Beloit College is one giant sandbox for career-seeking students
It was a summer of knocking on doors for Beloit College students Quin Brunner ’21 and Salma Mohammad Ali’21, asking total strangers some very personal questions. Fueled with enthusiasm and frequent ice cream breaks, the two canvassed Beloit neighborhoods on a mission to help hand over house keys to new homeowners.
It is not an easy jump from renting a home to owning one, especially in the low-to-moderate income Beloit neighborhoods of Merrill and Hackett.
That’s why Acts Housing called on Belmark Associates and the expertise of door-knocking community organizer Brunner and data-crunching wiz Ali to gather information in 2019. The Beloit duo developed the Sense of Place survey used to transform rental neighborhoods into owner-occupied housing and create healthy, safe, and prosperous communities.
Ali, then an economics major undergrad, saw the project as a way to go beyond Excel spreadsheets and dig in deeper. “It was a chance to get to know the community beyond Beloit College and that I could do something to improve the community,” Ali says.
But would the data that Brunner and Ali collected help transform renters into homeowners, and create a strong, vibrant community?
The Belmark way
In 1985, three savvy Beloit College economics students founded Belmark Associates, a student-managed market research organization, to provide professional services to clients and bring real-life job credentials to their resumes.
Belmarkians work with local businesses, non-profits, civic groups, and government officials, using analytical and data gathering skills to inform clients. Beloit College economics professors and CELEB faculty help guide the students.
“Belmark Associates students have the opportunity to get some real work experience on their resume during the academic year,” says Laura Grube’08, Belmark Associates advisor and economics professor.
From surveying visitors at the Beloit Farmers Market to creating an annual report of the economic characteristics of the 10-mile radius around Beloit’s city center, Belmark Associates has produced results for its clients.
When ACTS Housing landed in Beloit in 2019, the non-profit organization needed to find out what residents in low-to-moderate income households thought about their neighborhoods. The big question was if they saw themselves transitioning from renters to homeowners. ACTS’ goal was to turn hundreds of renters into homeowners, using rehabbed old homes and reclaimed, foreclosed properties.
That’s when Brunner and Ali stepped in and became the first Belmark Associates to work with ACTS Housing.
“The project allowed me to be involved in all stages of a research project: meeting with clients, brainstorming how to answer a question, developing a survey, collecting survey responses, entering and cleaning data, analyzing the data, and presenting our findings in a report,” Ali says.
Brunner’s skills in developing a better campus community (Buccaneer Boathouse and the bike sharing program) were a great match when it came to greeting people and getting them comfortable enough to answer questions.
“They were a perfect team,” Grube says. “Quin loved to get out in the community and knock on doors. Salma was the bring-me-the-data person.”
ACTS Housing President and CEO Michael Gosman was intrigued by partnering with Beloit College students to gather information to understand residents’ perceptions of their neighborhoods.
“We are most impressed with the quality of students working in the program and their ability to credibly knock on doors and get residents to share their thoughts about their neighborhoods,” Gosman says.
In three years, hundreds of people in the Merrill and Hackett neighborhoods have become homeowners through ACTS Housing, and Beloit College students had a part in that.
Brunner and Ali presented the survey findings to ACTS Housing and city stakeholders, the Beloit Chamber of Commerce, and Beloit’s Economic Development Corporation, and received kudos from all.
“Belmark Associates students provided a useful analysis of that surveying as we aspire to help residents improve their lives through homeownership, and in turn, improve neighborhood conditions,” Gosman says.
Beloit College is one giant sandbox
The Belmark Associates-ACTS Housing project, Ali says, honed her quantitative and qualitative skills and built confidence in public speaking, problem-solving, and writing. The best part, she says, was working with a great team of passionate students and professors.
The project not only changed how Ali saw herself, but how others would see her in a post-graduate world, that’s why she recommends Belmark Associates to Beloit College students.
“The experience will give you a taste of real-world market research/consultancy projects and can make you a better-prepared candidate when you apply to internships, jobs, graduate school, etc.,” Ali says. “If you’re looking to challenge yourself and improve your skills, it’s the perfect opportunity to do so.”
Ali is an economics Ph.D. student at Georgia State University-Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. Her resume spotlights internships at Hendricks CareerTek and Filene Research Institute.
As the assistant director of annual giving/development at the College of Wooster, Brunner calls his Belmark Associates work the most meaningful of his Beloit College years.
“Beloit College is one giant sandbox where a student has all the resources and mentors to help them build anything they want,” Brunner says. “That is Belmark Associates and that is why I came to Beloit.”