December 15, 2022
By Haley Dittbrenner ’25
Teams of students working one-on-one with businesses and organizations to apply what they learn in the classroom to deliver a presentation with fresh perspectives and creative management solutions — that’s experiential learning at the Sigmund Weis School of Business.
“Experiential learning creates tangible experiences out of seemingly theoretical course material. It encourages creativity and problem-solving by considering real business constraints, such as capacity, budget and location,” Lauren Smith ’13, visiting assistant professor of management, says. “It can also solidify student interest in different majors by providing them with experiences similar to what they might be looking to pursue post-graduation.”
Smith describes the typical, semester-long experiential learning curriculum as multi-step: students meet with clients over Zoom, create promotional ideas and products, receive feedback and create a final presentation for the company — all while strengthening their professional communication skills.
“I most enjoyed the opportunity to approach this project creatively, even if it did seem stressful at times,” says Jesse Houser ’23, a management major from Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania, whose team worked with Ard’s Farm Market in nearby Lewisburg. “Because I was allowed to be creative and help a real-world business, I was more proud of my work at the end.”
Adding that students in her marketing course have found great success with experiential learning, Smith said they are building a client portfolio representing various industries, including the local farm market, a snowboard manufacturer, food and beverage companies, realty agencies, and tax, accounting and consulting firms. As part of their customer outreach and package innovation project for East End Coffee Co., of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, a team created a design-a-mug consumer game and biodegradable coffee bags.
Economics and finance double major Mohamed Djabri ’25, of Warminster, Pennsylvania, enjoyed gaining client experience with M&M Realty of Vero Beach, Florida. “It was great to interact with a person who wasn’t involved with the class and to solve problems using some of the things I learned,” Djabri says. “It was also fun to learn about the industry.”
Erik Anderson, an adjunct faculty member in business data science who’s taught Sigmund Weis School of
Business students for over five years, has incorporated experiential learning into his data collecting and modeling course. For the first two years, his classes completed the Teradata University challenge: a program where nonprofit companies give data sets to universities for students to analyze and give a presentation.
Anderson’s students have worked locally with SABER Shamokin, a community business organization that aims to improve the town’s economy and business growth. After poring through databases and tax forms, the class cross-referenced them for inaccuracies. Students also visited the town to confirm businesses were still in operation and conduct surveys by asking local residents what changes they would like to see. They created five-year plans for local businesses, identifying key areas for improvement within the business district.
“The stakes are also higher in fully immersive projects. The result isn’t just a letter grade, it’s also the satisfaction and respect of a real-life client,” Anderson adds. “I’ve seen more meaningful work from students because of this.”
One success came in spring 2022 when Anderson’s data collection and modeling class worked with Premier Inc., a Charlotte, North Carolina-based healthcare improvement company. After analyzing marketing data and Premier’s spending on medical supplies, the team presented a list of reliable supply companies. Anderson cited the students’ leadership, presentation skills and innovative ideas as reasons they stood out to the employers.
Brian Elsasser hired accounting major Gavin Perrin ’23, of Turbotville, Pennsylvania, as an intern following his work in Smith’s class with Wagner, Dreese, Elsasser & Associates, Selinsgrove, providing him with a valuable career network.
“They gave me a chance to see what options are available locally for me,” Perrin says. “I learned a lot of transferable skills I can take anywhere in the accounting field. The people I worked with were amazing and they continue to be great resources when I have questions about my future path.”
Just as students have gained much from the experiential learning program, clients’ needs have been fulfilled as well.
“The experience our firm has had with the marketing students at Susquehanna has been beyond our expectations,” Elsasser says. “They’ve taken real-world business marketing problems and applied their education and skill sets to create solutions that are easily applied to our problems, and we are already seeing positive results.”
To date, the business school has completed experiential learning projects with 34 clients across three countries: the United States, Panama and Greece. Within the states, they are based in Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. Many businesses and nonprofit companies are local to the Susquehanna River Valley area.
Companies in search of a business solution can complete the “Submit a Request Form” at susqu.edu/explearn.