Students partner with local businesses and learn through action
Blaine Pascal, a 16th century mathematician, said, “People remember most what they discover on their own.”
And Calvin business students agree.
“Real-world experience is the best way to learn business,” says Chris Vander Band, a 2011 graduate of Calvin’s business program.
The Calvin College Business Department now offers several action-based learning classes, which require students to partner with local businesses and act as consultants, framing a problem or opportunity, collecting data and research, providing recommendations and solutions, and offering strategies for implementation of ideas. The action-based learning classes, which all include significant group projects, are arranged by the Calvin Center for Innovation in Business and are aptly named Calvin Action Projects (CAP), as students learn through action and active engagement.
“When students work alongside members of the business community who are more experienced, more educated, and more confident in their skill sets and abilities, they develop confidence and understanding,” says Bob Eames, executive director of the Calvin Center for Innovation in Business (CCIB). “Calvin Action Projects provide the real-world, real-life experiences and challenges students need to encounter, grapple with, and overcome in order to be better prepared for service to our communities and to our world.”
Local businesses that have partnered with Calvin and sponsored CAP projects in recent years include small, local business start-ups, regional companies like Hudsonville Ice Cream, and national and global corporations like Gordon Food Service, Herman Miller, and Wolverine Worldwide. These sponsors are required to work collaboratively with students, supporting them with research and data and spending time with them developing strategies and ideas.
Students embrace these projects wholeheartedly, knowing their experience will influence future internships and job opportunities. "I really valued that this was our project,” said Taylor Bouman, a recent graduate who worked with the Calvin Annual Fund this spring. “Our team was ultimately responsible for setting the direction of this project. We threw all of our ideas in a hat, along with our professor’s and sponsors’ expertise and wisdom, to help guide and lead us to a better direction, solution, and outcome. CAP really gave us a sense of ownership, which inspired us to keep working and discovering."
CAP sponsors and clients have also been thrilled will the student teams’ results. “I was very impressed by the professionalism of our student team,” said Mark Dempsey, marketing strategist at Gordon Food Service, which engaged students in a marketing-related project. “They were a very mature group of young professionals, and I appreciated how they presented their thoughts, questions, and challenges with confidence. They were open to feedback, coaching, and redirection, and their professionalism was on par with many work teams that I'm involved with as a working professional. Plus, the quality of their work was very good. They demonstrated that they were able to take data and apply observation to develop a theory and recommendation. Many of their findings were spot on. They also demonstrated that they are capable of taking information in pieces and parts and synthesizing that information into a good understanding of our opportunities.”
Companies who choose to engage with the CCIB must be experiencing a real challenge or opportunity that has no existing or obvious solution to be considered. Challenges or opportunities can be based in accounting, finance, marketing, operations, human resources, and the like.
“The benefits of experiential learning and CAP are substantial,” says Tom Betts, professor of marketing at Calvin College. “It is a different way of learning, but it is one that forces students to take control of, and responsibility for, their education. Students become more engaged, more involved, and more interested in learning when they have the capacity to own a particular project and its results.”