Students from Lewis University’s Department of Communications and Department of Mathematics and Computer Science visited Internet start up Belly, an innovative social shopping site that rewards customers’ loyalty to brands and businesses. Belly supports stores by giving them an ipad Belly card carriers can use when they arrive at the store to find deals they might be interested in that day. You might think of it as an up-to-the-minute coupon dispenser that tailors deals to individual customers’ tastes. In a sense, it brings to physical stores the kind of targeted marketing that is commonly found on internet shopping sites.
Twelve students from the two departments attended. They were accompanied by Prof. Ben Eveloff from Communications, who organized the trip, and me. We were treated to a tour of Belly’s downtown Chicago headquarters and a fascinating Q&A by Ryan Jeffery, Vice-President of Business Development. Students asked Ryan great questions, including how venture capital funding works, what the breakdown at Belly is between engineers and communications specialists, what the typical workday looks like, how they have expanded their business over time, and what it’s like to have something you’ve invested in so heavily take off in a big way. It was particularly exciting for the students, because they are the perfect age to take the risks associated with starting a new entrepreneurial venture like Belly. (It was also a reminder to me that I’m not getting any younger, but such musings probably aren’t healthy.)
This is the second time Communications and Computer Science have gone together on a field trip. Last Spring, we visited a Chicago technology incubator called Catapult, where several start up companies share office space as they try to expand their reach. When it comes to these online entrepreneurial ventures, Communications and Computer Science complement each other very well. Computer Scientists engineer the software applications and backend data services that enable the company to provide useful services online, and Communications specialists create engaging web content and marketing opportunities that keep users coming back for more. Shared trips like these help demonstrate how we make each other’s work better. They also validate the efforts we currently have underway to work more closely in the future on academic initiatives that take advantage of our respective expertise.
When different departments use their respective expertise and practices to contribute to the teaching and exploration of inherently interdisciplinary fields, that’s when a University realizes its potential. That’s what a University is supposed to be, after all: a forum for uniting experts from different fields through a shared mission. Communications and Math/Computer Science are doing this. We work very well together, and our students win as a result.