Student Work

The “Retail Apocalypse”

FirstBridge Students Explore Changing Retail Strategies During the Covid-19 Pandemic

One of the most exciting aspects of beginning an AUP education is the opportunity to engage immediately with interdisciplinary liberal arts thinking. As part of AUP’s first-year experience, students take FirstBridge classes, which combine two disciplinary perspectives on a particular subject. Often linking theoretical concepts with experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom, FirstBridge classes are an introduction to the AUP experience, to liberal arts learning approaches and to life in the cosmopolitan city of Paris. They allow students to meet new peers, learn career-critical soft skills such as teamwork and information literacy, and get outside their comfort zone by exploring new interests. 

The “Heroes and Villains” FirstBridge class, co-organized by the Department of Economics and Management and the Department of Comparative Literature and English, looks at what it means to be a hero or a villain in the modern world. The class combines an analysis of literary and pop-culture representations of heroism and villainy, taught by Professor Russell Williams, with a look at how these concepts impact the business world, taught by Professor Gail Hamilton. In both cases, contemporary examples allow students to analyze and critique how society chooses its idols and pariahs.  

As part of the management component of the class, students explore narratives of success and failure as they relate to individual businesses in an increasingly competitive retail market. “Students identify a Paris-based or international retail space that has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, or, more generally, by what we term the ‘retail apocalypse,’” explains Professor Hamilton. “They are then asked to produce a video exploring how that business has been affected.” Having performed background research on their chosen store, including an analysis of the store’s history, sector and physical space as well as interviews with employees, the students then offer recommendations on how to improve the business’s standing and minimize damage from the challenges of the pandemic. 

In Fall semester 2020, first-year students Elsa Hafenberg and Isabel Raggio decided to analyze their local Starbucks, hoping to discover how a popular multinational corporation had handled local regulations. “It was an interesting assignment,” say Elsa and Isabel. “It was fascinating to go and interview employees and see how large the impact was from their perspective.” They concluded that Starbucks had successfully weathered pandemic difficulties by seizing the opportunity to develop technological retail solutions – a switch they had already been planning to make. “Overall, this project allowed us to understand how current events influence big businesses locally. And we had a blast making the video!”