Written by Beth Tancredi
Across Lehigh University's College of Business curriculum, many classes allow you to team up with other students to solve real-world business problems inspired by your own ideas or those of big-name brands, small businesses and the community at large. Below are just three examples of the experiential learning opportunities at Lehigh Business.
In recent years, Lehigh's Office of Sustainability began an on-campus bike-sharing program aimed at reducing the number of cars on campus. No matter how hard they tried, though, it just didn't get the traction they wanted. The problem wasn't the program – it was their marketing.
Associate Professor Beibei Dong, who had recently attended a workshop on integrating sustainability into the academic curriculum, saw the perfect opportunity for her MKT 366: Services Marketing and Innovation class to rise to the challenge and be a part of the Office of Sustainability's campus efforts.
"Students are the ones who are the potential customers with this bike-sharing program, so the class's perspectives were most valuable in terms of making it a success," says Dong. "And in some cases, they first needed to sell themselves on it before they attempted to sell their peers."
Throughout the project, Dong worked with her students on using and analyzing data to understand why the program wasn't successful, learning new technology to map out strategic and tactical plans and designing social media marketing campaigns to engage their peers.
"The student feedback was great as they not only had the opportunities to learn hands-on problem-solving skills, but they also made an impact on their own lives and their peers'," Dong says. "The client (Office of Sustainability) was extremely impressed by the creative output and quality of work our students delivered. This project also exposed us to the Campus as a Living Lab program where we're likely to find even more opportunities to work together in the future."
These types of hands-on classes, however, are not limited to on-campus touch points. Lehigh's vast network of businesses, alumni and ties to the community offer even more experiential opportunities for business classes.
Professor of Practice Deirdre Malacrea's MKT 314: Digital & Social Media class has given her students the opportunity to create complete marketing campaign pitches for large corporate clients like Ricola and Carmex, smaller businesses like Flavanaturals and ModernPicnic, and non-profits like the Downtown Allentown Business Alliance and the Morris Museum.
During the course of the semester, students participate in the full agency experience, including client briefings, social media and digital audits, persona creation, ideation, campaign planning and content production. The final student project puts each group directly in front of the class client team client to pitch their ideas and get feedback on them.
"I want every part of this exercise to feel as real as possible, so no matter where they get their first job, they can reflect back and feel confident that they know what they're doing because they've done it before," Malacrea explains.
At the very least, Malacrea's students often include their pitches in their portfolio or as a discussion topic when interviewing for internships or jobs when they're first starting out. At most, the real-world client connections made through the project may decide to bring some students on as interns once the project has ended.
It's one thing to have a simple business idea, but it's quite another to have the know-how to create a plan and make it happen. Assistant Professor David Zhang's Business Information Systems (BIS) class turns student groups into mini tech startups by giving them the tools they need to turn ideas into a full business plan.
Zhang's student teams start by identifying a business need that they can solve for – either as an original idea or to fill gaps within an existing company's operations.
Although the concepts are largely hypothetical, students are required to tackle the semester-long project as if they are bringing their idea to market. Students kick off the semester by creating a blueprint to identify the need(s) they are solving for, the functions the business system will provide, database requirements and any additional data analysis that can be used to make the case for the idea.
Then, throughout the semester, students refine their proposals and build entity relationship diagrams and inputs using Unified Modeling Language that would ultimately be handed off to a computer science team to implement.
For their final projects, students submit a professional consulting report that would typically be used to pitch the idea to investors.
Most of the proposed business information systems are never brought to fruition, but Zhang foresees a time when his BIS class can collaborate with computer science students to implement the ideas.
"The biggest value of this class as a business professional is that students get to walk through the entire cycle up until the actual implementation from a business professional's perspective. It really prepares them for a career as a business analyst or tech consultant," says Zhang.
Zhang has received positive feedback from students who have been able to include talking points from the project in interviews to demonstrate experience in the field of business consulting.
Experiential learning at Lehigh doesn't just prepare you for your career, it immerses you in the possibilities.