Addressing Student Engagement through Shop Collaborations
2 people decorating at a window

When she joined WAM in 2011, shop manager and buyer Marissa Onheiber noticed a gap in student engagement. As WAM began to turn its focus to enhancing student membership and the collective, Onheiber decided that the shop window provided a perfect solution.

“It’s part of our mission to enhance the student experience by offering them opportunities here,” Onheiber said. “When I was thinking about what I wanted to do with [the window], it occurred to me that it might be an opportunity to connect with some students in the retail merchandising department.”

Visual Merchandising

What resulted was an eight-year-long (and counting) collaboration with Professor Juanjuan Wu’s visual merchandising class in the College of Design. Primarily retail merchandising majors, the students tour the highlighted exhibition, consult with Marissa throughout the semester, and work in teams to create storyboards and prototypes for potential display in the WAM Shop window. At the end of the course, one team is chosen to implement their idea and install their display. The class challenges students to consider a live budget, space, client, and target audience.

“Being exposed to renewed inspirations from WAM’s various exhibitions, our students are encouraged to bring art to the sidewalk, not only to promote merchandise in the gift shop, but also to enrich campus life,” Wu said. "Having their designs displayed in a highly visible window space on campus almost feels like having a piece of their artwork displayed at a WAM exhibition.”

WAM will be following the progress of the Spring 2019 class as they prepare and implement their window installations. Come back for more news and updates throughout the semester.


Management & Entrepreneurship


The WAM Shop additionally partners with the Carlson School of Management's “Introduction to Entrepreneurship,” taught by Professor Steve Spruth. Students are given roughly six weeks to conduct product development and ideate, test, tweak, and prepare their item for final market production. They face a number of challenges including access to materials, their scope of skill sets, a rigorous timeframe, and matching price points. Similar to the window shop collaboration, Onheiber then chooses from the final selections and features the products in the shop.

Senior and graphic design major Tessa Portuese initially took the class as an elective toward her product design minor. Although her group produced one of the most successful final products, their first idea was a big a failure, she said.

"We initially wanted to make a Minnesota-shaped multi-tool that could fit in wallets, but the class hosted testing sessions and it seemed like our product idea was missing the mark,” Portuese said. “It was too difficult to understand for anyone to impulsively purchase it, so, we pivoted and revisited an earlier idea—microwavable hand warmers.”

polar pockets

Portuese’s group filled up-cycled flannel fabric pouches with rice and pine oil to keep hands warm during winter commutes. She specifically worked on the graphic design, packaging, and branding for the "Polar Pockets."

“I learned a lot about coordinating group work from this class. The idea of balancing pricing with profit margins was also helpful to learn,” Portuese said. “Most of all, I would say it was empowering to see that a group of students can plan, produce, and market a product in under a semester.”

Other student examples of items that made it to the WAM Shop shelves include jewelry, organizers, wooden Minnesotan items, and keychains.

Apparel Design

The newest and final WAM Shop collaboration took place for the first time this past September. It consisted of the first-year “Fundamentals of Apparel Assembly” course within the Apparel Design program in which students learn about sewing, the industrial assembly processes, and technical specifications for industrial production. Professor Lucy Dunne guided the class though an intensive hands-on approach.

“For a long time, we've wanted to have a retail outlet for all of this product—so that the students have real customers to be producing for, and so we can recoup some of the supply costs of the course. Our long-term objective is for the course to have no course fee and be entirely supported by proceeds from sales of the items they're producing,” Dunne said.

Each student produced around 23 individual items over the course of the semester. This year, they sold two projects to the WAM Shop: a set of zip-bags, and wrap jackets produced from donated fabrics and scraps from other apparel design classes.

"I was very excited to hear that we would be collaborating with WAM and that things that I made would actually be seen and bought by the public, said Sarah Megivern, a freshman and apparel design major. "I definitely feel like it prepared me professionally more than my other classes."

According to Dunne, having a real-world target is an invaluable motivator for her students.

"It means so much to them to have their work go somewhere and be used by someone,” she said.

In addition to these collaborations, the WAM Shop frequently partners with local artists, artists on consignment, and UMN alumni; supporting the WAM mission and community.