UAFS Students Help Downtown Van Buren Thrive

marketing research project
(Left to right) Landon Phillips, Alexa Torres, Hannah Price, Maria Valente Sotelo and Sarah Beth McLellan present their findings on downtown Van Buren last week at King Opera House. 

Dr. Elise Riker, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, wanted her marketing research class to tackle projects that give students hands-on, project-based learning experiences.


So when the opportunity came about for her class to research and recommend strategies to improve downtown Van Buren, Riker jumped on the opportunity.


“I knew from past classes that students really like to do work that makes a difference. It’s more fun, it’s impactful, and we’re not just going through the motions,” Riker said. “When students see immediate application of what we talk about in class, there’s increased motivation to understand and get it right.”


Riker worked with Van Buren Original – a nonprofit organization founded to help foster a vibrant downtown in the city – and Fred Williams and Rusty Myers, executives-in-residence in the university’s College of Business, to come up with 10 areas of improvement for the city.


From there, students divided into groups based on the different focuses, from bringing new business to Van Buren to reviving the city’s riverfront. After spending the semester surveying local residents and gathering data, the students presented their recommendations last week at the King Opera House.


“Over time, they really came up with their own piece of the project,” Riker said. “These ideas came out of the students’ heads – it wasn’t anything I assigned.”


Landon Phillips worked in the “Street Team” student group, which focused on improving quality of place in downtown Van Buren through visual and atmospheric qualities. Their research included observing the behavior of residents traveling to downtown Van Buren and developing surveys to capture data on people’s issues and sentiments regarding the downtown area.


As a marketing major who is passionate about market research, the project offered Phillips exactly what he was looking for.


“It was a real-world application of what we learned in the classroom. We got to see the inner workings of what it meant to actually follow through with marketing processes,” he said. “Incorporating students like this is very impactful on our education. Sometimes, being in a classroom all day, knowledge can go through one ear and out the other. But if you’re actually able to apply what you learn, it has a huge impact on us as students.”  


Students participating in the course were:


Alma: Breanne Ring and Madison Timmerman.


Charleston: Christian Taggart.


Clarksville: Rocky Pruett.


Dallas, Texas: Zachary Partin.


Eureka, Mont.: Hannah Price.


Fort Smith: JD Clayton, Chasse Daniels, Brennan Dooly, Christopher Eckes, Payton Efurd, Brandon Evans, James Jackson, Jadyn Ketter, Brock King, Danny Nguyen, Grady McCain, Skylar Qualls, Aleska Sparks and Benow Stevenson.


Greenwood: Elijah Hayden, Randall Johnson, Sarah McLellan and Landon Phillips.


Hartford: Amanda Cravey and Dylan Griffiths.


Lee’s Summit, Mo.: Bailey Katzfey.


Little Rock: Jeremy Jones.


Muldrow, Okla.: Trevor England.


Pea Ridge: Logan Rose.


Pearcy: Madison Hunt.


Prosper, Texas: Kimberly Rosson.


Russellville: Mason Rhodes.


Sallisaw, Okla.: Keara Walters.


Siloam Springs: Chelsea Rhodes.


South Padre, Texas: Justin Kitten.


Van Buren: Britney Campbell, Kayla Jones, Alexa Torres, Derrick Woolsey, Maria Valente Sotelo and Sarah Wood.


Waldron: Twyla Robertson.


About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally. To find out what makes UAFS just right for you, go to


Article by John Post, Director of Public Information
Photo Credits: 
Photo by Rachel Putman, Photographer, Marketing and Communications Office
Date Posted: 
Friday, December 8, 2017
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