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Raymond Butkus, Executive Lecturer, Saint Peter's University Mary Kate Naatus, Dean, Saint Peter's University

Academy-Community Engagement: Perspectives on a Capstone Consulting Collaboration

The purpose of this paper is to provide an evaluation and reflection of a program involving the business community of Hudson County, New Jersey and Saint Peter’s University. This program, and its associated course, serve as the capstone learning experience for selected Business Management majors at this Catholic, Jesuit university. This collaboration, now in its 8th year, has forged a strong partnership between the university and the Hudson County (NJ) Chamber of Commerce. Each year, Chamber member businesses and nonprofits of all sizes are invited to apply and identify a particular business problem or issue that they would like a student consulting team to address, identify solutions and make recommendations for, over the semester long consulting engagement. The selection process of the organizations considers the scope of the business issue, with preference given to higher level, strategic business problems that involve analysis of multiple business functions, and allowing students to synthesize and apply disciplinary knowledge. The program has yielded multiple positive results. It has helped to accelerate the university’s impact in the local economy and solidify its position with the business community as a source of high achieving, competent prospective employees. It assists the local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce in their promotional activities by emphasizing the value of a Chamber membership to their member and prospective members. It helps prepare students for the complexity and rigor of data analysis, alternative assessment, decision making, problem solving and financial impact analysis all in real operating businesses. The true test of the efficacy of a business curriculum is its ability to equip future business leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary for success and to ensure that graduates know how to apply that knowledge and those skills. This initiative, which began as a pilot project in 2012, sought to incorporate more real world experiential components into the curriculum as a means of doing exactly that. The program has achieved tangible impacts for both the student consultants as they develop their career preparedness skills and for the local businesses, which are the backbone of our local neighborhoods and main streets. Over the course of seven years, the program has included 48 business engagements with 46 unique companies, in a wide range of industries and of varied size. Over 250 students have completed this program, putting learning into action in the consulting engagement, which has helped build skill sets, enhance student resumes, and in some cases lead directly to internships and even full time employment at participating companies. This paper includes a detailed description of the experiential project and learning objectives, perceptions and reflections of students and business partners, as well as lessons learned and recommendations for replicating this valuable, community-engaged program.