Illinois State University’s Innovation Consulting Community (ICC) provides real-world professional experiences for undergraduate and graduate students from across campus. The program partners student consultants with actual organizations seeking insights about a variety of topics ranging from marketing strategies to product design to research questions.
“Project-based learning that involves real clients and asks that students collaborate and work effectively with people from multiple disciplines is a valuable professional development experience that future employers will value,” shared Dr. Peter Kaufman, an ISU professor who served as a mentor for several of this year’s ICC projects.
The program challenges students to think strategically, develop problem-solving and communication skills and learn additional soft skills related to working in a professional environment.
One of this year’s projects was dedicated to enhancing the diversity of the people who view wildlife and paired a team of ISU students with client representatives from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Our job was to help promote the value of nature walks, birding and wildlife viewing —specifically marketing to people of color and other minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community. It is important that everyone feels welcome in outdoor spaces, so this project was especially exciting for me to become involved with,” said Emily McCauley, an Illinois State junior majoring in Parks and Recreation Administration who is particularly interested in studying environmental conservation and restoration.
ISU alumna Amanda Lawler, who served as the mentor for this consulting project, added, “I think this project is important because of the target audience these nature organizations are trying to reach. I personally really enjoy hiking and kayaking and think that people viewing and enjoying nature is an amazing cause to promote. Targeting an audience that is both younger and diverse will introduce young people to new hobbies and activities that will get them out and about after a year of quarantining.”
She then described the student team members as “very passionate” about the project and noted how they provided “insights on social media influencers that (the clients) could pair with to reach the new target audience that they are hoping to reach.”
Additional student consultants for the project were Adam Pautler, Emma Schoth and Alex Soderlund.
Anne Glick, wildlife viewing program administrator for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, described it as a pleasure to work with the students.
“I was impressed by the professionalism and commitment the ISU students demonstrated toward the project. The information provided can be immediately applied to our communication efforts … I commend ISU for providing these real-world opportunities for their students,” she said.
McCauley shared that she particularly enjoyed the opportunity “to collaborate with colleagues in a new setting” as they sought to help the clients develop social media strategies.
“I think it is so important for students to get real world experience on projects like ICC to see what working for a client is like,” continued Lawler. “I also think that real world experience like this in every industry is helpful ‘work’ experience for them to determine what they are passionate about and want to work toward in their careers.”
For her own part, Lawler decided to get involved as a mentor for ICC because she saw firsthand the value of the program when she participated in it as a graduate student at ISU. The project for which she served as a student consultant studied the topic of instituting a plastic and paper bag tax in McLean County.
“I was able to learn SO much about my local community, our conservation efforts in play right now and what we could be working toward regarding conservation efforts in the future,” Lawler recalled. “I personally have a lot of interest in sustainability efforts, which is likely why Dr. Kaufman assigned me as the mentor to this project.”
McCauley also spoke highly of her experience with ICC this year, concluding, “Overall, I was happy to be a part of this project and am grateful for the opportunity to gain this professional experience!”
If you are interested in supporting the ISU Innovation Consulting Community, click here. The ICC is open to any Innovation Consulting Community (ICC) student.