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Woman wins national salute for plan to help science center

February 25, 2002|By ANDREA ROWLAND

By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY
andreabh@herald-mail.com

A Frostburg State University graduate student's award-winning marketing plan will help launch an interactive science center planned for Hagerstown.

Mary Plank completed the comprehensive marketing plan for the proposed Discovery Station last May during the final course in her quest for a master's degree in business administration at Frostburg's Hagerstown Center.

Plank, 39, of Hagerstown, earned her degree and a national award for the project that capped her graduate program.

"I wanted to be able to find a way to help in the community," she said. "I'd been seeing references to the Discovery Station for a long time but I never saw them get up and running."

Plank's marketing plan for the nonprofit science center slated for downtown Hagerstown was so thorough that project planners will use it to "move the Discovery Station from the drawing board into reality," Discovery Station Board member Dave Barnhart said.

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"This is excellent information," he said. "We were overwhelmed by the detail and the depth of the plan. We're very, very grateful for all the work Mary put into it."

Plank, a project manager at DynPort Vaccine Co., a biotechnology firm in Frederick, Md., earned three college credits and national accolades but no money for her efforts.

The Small Business Institute Directors' Association - which fosters entrepreneurship and promotes partnerships between the education and business communities - in early February awarded Plank and her Frostburg business management instructor, Dr. Catherine Ashley-Cotleur, a first-place award for the Discovery Station marketing plan.

"I was pumped," said Ashley-Cotleur, who accepted the award at the business association's annual conference in San Diego.

Contest is a first


The 2001 Specialized Case of the Year contest marked the first time she has submitted a student's work to the business association. The association encourages its members and other college and university faculty to involve students in practical consulting projects such as those Plank and her classmates tackled for Frostburg's field experience course, Ashley-Cotleur said.

Her students were charged with developing solutions for problems at area businesses and nonprofit organizations. They worked independently for five months to research the problem, gather industrywide statistics and information about competitors, analyze and organize their data, make recommendations consistent with their research findings and present their work in a well-written and logical manner, Ashley-Cotleur said.

"Mary did all those things well," she said.

Plank first described the intended science center and its target audience - families with school-aged children. By analyzing local demographics, she determined that the product could sell in Hagerstown.

Her recommendations for marketing the Discovery Station included:

- Creating an awareness of the product by setting up a kiosk at Valley Mall in Hagerstown and promoting the center in schools through such methods as T-shirt design contests.

- Displaying information about such competitors as Antietam National Battlefield at the Discovery Station in return for science center displays at competing recreational areas and museums.

- Capitalizing on the name recognition of such board members as B. Marie Byers to boost fund-raising efforts.

The 'wow factor'


Plank's biggest challenge was finding statistics about the science and technology center industry, she said.

Her work became easier, she said, when she found the Association for Science-Technology Centers, a trade organization that compiles reports based on demographic and other types of information from more than 500 member science and technology centers and museums nationwide.

Plank said she was especially interested in the ways other science centers have successfully marketed their product.

She said she found some conflicts when she compared the Discovery Station's business plan with industry data from the trade organization. For instance, local project planners had projected revenue from admissions fees would cover all operating expenses.

Based upon industry statistics, the Discovery Station will need income from such other sources as donations to cover 5 to 10 percent of its operating costs, Plank said.

Barnhart said this kind of information buoys the "conservative approach" planners are taking for the project. Plank's marketing plan gives the additional insight planners need to develop a science center that fits Washington County's economic niche while "wowing" visitors, he said.

"The marketing plan Mary developed will help with that wow factor," Barnhart said.

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