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.