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Students go undercover at theme park

Stetson at Fear Factor Live

Stetson University students Aiden Keller (right) and Deonna Graham suited up for Fear Factor Live.


Wanna be a spy? A marketing spy? In one of the top tourist destinations in the world? Superheroes, dinosaurs, wizards, television cartoon characters and rides and shows? All that?


And that’s just what a select group of Stetson marketing students signed up for this fall when they mixed a day of fun and education inside the working world of marketing at Universal Orlando Resort®.

“It was truly amazing. We had a blast,” said Aiden Keller, an English major from Ohio. He and his girlfriend, Deonna Graham, also a Stetson student, were picked as contestants in “Fear Factor Live” and had to grab carnivorous eels, endure air cannons and blasting water, fire rocket launchers, throw squids and scramble around a car dangling high in the air.

All that happened while working undercover as an attraction guest to evaluate park experiences. Students could bring one guest.

“It was super fun, and definitely worth it,” said Megan Mollé, an art major. “It was cool to see behind the scenes.”

Bogdana Subachev enjoyed the day, too, but the marketing major couldn’t forget she was working. She and half a dozen other students from marketing classes were trained on what to look for, then set free to evaluate park safety and service quality, all from a guest’s perspective.

“I would say that it was a different kind of fun experience because I could not fully get focused on the fun activities,” said Subachev, who summed it up as more work than fun. “At the back of my mind I had a voice reminding me that I am here for a specific task.”

The task included completion of a wide-ranging, 11-page survey form with scores of questions to be answered in some detail. Students were evaluated on how well they did their job.

All Stetson students performed well and got high marks on their work, said Robinne Okrasinski, coordinator of the Universal VIEWS program. The data collected by students on a dozen specific areas of the park will be used to coach and recognize attraction staff, and improve the experience of guests, she said.

“This was our first semester working with Stetson University,” said Okrasinski, but probably not the last. “Given the high quality feedback we received from students, it would be a pleasure for us to continue our relationship with Stetson students and professors,” she said.

Several marketing professors alerted their students to the opportunity to participate in basic marketing research for a world class company: Scott Jones, Michelle DeMoss, marketing chair, and Deborah Goldring. Such real-world experiences are full of learning opportunities, said Jones.

“I think students find it amazing to actually see how primary data collection as part of marketing research can help a company,” said Jones. “They are amazed at how thorough they’re expected to be when acting as a mystery shopper.”

“I did sort of feel like a spy,” said Mollé, whose roommate was her guest. “It was hard to write my answers without being seen.” Keller said he put the questions on his phone and worked off that, “so it really looked like I was texting the whole day.”

“I felt awkward,” said Subachev. She and her guest, Stetson alumna Yulia Nikulina, pretended they had children in another area of the park while they wandered through Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone and watched Barney and his friends.

All students said the experience was helpful from a marketing perspective; they learned from it and understand more as a result.

“Companies need feedback so they can give the customers what they want. And the best people to get feedback from is the customers,” said Mollé. “This sort of evaluation helps the company know if they are doing a good job and what they need to do better.

“If I had the chance to do it again, I definitely would.”

by Ronald Williamson