On Thursday, May 26, Professor Beth Phillips' Analysis of Product class had a unique opportunity. They traveled to S. Walter Packaging, the nation's leading designer and provider of shopping bags, gift boxes and other packaging products, where their classroom curriculum came to life before their eyes.
This opportunity was the result of a connection made between Drexel graduate Rick Gettlin '77 and current student Naomi Izen '13.
In February 2011, Rick and his wife hosted a student dinner at his home where he met Naomi, who is studying design and merchandising in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.
"During the dinner, Mr. Gettlin made it very clear through his storytelling and warm hospitality that he would be someone that would help us in our futures if we ever needed anything," said Naomi.
Then in April, Naomi and Rick, who is CFO at S. Walter, crossed paths once again at a professional networking event for the Jewish Student's Association on campus. Knowing her interest in design and packaging, Rick asked Naomi if she would like to take a tour of S. Walter Packaging, the company where Rick has been an officer for close to 20 years.
"I told Mr. Gettlin that it would be wonderful for my entire Analysis of Product class to take a field trip to S. Walter since we were currently learning about shopping bags," said Naomi. "My teacher also loved the idea so I put the two of them in contact and they made it happen."
The next month, Professor Phillips and about 40 of her students hopped on a bus and took a field trip to S. Walter's 16-acre headquarters in Philadelphia.
In preparation for their arrival, Rick arranged for the company President, Michael Jobes, to fly in and meet with the students. He also reached out to his colleagues in the industrial division, art, marketing and operations departments.
"I worked with our team to put together outlines of what they would present to the students," said Rick. "It was very exciting; this was the first time we had done anything like this."
Rick welcomed the students and started out by giving them some history about the company. "I asked them to raise their hands if they used our products and only a few did. Then I went on to tell them about some of our clients – Ann Taylor, Coach, AT&T, Wet Seal and others – and all of their hands went up."
After some discussion, one half of the group split off with Rick and the Vice President of Operations to see stock products and tour the facility, while the other half continued to learn more about S. Walter from Mr. Jobes and the other employees. Halfway through, the groups switched.
According to Naomi, she and her classmates got to see many aspects of S. Walter that morning. "We met with the graphic designer and saw how the logos come to life," she said. "Some students were even allowed to work the machinery to print their own bags that they could keep."
In addition to bags, all of the students received some Drexel University ribbon, printed by S. Walter as a souvenir of the trip.
"The students seemed thrilled and very appreciative," said Rick. "They'll remember what they learned because they had real exposure to it."
Rick says that he would certainly consider doing something like this again, as it proved to be a great way to not only help students but to give back and show his appreciation for Drexel. "I went to Drexel for five years and I was well prepared when I left," he recalled. "I appreciate my education even more today, and that's not something that you forget."
In the days since the field trip, Rick has received a lot of positive feedback, both from the students, and from his colleagues at S. Walter.
One student e-mailed Rick after the trip, thanking him for his time, and joked that she will never look at a shopping bag again without thinking of S. Walter.
"We enjoyed sharing our knowledge because we sometimes take it for granted," he said. "And these students are people who could very well end up in our industry working with us some day."
According to Naomi, the highlight of the trip was knowing that Rick and his colleagues took the time out of their busy days to speak with her class.
"I felt like they really cared about sharing their passion with us and I appreciated the special attention they gave us," she said. "Mr. Gettlin is definitely a mentor; he really cares about the students."
Mentoring to Drexel students isn't just something that Rick enjoys doing, it's something that he feels an obligation to do. He calls it "a win-win situation" and he encourages alumni to consider doing the same.
If you would like to learn more about the ways you can connect with Drexel students, including hosting a Dinner with 12 Dragons in which alumni invite small groups of Drexel students and graduates over for dinner, contact the Alumni Association at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-DU-GRADS, or click here.