Indiana State University Newsroom

Business Advice: ISU students help White Violet Center

December 22, 2010

For several business students at Indiana State University, their schoolwork led them to a class project with a unique client: a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring natural resources.

Five students in the Sycamore Business Advisors group worked with the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, in a semester long project to give the organization support to improve the business. The Sycamore Business Advisors is a program in the Scott College of Business at ISU that provides consulting services to small and mid-size businesses, as well as not-for-profits, such as the White Violet Center.

The group advising the center consisted of seniors Stephanie Flora, an accounting major from Scipio, Ind.; Shayne Boling, a business administration major from Farmersburg, Ind.; Crystal Giordano, a business administration major from Blanford, Ind.; Andy Jones, a management major from Terre Haute, Ind.; and Sarah Sallee, a financial services and business administration double major from Paris, Ill.

Robyn Morton, White Violet Center's associate director, was familiar with the advisors through the work she had done with them on behalf of Terre Foods Cooperative Market, a local organization creating a store to provide Terre Haute with access to organic and natural foods.

"We wanted some help with people digging in for us and finding out what are the best strategies for us to be pursuing," Morton said of the White Violet Center working with the Sycamore Business Advisors.

The students analyzed several aspects of the White Violet Center's business. The final presentation from the advisors included suggestions to improve some of the organization's activities and plans. The group studied the center's sales of alpacas, which are fiber animals and cousins of llamas; sales of fiber and fiber products; promotions and internal budgeting controls, Morton said.

The advisors created an Excel program to help the center keep better track of its internal budget. They also provided information about advertising, such as the utility and costs of classified ads and banner ads for websites.

As the students learned more about the center, they helped explain some different potential marketing strategies for the organization, Flora said.

The advisors also suggested different ways to utilize social media, an area that the White Violet Center has been focusing on, Morton said. They also suggested potential opportunities that weren't seriously considered previously. In one instance, the advisors suggested that center staff attend an alpaca show in Wisconsin, which could expose the center to a new market and lead to increased alpaca sales. However, the Wisconsin show is farther away than most shows attended by White Violet Center staff, and because of the difficulty in taking animals on long trips, shows that far away were not typically considered, Morton said.

While the advisors may not know a lot about animal transport, their lack of knowledge "worked in their favor because they forced us to look at something that we kind of had off the table," Morton said.

Materials provided by the advisors will also provide support for new strategies and future budget requests, Morton said. She expects that a lot of the advisors' work will be incorporated into the strategic plan that the organization is currently working on. "It's not necessarily a roadmap in and of itself," Morton said, "but it's going to shape a lot of how that business plan goes."

The Sycamore Business Advisors started in 2002. All students majoring in business are required to take a Business 401 course. Some sections of Business 401 run the Sycamore Business Advisors consulting company each semester, said David Robinson, co-director of the program. He and program co-director Arthur Sherwood teach the Sycamore Business Advisors classes.

"Through these projects, students learn a great deal about business strategy while contributing to the community," Robinson said. "It has been great to see Sycamore Business Advisors' reputation grow and the increased awareness in the community of the services we offer."

The project with the White Violet Center was at times stressful for the students, but it was a good learning experience and enjoyable, Flora said. The students realized that they were tasked with providing strategy "to an actual business," she added.

"It's not just dependent on an individual's grade, or a group grade," Flora said. "There's a bigger picture to look at."

Photo: (Courtesy Photo)

Sycamore Business Advisors Crystal Giordano and Sarah Sallee, Sister Maureen Freeman of the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, advisors Shayne Boling and Stephanie Flora, Robyn Morton of the White Violet Center, advisor Andy Jones and Kelsey Powell, associate director of Sycamore Business Advisors, pose. The five advisors worked with the White Violet Center to develop a plan to help improve the center's business.

Photo: (Courtesy Photo)

Sycamore Business Advisor and Indiana State University senior Stephanie Flora discusses the business project with the White Violet Center as business advisors and ISU seniors Shayne Boling, Sarah Sallee, Crystal Giordano and Andy Jones watch. The students created a plan to help improve the center's business.

Contact: Maria Greninger, director of external relations, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812- 237-4357 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or