Employers are looking to hire people who demonstrate strength in the areas of initiative, professionalism, a strong work ethic, oral and written communication, teamwork and collaboration. These are the kind of skills, however, that cannot be learned by simply reading a textbook or sitting in a classroom. Instead, they require a meaningful, hands-on experience.
Jim Jones, executive director of the Katie School of Insurance and Risk Management, described Illinois State University’s Innovation Consulting Community (ICC) as a training ground where students can foster the characteristics employers value.
“It’s an opportunity for those students who really want to learn and really want to enhance their skills,” he said.
Participation in this extracurricular project helps to mold students into the kind of employees companies want to hire by giving them the opportunity to work in teams to develop a practical solution for a client with a real-life business need.
A symposium served as a capstone for this year’s ICC projects. During the event, student teams made 20-minute presentations and delivered a white paper to their clients, which included such diverse entities as an organic farm in Indonesia, a health care organization, a grocery retailer, an educational program for high schoolers and a coffee shop chain.
Recalling how the extracurricular program began three years ago, Jones said, “It came out of the College of Business with the support and coordination of lots of people … The Innovation Consulting Community was established as a mechanism to connect students across campus, from all the different disciplines, to work on real-world clients’ problems.”
The program’s interdisciplinary nature draws together students and faculty from a wide range of disciplines across the ISU campus, including business, music, education, and computer science, to consider topics like employee retention, sustainability practices and marketing to millennials.
Luke Hoerr, a finance and insurance major, decided to help tackle one of this year’s business projects after learning about the ICC in one of his classes.
“My group was tasked with understanding cyber risk and what businesses can do to mitigate that risk,” he explained. “I thought that was a good opportunity because I’m going into insurance, and that’s an emerging trend, so having that kind of knowledge I felt would propel me into a position for an internship someday with an insurance company.”
The junior then compared some of the takeaways from the experience to what students learn during an internship.
“What I really liked about this project is it’s completely hands-on,” said Hoerr. “It simulates an actual work environment, which is very valuable for us as students because as we go through our classes, we understand all of these concepts, but we don’t get to put them into practice, and that’s what this really helps us do … It also shows you how companies see problems and how they need input.”
In addition to being able to learn about an aspect of business with which he was unfamiliar, Hoerr shared the experience helped him to better understand that leadership takes on different forms and allowed him to see his personal strengths when working in a group setting.
When asked what he has witnessed develop out of the program, Jones said, “I see students getting offered jobs. I think they develop project management skills that they wouldn’t normally have.”
In the fall, participants complete a series of different online learning modules to help prepare them for the consulting experience.
“We get them to think about how do you solve conflicts and how do you manage your project, those kinds of things,” said Jones. “We’ve kind of given them the fundamentals of how to work as a team and be effective as a team.”
Jones also noted tackling the projects is different from many classroom experiences because there is no “right answer.” He then explained that student participants are often surprised by the ambiguity inherent in some of the projects and how to approach them.
“That’s real life,” Jones said. “Almost all of these are ambiguous because it resembles real-life opportunities. That is so different from a classroom experience. I think (students) feel the value of it. When the client says, ‘Here’s our challenge,’ well, the answer is maybe two or three different things, and you just have to explain, ‘This is what we think (is the best solution).’”
Hoerr expressed appreciation for the opportunity to gain firsthand experience with problem-solving in a real-world scenario and spoke of the value the program provided for both the participating students and clients. He then encouraged companies to get involved with the ICC.
“I think it’s important that businesses give back into education and not just in the form of scholarships,” he observed. “It’s great that students are able to benefit financially from companies, but I think it’s also important that companies and these businesses have students involved with the problems because it helps us set ourselves apart, and it also allows the business to have input.”
The Illinois State University Innovation Consulting Community provides students with a transformational learning experience guided by project mentors with the opportunity to further develop a creative mindset to propose solutions to complex problems and innovation in strategy. Solutions are provided to the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.
The deadline for application/resume submission to be a part of the Innovation Consulting Community is October 10 by 10 p.m.
To learn more, visit www.innovationconsulting.community