COLUMBIA — Cuba, Mo., has some big dreams and wants to get started on them right away.
Cuba Development Group will start talking about city developments Friday, a day after Columbia College undergraduates presented them with a marketing plan for the Crawford County community.
Sean Siebert, assistant professor of business administration, led his management 393 business information systems class in designing a program for developing the city through five categories: health and wellness, education, safety and security, community and how to retain the existing and attract a new middle class.
Students spent the past eight weeks gathering data and putting together a proposal for the development group. In the 2000 census, Cuba had about 3,200 people.
Cuba Development Group President and founder Mardy Leathers is enthusiastic after the presentation and is ready to start putting plans into action tomorrow.
"I was extremely impressed," Leathers said. "The students really put together a great amount of work."
Leathers wants to start with developing an alternative learning center. Cuba's 2009 dropout rate increased by 7.7 percent from the previous year, and Leathers sees improving education as an urgent need.
Also on his docket is creating a farmers market, which he thinks will be a great addition to the rural community, which is about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis.
"It's a great way for local farmers to market their products and bring more education to the community about eating and living healthy," Leathers said.
Leathers was so inspired by the program that he is considering attending Columbia College to finish his master's degree in business administration.
Siebert, a Cuba High School graduate, said he could not be happier, to say the least, and wishes he could give grades higher than 100 percent. He described the project as a "golden opportunity" and hopes that Cuba will inspire other cities and towns to strive for improvement.
Despite initial anxiety, students came away with a better understanding of small towns and an experience many other undergraduates don't get.
Senior Caitlin Almany appreciated the real-world classroom experience and sense of satisfaction.
"It does take a lot of work," Almany said."But for me, personally, I get tired of doing the work and just turning it in and seeing nothing come from it."
Mike Yoakum, a Columbia native and sports management student, came away with a lot of pride. Although he realized some people don't want to listen to college students, he felt the city of Cuba seemed serious about listening and "changing its society, for lack of a better term."
"It was actually kind of eye-opening," he said. "Cuba is really a diamond in the rough if you give it a chance."
Siebert plans a similar project for the fall.