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It started with a red paperclip

A red paperclip can do more than just hold a piece of paper--it can be used as a bartering tool. Dickinson State University students in Debora Dragseth's ethics class learned just how far a paper clip can go over the course of eight weeks. Studen...

Dickinson State University students in Debora Dragseth’s ethics class learned just how far a paper clip can go over the course of eight weeks. Students were given a red paperclip and told to make a minimum of eight trades throughout the semester, with their final item being sold at a silent auction. (Kalsey Stults / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State University students in Debora Dragseth’s ethics class learned just how far a paper clip can go over the course of eight weeks. Students were given a red paperclip and told to make a minimum of eight trades throughout the semester, with their final item being sold at a silent auction. (Kalsey Stults / The Dickinson Press)

A red paperclip can do more than just hold a piece of paper-it can be used as a bartering tool.

Dickinson State University students in Debora Dragseth's ethics class learned just how far a paper clip can go over the course of eight weeks.

Students were given a red paperclip and told to make a minimum of eight trades throughout the semester, with their final item being sold at a silent auction.

"It gets really eclectic," Dragseth said. "There's furniture. There's wine. There's something for everybody."

Some of the items available at the silent auction this year include a smart TV, two tickets to the president's suite during a football game, an antique air rifle, oil painting, spa kit, women's snowboard, acoustic guitar, barbecue for six to eight people with DSU President Thomas Mitzel, gold earrings and a wooden television stand.

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Proceeds from the silent auction will be donated to the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center and Love Your Melon.

Dragseth said inspiration for the activity came from 26-year-old Kyle MacDonald of Canada. MacDonald made headlines when he traded a red paperclip for a house more than a decade ago. While none of the students managed to nab a house out of their trades, Dragseth said it was important for them to learn the ability to not only barter but the power of the word "no."

"The hope was that the students would get to a point where the person they were bartering with was happy too (with the trade)," she said.

Students in the class said they were shocked by how generous people were in their willingness to offer something for trade that was a better value than what they were receiving.

"(I was surprised) with how nice the community is and how everybody is so willing to help in anyway they can," student Ryan Clark said.

Clark and Devon Loy both showed up with similar items during one of Thursday's show-and-tells-signed basketball jerseys from the women and men's teams at DSU. They partnered together and traded for 10 silver one-ounce coins valued at roughly $340. As a team, they then traded all 10 coins for other items, including a bronze deer, an end table, a fire extinguisher, wine and bamboo holder, radio and harmonica.

Carlie Bowditch, at one point, ended up with traditional ceremonial masks from Nepal that a professor had bought during her trip there.

"They were very different, and I actually was worried I would have difficulty trading them because they are cool but kind of creepy, so I didn't know who would take them," she said.

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Her freshman roommate was interested and traded a television stand for the masks.

While it was a fun and interactive activity for the students, Dragseth said it also taught them valuable skills.

"Our graduates will be selling and buying throughout their careers," she said. "I hope this activity gives them a sense of the power of negotiation."

The silent auction will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on April 27 at Stoxen Library.

Related Topics: DICKINSON STATE UNIVERSITY
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