By Carrie Henderson
Students across the UNC system are helping struggling businesses navigate their way through the recession – and back to profitability.
This spring, UNC’s Small Business Technology Development Center (SBTDC) launched the Student Engagement Project, placing 140 upper-level undergraduate, graduate and professional students in local businesses, based on their backgrounds, experiences and competencies.
Once student teams are formed, the students perform an environmental analysis to gain a better understanding of how the client fits in with competitors in the industry. The next step is a growth/profit analysis, where each team tailors its work to the needs of the respective clients, providing customized recommendations designed to address current challenges they face.
The focus is on helping their clients manage their way through the economic downturn. “In the end, it is about jobs – keeping and maintaining them,” said Scott Daugherty, executive director of the SBTDC.
It’s also about learning. Students are exposed to the realities and complexities of business operations and given the opportunity to apply knowledge they have learned from their academic disciplines. That enables them to hit the ground running when they graduate and go to work.
Count Ann Howard among those running. A graduate of UNCW’s MBA program in the Cameron School of Business, Howard participated in a similar effort during the 2006-2007 school year. She notes that her time working hands-on with businesses gave her valuable real world knowledge and “was gratifying because of the impact it had on my client.”
It also gave her an appetite to help more businesses. This year, she went to work for the SBTDC at UNCW, helping to equip other students with same hands-on skills and to provide struggling businesses with the same assistance: “My experience with the [program] informs my work with the SBTDC. I have a greater understanding of the importance of finding a good fit between businesses and students,” said Howard.
UNCW isn’t alone in its participation in the effort. Other participating universities this spring included East Carolina, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, NC State and Western Carolina, as well as three private schools: Campbell University, Meredith College and Montreat College. This fall, teams from Appalachian State, NC A&T, NCCU, UNC Pembroke and Winston-Salem State, as well as Mt. Olive and Elon University, are expected to join the effort.
Daugherty sees potential for the program to expand beyond its current size: “We are going to strongly promote continued and expanded participation in the Student Engagement Project. Our goal is to have 15 to 20 public and private colleges participating with 500 student participants in 2010.”
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Director, Organizational Development and Advancement