Two student ad agencies on campus: what’s the difference between them?


Rachel Rudisill

Lindsay Moss, Caelin Bragg and Leonara Kinked work on a graphic for the Shocker Ad Lab on Sept, 28 The were designing a flyer for an upcoming project.

It’s no secret Wichita State prides itself on hands-on learning.

Two student-led advertising agencies at WSU — one a class and one a job — focus on providing students experiences working with real clients and producing results students are proud of. 

Shocker Ad Lab has been around since the 80s. Housed in the Elliott School of Communication, the three-credit class meets during class time once a week.

Elliott school instructor Madeline McCullough took over teaching in 2016. 

“Shocker Ad Lab started as an advertising club, so extracurricular, not for money and not for college credit,” McCullough said.

The three-credit class holds about 10 students per semester and is run as a full-service ad agency with clients from both off and on campus. 

“We start with a creative brief and develop a strategy, and then we brainstorm creative executions of that strategy to meet the client’s business objective,” McCullough said.

The focus isn’t on teaching every skill — more on using the skills that students learned from other classes, like Photoshop and video design. 

“It’s more like fine-tuning the skills you already got,” McCullough said.“We take on almost anything as long as I got students in the class with the skillset to accomplish the work.”

As a 600-level class, both graduate and undergraduate students can do it. McCullough said she has multiple connections in the professional world.

Shock Starter is a group in the Partnership 3 building on Wichita States innovation Campus. The group of students focus is to solve problems on campus. | Courtesy of Shock Starter

“I had a twenty-year career as a copywriter at local agencies primarily at Signal Theory and Howerton White, so I’m very connected to professionals in the marketing, advertising industry and I have a lot of experience,” McCullough said.

Senior integrated marketing student Leonara Kinkead is taking Shocker Ad Lab as a practicum this year after taking it as an elective last year. 

“It’s given me a lot of skills I can use in the real world and it’s given me more clarity on what I want to do after college,” she said. “I get to, like, create graphics that I see on campus and that’s really cool cause I’m like, ‘Hey, I made that.’”

Shock Starter is pretty new to campus. It’s housed in the Partnership 3 building on the Innovation Campus. 

Unlike Shocker Ad Lab, Shock Starter is year-round. Students must apply for open positions and be hired — depending on Shock Starter’s need for workers. Students can also enroll for Co-Op credits, but it isn’t required.

The pay started at $11 an hour but was raised to $15 an hour after the client pool became bigger. 

“The reasons [for staring] are very similar as to why Shocker Ad Lab started, and that is there’s a huge amount of need for digital advertising, digital marketing and digital communications,” Tonya Witherspoon, Shock Starter founder, said. 

Witherspoon is also the vice president of applied learning. This made her see the need for more hands-on learning for students. The firm started with five student workers but has grown more than double in size since its inception last August.

Shock Starter has a big focus on solving campus problems — this started early on. 

“Parking was the problem, the perceived problem, so I asked them, ‘Have you ever been on the shuttle?’ None of them,” Witherspoon said. “So I said, ‘Okay, go investigate it, go figure it out. If you guys don’t know about it, what are we doing wrong?’”

From there, the team created a campaign explaining to students how to use the shuttle bus.

Shock Starter applications are open to all students.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re majoring in, I don’t care what you’re majoring in,” Witherspoon said. “Every student should have an opportunity to get experience.”

This is management information systems major Aram Khader’s second year with Shock Starter. She said the job has prepared her for her internship last summer. 

“Working with actual clients and getting that real-time experience has been so beneficial,” she said. “If I didn’t do Shock Starter beforehand, I wouldn’t have been prepared for that internship whatsoever to deal with corporate professionals.”