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When Students Are the Advisors

Students in an introductory course deliver original research to aid local small-business owners. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Students in an introductory course deliver original research to aid local small-business owners. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Students help local businesses, nonprofits address major challenges

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Every day, Dickinson students apply what they're learning to a wide spectrum of challenges, and their influence is already felt. Two classes this fall offer prime examples of the ways students from all class years solve problems at the local level by finding new approaches for businesses and nonprofits.

Hitting the ground running

One-hundred and twenty students are taking Fundamentals of Business this fall, across several sections co-taught by Visiting Instructor in International Business & Management Sherry Ritchey and Lecturer in International Business & Management Steve Riccio. After learning about best business practices, they delivered individually tailored research to new small-business owners about ways they can best position themselves for success.

Each class studied one area business that's new or in the works, gathering information about operations, targeted base, locations and other factors that influence success. After performing extensive market research, they presented their recommendations prior to final-exam week.

Students in a Fundamentals of Business class taught by Steve Riccio (center) visit with the owners of Provisions grocery store, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Students in a Fundamentals of Business class taught by Steve Riccio (center) visit with the owners of Provisions grocery store, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Riccio.

Rita Hao ’21 and her class studied a new grocery store that occupies part of a large building on downtown Harrisburg’s Strawberry Square. The students recommended that the grocery store improve its signage, adjust its shelving, broaden its target customer base, poll shoppers about their experiences and include a coupon with a future marketing mailing. To their delight, the grocery store manager has already begun to implement several of those changes.

Jess Goldberg ’18 (chemistry) helped evaluate a local cross-fit gym. Her group made recommendations about insurance considerations, hours of operation and software and apps that could streamline operations. The students also advised the business owner on marketing strategies, including a referral system and targeted social-media posts that highlight the gym’s unique focus.

Two of Ritchey's Fundamentals of Business classes will continue their work with the Small Business Development Center in the spring semester. Ritchey also teaches a class on Social Impact Through Communication and Storytelling that will work on community projects locally and statewide; a national project is also under discussion. 

On a mission to end homelessness

This year marks the second capstone project for graduating seniors in the social innovation & entrepreneurship (SINE) program, launched in 2014. While last year’s SINE graduates studied resource-sharing options that could help nonprofits work more efficiently, the class of ’18 members in this program are developing new approaches to help alleviate homelessness. 

“Our hope is that this student research complements and supports the other efforts happening in our community now to address homelessness,” said Associate Professor of International Business & Management Helen Takacs, who teaches the senior seminar.

Becca Raley ’94 of the Partnership for Better Health, Tim Whelan of Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment and Lucy Zander and Jessie Clark ’11 of the United Way are among the nonprofit leaders who will work with students throughout the academic year. The students will present their final results to the nonprofit community this spring.

Each brings unique experiences to the project. Ben DiNardo (economics), who volunteers with community organizations as a Montgomery Service Leader and through the Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice, brings economics scholarship to the mix. Natalie Cassidy (environmental studies, Latin American, Latino & Caribbean studies), who studied sustainable farming in Argentina, and Nastia Khlopina, an international business & management major and international student who founded an international-student organization on campus, specialize in cultural approaches to sustainability and business, respectively. Travis Nardin (economics), who led the winning team in the 2016 Innovation Competition, combines economics knowledge with his experiences as an entrepreneur, and Michelle Zhang (international studies) draws what she learned while researching educational opportunities for impoverished children in New Delhi, India.

Giving and getting

While projects like these help the local community and give students experience in working as a team, managing a business, developing marketing campaigns and solving large-scale problems, they also yield a benefit that student-volunteers know well—the satisfaction that comes with giving back.

“I love the fact that I can be connected to the greater community around Carlisle,” wrote DiNardo, referring to already-completed work with Montgomery Service Leaders. “It is great to know that I can make a difference.”

“The best part of this project was seeing [the business owner’s] excitement over our new ideas,” said Goldberg. “He was extremely appreciative of all the hard work we put into helping him make his business better.”

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Published December 12, 2017