvard, and Wesleyan.

The winning team decided to tackle the problem by presenting a multi-step approach, tracking trends by using large-scale data. The group also explained the importance of making students more involved in their own learning process, because they will be likely to stay in school if they feel connected to the process and enthusiastic about it.

The bigger vision and goal that AT&T has in mind, Hurlbert said, is to recruit the brightest minds from the Boston area. The company currently has a distinctly corporate image, and it wants to reposition its brand so that it can appeal to the highest talent. It hopes that by having a presence on college campuses, students will get to see firsthand  what AT&T can offer.