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It began with a red paperclip; Business ethnics class teaches communication skills, bartering

Bartering is a skill that can be taught -- one red paperclip at a time.

The students in Dr. Debora Dragseth’s business ethics class were each given a red paperclip and assigned to make eight trades. The item they ended up with was to be donated as a silent auction item for the Backpack Program.

Dragseth was inspired to create the red paperclip assignment when she began teaching business ethics five years ago

“I hear from employers a lot -- they want their employees to have better communications skills. I was thinking, what could we do to add to communications skills? I thought a majority of people barter to live. I always talk about Chad --the world’s poorest country, and if they are not good at bartering they probably will not survive. In our lives, we barter for promotions and raises, when we buy a house -- bartering is an amazing skill to have.”

Students who didn’t know about the paperclip tradition were surprised or a little bit fearful.

“By the end, people really are getting into  it -- it’s a positive experience for everybody,” she said.

Andrew Alt started with a paperclip and ended up with a Pampered Chef cooler.

“It taught me the value of trading and being understanding of people -- you really can't force them to trade.  It was very enjoyable, I had a good time,” he said.

Logan Wagoner ended up with a tent cot that can be elevated off the ground -- it took him eight trades.

“A lot of people were understanding that this is for a good cause,” he said.

Casey Jones traded up for a tote bag.   “I thought it would be harder than it was -- most people were willing to give. It helps you go out of your way to talk to people you don’t know,” he said.

Kyle Thompson looked outside of Dickinson for his trading. He traded  with his girlfriend’s mom in California, and finished with his mom in the Bahamas. She gave him a souvenir.

Keera Stookey added, “I got some big stuff  right away. I traded up for two leather chairs with ottomans by trade no. 4, so I started over. The other trade was for a sign and bottle of wine.”

Karissa Bohn traded up for a personal training session and a West River pass.

“The hardest part is asking people, but once you tell them what the event is for, they are super willing to help out as much as they can,” she said.

The One Red Paperclip silent auction is Thursday, April 26, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  in the DSU Stoxen Library. Everyone is invited to make a bid, and possibly their bid will be the final trade.

There’s even grab bags for $1, $2 or $3.

“They were hugely popular last year -- that’s the fun part, you don’t get to see what’s in them,” Dragseth said.

The exercise has left a lasting experience on the students.

“Years later, students will tell me they can’t look at a red paperclip without thinking of us,” she added.

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