Students help show go on with Lupe Fiasco nonprofit


Lou Foglia

Students Paul Abood and Jewell Donaldson help rebrand Lupe Fiasco’s nonprofit organization in “Agency,” a class in the Communication and Media Innovation Department that works with clients on their marketing needs.

By Campus Reporter

Some marketing students will receive a real-life “Superstar” experience this semester.

“Agency,” an 11-year-old class in the Communication and Media Innovation Department that pairs marketing students with local and national organizations, has found a client in M.U.R.A.L., a nonprofit founded by rapper Lupe Fiasco.

M.U.R.A.L., formerly known as the Lupe Fiasco Foundation, approached the college for assistance in its rebranding efforts and creation of a marketing plan, said Ayesha Jaco, Fiasco’s sister  and co-founder and executive director of M.U.R.A.L. 

Jaco, a 2007 alumna with a master’s degree in arts management, said she learned about an opportunity to work with the students through the college’s Center for Community Arts Partnerships. 

“It just so happened in the midst of our urgent rebrand, we were able to come on board with the ad agency class to not only assist with rebranding but with our marketing plan and a few other operational things that we needed assistance with,” Jaco said. 

Jaco said the desire to rebrand the organization, which included changing the name to M.U.R.A.L., an acronym for Magnifying Urban Realities and Affecting Lives, came from wanting Fiasco’s philanthropic work to mirror the development that is happening within his career.

“We wanted to expand our face of the organization where traditionally Lupe has been the face and it was built around the time of his budding career as a musician,” Jaco said. “He is [now] transitioning into many other things. We wanted the foundation to move in that way.”

Beth Rockman, a senior marketing commnications major who is working with M.U.R.A.L. in the agency class as the team’s account manager, said it was interesting to see how the organization wants to refocus on building a community in Chicago.

“Initially, the draw was his name, but when we found out they were doing the rebrand it switched it up a little bit and we realized the foundation is actually offering a lot more than just the Lupe Fiasco name,” Rockman said.

The course has given students an opportunity to practice their skills before graduating and setting out into the job market, according to senior marketing communications major Paul Abood.

“Of course [the benefit of this class] is working with real clients, but it is also being able to both succeed and also fail before it really matters,” Abood said. “Of course we are working for a grade here but hopefully a couple months or years from now we are going to be working for a real agency where we have already failed that [or] done that. This is a good crash course for us.”

Jewell Donaldson, a marketing communications major who is working with M.U.R.A.L., said students are given the opportunity to experience the real expectations and demands of clients and how to comply with them.

Donaldson said Columbia is a good fit for Fiasco’s nonprofit because its students are the target audience the organization is trying to reach.

“We are representing very much so the target demographic not only as far as where people come from that they are trying to help, but also the people they are trying to support,” Donaldson said. “We are the ones that feed into this organization for the future as they grow.”

Jaco said not only is this partnership a win-win for the organization as well as the students in the class, but the real-life experience this agency setting offers sets Columbia apart from other marketing programs.

“[The agency course is] definitely a unique piece [of the department], and it says to potential or prospective students that they will walk away with experience that will propel them to serve an organization—whether it is for-profit or nonprofit,” Jaco said. “It’s a great enhancement for the Columbia experience.”

The course gives students the opportunity to address different marketing needs for nonprofit organizations, said Laurence Minsky, an associate professor in the Communication and Media Innovation Department who teaches the class.

“It’s real projects for real clients at the pace of a real agency,” Minsky said.

Minsky said other colleges and universities have similar agency-setting classes, but Columbia’s course has remained unique from the others by addressing larger issues and working with high-profile organizations in the past, including the Chicago Fire Department, the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and now Fiasco’s nonprofit.

“We are handling bigger clients than other agency courses at other schools,” he said. “I think that is one of the things that sets this course apart.”