Tom Harlovic said he could “go on and on” about what he learned from his participation in the Innovation Consulting Community (ICC) this academic year and described being a part of the program as “definitely one of the most impactful experiences” he has had at Illinois State University.
The junior served as project manager for an ICC project related to developing a recycling program for the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), the second largest public housing authority in the country.
“This project intrigued me because I’m passionate about the intersection between sustainability and community development,” he shared. “The topic is important because the way we manage our waste is terribly flawed, where products and materials are used only once and discarded into landfills and surrounding ecosystems. This waste problem is reaching crisis levels, both in Chicago and worldwide. Recycling more fosters a regenerative system of production, consumption and reuse. This not only reduces environmental strain but generates more jobs and opportunities for creative solutions. This job-creation aspect is especially relevant to the low-income residents living in CHA buildings, circling back to developing communities in a sustainable way.”
The topic dovetailed well with Harlovic’s area of study, which is Environmental Systems Science and Sustainability. The project also brought together other student consultants from Business Administration, International Business and Finance.
“ISU is one of a small number of universities in the United States that provides interdisciplinary, student-led, mentor-coached consulting experiences to address real client challenges,” said Dr. Peter Kaufman, who served as mentor for the project.
The professor also explained that this year the ICC program brought together 90 students from 30 sub disciplines across campus to work on this waste management project and other real-world topics for actual organizations. The purpose of the program is to prepare students for their future careers by providing integrated learning opportunities that connect classroom lessons to hands-on, real-world experiences.
Harlovic and his fellow team members – Matthew Park, Alejandra Pena and Max Snyderman – began meeting in fall 2020 and made their final presentation in April 2021. They worked with client representative Michael J. Gurgone, Chief Investment Officer for CHA and an ISU Accounting and Business Administration alum. The consulting team identified ways to reduce the housing authority’s waste processing costs and increase its waste diversion rate. They devised strategies for both family and senior residential buildings.
“We aimed to improve recycling accessibility for residents, educate residents on responsible recycling habits and create fun opportunities for residents of all ages to get involved in their community,” reported Harlovic.
Gurgone shared, “It was fun for the CHA staff to work with the ISU team members.”
The executive also observed that he and his colleagues “admired their interest and passion in developing environmentally-friendly solutions.”
Harlovic admitted that going into the project his enthusiasm was lacking because he had never given much thought to the problem of waste and “assumed the business world was boring and static.” As the project unfolded, however, he “learned more about the deep impact of waste issues” and developed a better appreciation for the business sector.
“Something that stands out is learning how to develop a solution to a complex problem,” the junior continued. “Proposing a recycling program might seem pretty straightforward, but it gets pretty complicated when several converging factors are brought into play.”
Along with his teammates, he learned to balance the needs of both the client organization and its constituents and develop creative solutions that could apply to each group. He also developed a better understanding of “how to accept things that are out of your control and adapt to them.”
“Since the client was so large and influential, I felt I had to really knock the project out of the park and make sure it was sound in every way,” said Harlovic. “They expected us to deliver a real, applicable solution, so I knew I really needed to deliver. I knew our program might actually impact real people’s lives. Projects in class, even if I learn from them, don’t carry that same weight. Pressure makes diamonds, though, so it was definitely a good thing.”
He then issued a challenge for other ISU students to get involved with the ICC program so they can build skills that will prepare them for post-graduation.
“No matter what field you go into – anything from education, chemistry, marketing, whatever – you will have to work in a professional, business-like setting. You need problem-solving and teamwork skills … ICC will teach you career skills for right now, three years from now and 30 years into your career, no matter what it is. Also, if you put in the effort, you’ll learn a lot about your personal self too.
For his own part, Harlovic “loved and appreciated” the experience of working on the project for CHA.
“Every student should do an ICC project! I’m hoping to take what I learned with me and use it to build a better world for the environment and everyone in it,” he concluded. The ICC is open to any student on campus.
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