Kiwanis, business students and a festival for furry worms

December 16, 2016


By Nina Mastandrea

Earlier this fall during the Woolly Worm Festival, a popular, ever-growing downtown Banner Elk festival dedicated to the larvae of the tiger moth and its abilities to predict the severity of the coming winter, students from the Business Statistics course (BUS 265) collected exactly 305 surveys.

This year marked the tenth year the surveys were distributed, collected, analyzed and reported back to the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk—a tradition of sorts between the Business Administration program at Lees-McRae and the local club.


The survey is a class-wide project, said Assistant Professor of Business Administration Glen Weaver, however, students could volunteer to present to the Kiwanis club.

The main focus of the business statistics class is to introduce statistical tools, basic concepts of probability and survey sampling methods, according to the course description.

For the students, it is practice presenting to those other than their peers in conjunction with a real-world opportunity to collect and review data.

For the members of the Kiwanis club—a group created to better the community through volunteer efforts—it is a chance to reflect and make improvements for the future.

It’s a true, symbiotic relationship.

The results are in…

The study’s findings were presented on December 6 in Miller Commons on the campus of Lees-McRae.

About 20 members of the Kiwanis club watched on as Jack Perry, Alec Hoover, Adam Hackett, Ethan Greer and Bailey Goforth presented their findings and pitched possible improvements.


Of the 305 surveys passed out and completed, 204 were adults, 57 were vendors and 44 were children.

This was the first year a survey was given to children under the age of 16.

A big draw for children—and adults alike—is the chance to enter their favorite, furry, black-and-brown woolly worm into the races.

The only inches-long caterpillars climb up a string to the finish line. The races last all weekend, in sets of heats, until a winner is announced.

“It was their curiosity that led to the development of the child questionnaire,” Weaver said.

The students had nine years of adult-driven statistical data, so what about the kids?

The questions were left simple: What’s your age? What was your favorite activity? And how many worms did you enter in the race? Among a few others.

“We found out that corndogs were the top favorite food (among children),” said Hoover.

As for the adult surveys, the respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with the food vendors, their ticket price and other event elements. Further down the one-page survey, attendees were asked about their choice in sleeping accommodations and how they purchased their tickets.

This fall marked the third year people could purchase “e-tickets” online. Visitors could also choose to purchase their tickets at local businesses and at the day of the event.

The students discovered those that purchased their tickets online spent more overall than those who didn’t—$87.39 more on average.

Some of the students believed that for tickets purchased at the gate, spending at the fair was reduced because they had just spent money on tickets—their purchase remained fresh in their minds.

Therefore, for those that purchased their tickets online—perhaps weeks in advance—were more likely to spend more money during the event.

But what was more surprising both to students and Kiwanis alike, was that more than half of those surveyed—59%—were unaware of the festival’s non-profit status.

The festival, which recently celebrated its 39th year, donates 100% of its proceeds to programs across Avery County in order to enhance schools and children’s programs as well as promote tourism and local businesses.

The weekend-long event raises money through ticket sales, woolly worm sales as well as parking and vendor spots.

Students proposed to the Kiwanis that in order to increase awareness, placing focus on online marketing was going to be a big key.

Kiwanis members agreed that more of a focus could be placed on their website and Facebook page to include more upfront information about its non-profit status.

‘Rolling up their sleeves’

For the five students, the experience taught them more than simply tallying surveys. For Perry, it pushed him to approach new people and develop relationships at a fast pace.

“It was the first time I ever collected surveys, and I was timid, but I learned a new skill,” he said.

A skill many of the students agreed they would have not learned otherwise.

Weaver said it is always better to learn hands-on than reading about it in a textbook. 

“I’m glad my students had the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get involved,” he said.

Weaver said he was proud of his class for the work they put into the project.

“It’s a win-win,” he added. “A win for the students and a win for the Kiwanis.”

Media Contact:

Nina Mastandrea  |  Content Manager
Tel: 828.898.8729  |  Email: