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Consulting Process and Practicum

Instructor: Jonathan Whitaker, assistant professor of management

Department/Program: Management

Focus on the Student
Why does this course include community-based learning?

This course is designed to help seniors prepare to enter the management consulting industry. Management consulting requires skills, such as understanding client challenges and developing a relationship with the client to address challenges, that are tacit and difficult to codify. These skills cannot be acquired by reading a textbook; the only way for students to develop these skills is through experience on consulting projects. In this course, CBL provides students with projects and clients that enable students to develop Management Consulting skills.

What learning activities does the CBL component involve for the student?

The consulting project is the primary CBL learning activity in the course. Most projects involve collecting quantitative data from the client and UR library databases, conducting client interviews to gather qualitative data, analyzing the data, developing insights based on the data, and presenting recommendations to client executives.

What are the expectations for student deliverables/outcomes?

The primary student deliverable will be a presentation to client executives, including recommendations, data analysis, implementation plan, and supporting documents that enable clients to implement the recommendations.

What are the benefits to student learning?

While the primary focus is on client outcomes (results) rather than student inputs (time spent), a reasonable estimate is that each student can expect to invest 50 hours of time in their consulting project during the semester, above and beyond class attendance and class readings and assignments.

Focus on the Instructor
What activities does the CBL component involve for the faculty teaching the class?

The primary CBL activities for faculty are recruiting clients to sponsor projects, providing students with background to perform the projects, and coordinating project work between the students and clients.

What is the extent and nature of the instructor commitment/involvement in the CBL component?

Because each consulting project will be staffed by a team of three to five students, the number of students who register for the course will dictate the required number of projects. The instructor will need to invest time before the semester to identify and secure client projects, and will need to check in with each client and student team during the semester to ensure that each project is making adequate progress.

How does CBL change the design of the class?

The course design for many courses places a weight on responsibilities toward the end of the semester, such as grading final projects or exams. In this course, the weight is on responsibilities before the semester (identifying client projects) and early in the semester (providing students with the proper background to perform the projects). This course also requires students to provide interim updates, through a midpoint presentation, meeting with the instructor, and practice in-class before final presentation to the client.

How does CBL change the role of the instructor?

CBL may make the instructor more accountable for outcomes. In a traditional course, if a student team does not perform well on a final project, there is limited impact for anyone other than the team. In this CBL course, if a student team does not perform well on a consulting project, it could harm the reputation and relationship of the University with the community partner. These potential consequences encouraged me to pay closer attention to team progress during the semester, and to respond quickly if any team(s) or project(s) required intervention to be more successful.

Focus on the Community Partner
Who are typical community partners?

This course is suited for a range of community partners. Student teams have conducted consulting projects for a Fortune 100 corporation, an entrepreneurial startup, and a non-profit organization.

Who recruits them?

For this course, community partners may be identified through individual relationships between faculty/administrators and executives at the community partner, and/or through institutional relationships between the University and the community partner. While the CCE can suggest and canvas potential community partners, the instructor will make the final decision on whether the client(s) and project(s) are well suited for the course.

What are the requirements to recruit, coordinate, and support community partners?

For this course, it is particularly important to identify community partners where there is a match between the client's problem and the student skills to help solve that problem. The instructor should expect to review multiple potential projects for each project that is ultimately accepted for the course. The instructor should also expect to remain engaged during the semester, to ensure that each community partner is satisfied with progress on their project.

What are the expectations for the extent and nature of the community partner involvement in the course?

For this course, it is particularly important for community partners to identify a problem that is important for the organization. This will give the community partner a vested interest to remain engaged, to provide student teams with quantitative and qualitative data for analysis, and to interact and provide feedback on student progress. While the actual time commitment for community partners is modest, their level of engagement will lead to more productive outcomes.

What are the benefits to the community partner?

Consulting projects in this course involve problems that are important to the community partner. If a community partner were to pay professional fees for a consulting firm to solve this type of problem, the estimated fees could range from $100,000–200,000. Because community partners provide such valuable learning experiences for our students, and because the University desires to develop an enduring relationship with community partners, the University does not charge community partners for consulting projects in this course.

Student Feedback
This class forced me to deal with workplace problems and challenges.

"The most valuable learning experience in this class, however, did not come in the classroom. This class has forced me to deal with workplace problems and challenges like no other class at Richmond."   

I learned about group dynamics, professionalism, and myself.

"I have been thoroughly challenged and will regard this course as one of the most beneficial and intriguing of my college career. I learned more about group dynamics, professionalism, and myself in 14 weeks than I ever have before."

The most beneficial part was how the components came together in a client project.

"In this course I have learned how to properly establish a framework to collect and analyze data, what goes into managing a project, team, and a client, as well as how to give an effective presentation. However, the most beneficial part of the course was the way that each of these components came together in the actual client project."

This class showed me how to do work the right way.

"This class has showed me how to do work the right way. What I have taken away from this course I believe has not only helped me mature over this past semester, but will lead to my future successes after graduation and help guide me throughout my career."