December 13, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Alissa Hoekstra's 5k grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project will be used to help her local animal shelter.

Alissa Hoekstra had no idea that her concept for helping stray animals was popular with the online voters in the Pepsi Refresh Project. “Actually didn’t even really notice until I got an e-mail saying I was in fourth place, which was a week before voting ended,” said Hoekstra, a Calvin  junior majoring in business and marketing.

Last week, Hoekstra learned she was a finalist in the competition, an honor which earned her $5000 to help her designated nonprofit project: The Harbor Humane Society in her hometown of Holland, Mich. The grant allows her to serve as a benefactor of the Hope Fund, established to rehabilitate animals that are malnourished and find them homes. (The money may also be used to help owners who can’t afford to spay or neuter their pets.)

“It would help animals not only that were in the shelter, but also (other) needy animals,” Hoekstra said. “I’m in contact with the Humane Society, asking them what they need.”

Part of the homework

Hoekstra’s idea was not merely a good-hearted impulse—though she loves animals. It was an assignment for her marketing class, Business 380. Each of the students in the class submitted ideas to the Pepsi Refresh Project, an effort by PepsiCo to fund ideas to improve communities.

It's often the marketing teams that are responsible for both initiating and creating visibility around corporate social responsibility,” said business professor Brian Scharp. “I thought the Pepsi Refresh Project might be a good way to contextualize our learning around this. So, instead of turning in an assignment to me for grading, I wanted my students to focus on putting their creative energies into real ideas for positive change.”

Scharp is thrilled with Hoekstra’s success in the competition: “As an adjunct professor and a full-time marketer, that's really how I see my role at Calvin,” he said, “helping students connect the dots on what they are learning in class, to what's going on in the real world of business, outside of class.”

Animal lovers

The contest, which also awarded in the $50K, $25K and $10K categories, was decided, American Idol-like, by online voting.

Hoekstra’s idea eventually came in third in the $5K category. “It helps to have a good idea, first off, but also I think my idea did so well because it was directed at people who really like animals, which is really a large portion of people,” she said.

Hoekstra places herself in that category: “I’ve had pets ever since I was little. I guess it sounds weird, but I guess they’re always there, and it’s always something to be with—besides the fact that they’re cute and furry.” … . Harbor Humane Society has a personal connection for her. “We adopted my cat from the shelter,” she said.

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