Northern Illinois Experiential Learning Center Q&A

The Experiential Learning Center at NIU College of Business is on its 19th year of putting NIU students to work on live consulting projects for employers and a longtime client of EduSourced. We checked in with ELC’s director, Jason Gorham, to find out how they do it.

Question: How many companies do you work with each year at the Experiential Learning Center (ELC)?

Answer: We work with anywhere from 12-16 companies each school year. Typically, 8 projects per semester is our goal.

Q Describe the format of your projects. Are they mostly uniform or are they highly tailored to each client?

A: The projects we do are highly individualized to the organizations we serve.  The consultant teams are made up of 6-8 handpicked students with a variety of majors from all over the NIU campus. Many of the students are Juniors, Seniors and Graduate students.  The students must interview before being able to take this 3-credit hour course and the teams are selected based on skills, knowledge, background, and experience. It provides the opportunity to diversify teams based on project scope. Each team has a faculty coach and an assistant coach.

We work with all types of organizations: large, small, established and startups. We serve Fortune 500 organizations and nonprofits as well.

Past sponsors inlucde: Caterpillar, McDonalds, Tribune Publishing, Humaginarium, YMCA, Lakeshore Recycling Systems.

The teams solve a variety of complex business issue. Topics include marketing startegy, business plan development, awareness campaigns, data analytics, website design and new product launch strategies (just to name a few).

Project process: the consultant team maintains weekly contact with the sponsor throughout the semester using a designated point of contact for a direct line of communication. The deliverables are identified in the first meeting. The deliverables and project scope are outlined and the project’s foundation is set.

Q: What has been the hardest part of operating the ELC since you took over leadership?

A: Aside from securing projects with sponsors/clients, the most challenging part of running the Experiential Learning Center (ELC) is the blending of worlds.  By blending of worlds, I mean the student experience with our results driven focus for the organization.  Ensuring the project itself has enough substance to provide a great student experience over the course of a 16-week semester.  Equally important is to ensure the organization gets a positive return on investment and solutions for their business issue(s) are developed.

Q: Which takes more time: promoting the program to clients or to students?

The teams meet (class) twice a week for a total of 150 minutes but they spend about 8-12 hours per week outside of class doing their research, writing reports, practicing their presentations, etc. I would say where my time is spent ebbs and flows. Currently in the semester I am spending a lot of time scoping projects and aligning them for the spring or fall 2020 semesters. Ultimately my time is spent on ways to maximize the student experience.

Want to learn more about the ELC? Visit their website or send them a project proposal.