The long road to SXSW: MSU students pave their way to Austin with creativity

On March 1-9, the Media Sandbox Street Team of Michigan State University – an elite group of students from Michigan State University combining journalism, creative advertising and media studies — will embark on a journey called MSU Out of the Box. Students will travel from East Lansing, Mich. and continue through Indianapolis, Nashville, and Dallas to end in Austin, Texas for South by Southwest Interactive.

The group has already raised more than $3,000 and helped one non-profit in Detroit, but they have a long road ahead. Add your support, donate today.

The entire trip will be filmed to create a mini web series that will be posted daily to track the team’s progress.

The team will offer their creative services – branding, photography, social media marketing and communication – to a non-profit organization in each city.

“A lot of the work we specialize in at MSU is work that smaller non-profits struggle with,” said team member Elizabeth Izzo. “We think in one day we can create something these non-profits can continue to use to help them grow.”

As a trial run this November, the group provided a creative revamp to Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC), a community center and garden in Detroit. By day’s end, GSCC was given a new website, updated social media pages and marketing strategies.

“It was great to see how doing this work could impact an organization,” said team member Reid Masimore. “The look of shock and gratitude on [the owner’s] face when we unveiled the website was enough to make me want to take this trip across the country.”

MSU Out of the Box is still in need of donations. They are also accepting suggestions for non-profits to help in each city. For more information or to donate, visit or email the team at [email protected]

As the team makes its way to SXSW in Austin, TX, they will be stopping to help out the following non-profits:

Indianapolis: Center of Wellness for Urban Women.
Nashville: The ARC of Davidson County.
Dallas: The Beyond Foundation.
Austin: Mobile Art Program.

Their reward will be spending one day, March 7, at the free events for SXSW. “We didn’t get passes because they were too expensive, but this way we still get to see the festival and the city for a day and make it back in time for school to start back up,” said team member Andrea Raby.

I talked with Andrea Raby and Elizabeth Izzo about their hopes for the project, and why they wanted to do this in the first place:

Q1: Who is on the team? and who’s looking for internships or jobs?

Andrea Raby
Andrea Raby

Andrea Raby: Here’s a link to our “Meet the Team” section of the website. My twitter is @andrea_raby. And I’m looking for an internship! Here’s my portfolio website.

Elizabeth Izzo: My twitter is @eliz_izzo. I am not currently looking for an internship, but I do graduate this December and will be looking for something then. I’d definitely be interested in networking and getting feedback on my work: here’s my website.

Q2: I’m familiar with the MSU Out of the Box project you’ve all launched, but can someone give me the elevator pitch?

Raby: We are 11 students from creative majors at MSU who want to show how creativity connects by helping five amazing non-profits on our way to SXSW interactive. Creativity brought us together, and I think our trip will show our skills and abilities.

Q3: It’s understandable you’d want to go to SXSW Interactive. Have any of you been before? How’d you come up with the idea to work your way to the conference?

Raby: None of us have been before except for Karl [Gude]. A group of us went to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich. this fall and had the idea as we were driving back. At first we thought, if Karl is going to SXSW, we should too because it’s such a inspirational place for creative thinking. Then we had the idea of an RV, and then doing a reality show, but then it developed into helping others, which we think is the coolest part of this whole trip.

Elizabeth Izzo
Elizabeth Izzo

Izzo: I have to agree with Andrea, this part of the trip is definitely attributed to Karl. I’m not entirely certain of the order of events, but at some point while we were talking about making a reality show or documentary, someone had the idea to follow Karl around SXSW since he is a speaker there. Of course SXSW would be an amazing opportunity for us to experience, but being able to show other students a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to speak there was another idea we were hoping to share.

Q4: Wow. This is exciting — and seems ambitious. What’s been the reaction so far? How’s business going on your site?

Raby: All the reactions we’ve gotten have been really positive. We have quite a few super fans already, but we need more. Business is steadily going upward, but we really need more eyes on the project to get it off the ground.

Izzo: All the reaction’s I’ve heard thus far have been positive. Other people seem genuinely excited about the trip, which is exactly what we were hoping for, and it’s what we hope will continue!

Q5: It looks like you’ve raised more than $3,000 already, what are your plans for raising the rest of the funds? What’s your backup?

Raby: We’re still doing a lot of social media marking, so people can follow our journey on Facebook and Twitter. We’re also looking into sponsorship with many different organizations. Our backup is pay for a large chuck of it ourselves (thanks mom and dad!) if we have to. We also know that there is a possibility that we may not go, but right now we’re going to try to fund raise and not think about that.

Izzo: We’re hoping to connect with some big companies in the near future and discuss potential sponsorship ideas. We all extensively use Adobe software for our creative work, we all have Apple devices (computers and/or phones), most of us are obsessed with/will desperately need coffee during the trip. These are all things that are already going to be featured in our web-series naturally. We could always beef up product placement if necessary, but at least for these types of companies, it would be more natural. It would be ideal to connect with a company like Starbucks or Apple or Adobe and try to work something out. Is that realistic? I don’t know. Is that something that can/should be printed to generate buzz? Again, I don’t know.

Q6: How are you selecting the project sites along the way?

Raby: We’re researching non-profits and taking recommendations from people we have connections with in each city. We would love applications! If anyone needs our help or knows of an organization that does, we would be more than happy to hear about it.

Izzo: One thought we had for selecting nonprofits was to reach out to MSU alumni associations in the 5 selected cities and see if they knew of any nonprofits that might need our help. The alumni in each city know the area much better than we do, plus this a way to involve as many Spartans as possible. That by no means should discourage anyone from applying if they’re interested. We would be more than thrilled to take applications!

Q7: I know you already did a sort of test run of this concept working at a Detroit non-profit, right? Tell me about that. Where did you go, what’d you do, and what did you learn?

Raby: Our test run was with the Georgia Street Community Collective, which is a community center and community garden in Detroit. While we were there, we redesigned their website, updated their social media pages, created a coloring page for alternative marketing that the could hand out to businesses, and wrote a press release for an upcoming holiday dinner they had. While we did a lot, we also learned that if we planned ahead a little bit more and talked with the non-profit earlier, then we can get the most work for them done in one day that we can possibly accomplish. We have a video about this trip coming up soon, so watch out for it!

Izzo: We’re hoping to have a summary video about our experience at the Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC). I think one of the main things I learned is that planning is everything. We had an idea for guerrilla marketing while we were in Detroit, but after arriving at GSCC, we realized it just wasn’t really possible. We wanted to create labels to go on packets of seeds that could be planted. The labels would be like coloring pages for the kids who go to GSCC to color and then help us hand out to people in the community. I still think it’s a really great idea, but we didn’t consider where we would buy seed packets (were they even for sale at the time?), where we would buy/print labels, if there would be kids available to color/help deliver seed packets, where we would deliver them to, etc. We ended up creating a regular coloring page instead, which had GSCC information on it so could still be handed out and used as a flyer.

Q8: Best case scenario, what’s your biggest hope for what comes out of this trip?

Raby: I want these non-profits to come out of this with a better ability to help others. There are so many organizations out there that are struggling with a lot of the things that we specialize in, and I think working with them will allow them to make a greater impact on their community. I also want to show people what a group creative college kids can do. This is a HUGE endeavor that we are undertaking with very little help from our professors, but with our combined skills we know we can do it.

Izzo: This may sound really corny, but I want our trip to inspire others. Maybe we inspire people to check out their local nonprofits, or we inspire people to go to SXSW, or to take a road trip, or to apply to MSU, or to make something creative. I don’t know exactly, but I hope we can ignite a spark in someone else. Sometimes I’ll see something amazing, and I’ll think to myself, “That was so cool, but I could never do anything like that.” I want this trip to be the exact opposite of that. I want students to see the web-series and think, “Look at my classmates making things happen. I can totally do that too!”

gudeQ9: Your professor Karl Gude is speaking on a panel at SXSW again this year. He’s famous and all that. He’s that guy that draws butts on Youtube, right? But what’s he really like as a professor?

Raby: Karl is GREAT! I’ve had 3 classes with him now, and he always has kept me excited about what I’m learning because he’s so excited about everything. Plus, I’m thinking about a career in infographics because of him, so he does more than just draw butts.

Izzo: Karl as a professor is the most fun professor you’ll ever have. He’s insanely smart and zany and always talking and always excited. Karl was the first professor that I ever went to office hours for, and I just wanted to talk to him. It wasn’t like I was going because I didn’t understand something or because I was mad about a grade. I just wanted to hear more about his life at Newsweek and pick his brain about the industry. He was thrilled to answer my questions, and I was thrilled that he was thrilled! He’s fantastic. Plus he’s good at drawing butts, who knew?

Note: Gude isn’t all fun and games — he was also recently honored by the MSU Research Showcase.

About Steve Dorsey

@Gannett VP innovation. Boards: @INMAorg, @SND. He was the 2011 president of the Society; 2015 Lifetime Award recipient. Dad to Fiona; partner to @paprgrl76. Relocated Detroiter. Tigers fan. Designer. Editor. SU grad.

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