Universities Adopting AI-based Program to Help Students Simulate Real World Environment

The ultimate goal of any higher education institution is to prepare their students to succeed in their field of study after graduation. While many graduates don’t feel ready to enter the job market after completing college, Stefanie Boyer, Professor of Marketing at Bryant University, Smithfield, RI, is looking to change that, specifically in the areas of sales and marketing.

Dr. Boyer is utilizing an artificial intelligence (AI) app known as RNMKRS with an Interpersonal Communications Engine (ICE) to help students learn the basics of persuasive communication by practicing speaking to a customer bot simulating a sales call. The bot has voice-activated conversations with students and gives them feedback at the end of their role plays to show them how they performed and where they have strengths and weakness.

ICE was developed by RNMKRS, a coalition of faculty and technologists co-founded by Dr. Boyer, which is looking to leverage technology to improve sales and marketing training for students through simulation design.

“ICE simulates interactions between individuals.  With ICE, there are no predetermined responses. You talk to an intelligent animated bot using your phone, like Siri or Alexa, but with an animated character. The bot responds in real time with answers that reflect your input,” Boyer said. “Students get detailed feedback on their successes, coaching on their areas of improvement and data on their performance compared to other players,” she said.

It is free to college students and this past semester, there were more than 46,000 role plays, according to Boyer. Role playing helps students prepare for job interviews, run effective sales calls, communicate better with team players and supervisors, she said.

In a normal semester, an instructor can possibly evaluate and give feedback on five to six role plays, Boyer said. However, utilizing ICE, students are able to get more experience conducting more than 40 role plays sometimes, she said, adding some have done more than 100.

More than 5,000 students have gone through the program so far, which culminates in a nationwide competition. The first role playing competition was in the fall of 2019 and the last one last fall saw 59 colleges participate, she said.

Students begin by completing a sales career profile with information about their career aspirations, where they want to live and what kinds of sales they are interested in.  Then, they download the RNMKRS mobile app to begin role play practice which lasts a full semester.  The program culminates in the RNMKRS Sales Competition and companies get on the platform to use data and analytics sorting techniques to identify students who interest them for sales roles.   Dell Technologies was the first company to participate and is now joined by companies like Gartner, Tom James, YRC Worldwide, TTI Group and HercRentals.

The adoption of ICE helped Bryant roll the program out to students at colleges and universities all over the U.S. plus Canada and Europe.

While the program was originally designed for marketing majors, now any student, anywhere can participate. “Every student should gain a bit of selling knowledge before they go into the job world,” Boyer said. “The more they practice, the better they get and the better they will be prepared,” she said.

The spring competition runs during spring and fall. April 14 and 15 are game days for Spring 2021.