Albion College Community Collaborative (AC3) Highlights Importance of Liberal Arts Education and High-Impact Learning Opportunities

Albion College’s unique educational learning laboratory serves local community-based, regional and national partner organizations.

June 28, 2022

A liberal arts education affords students the chance to have a college experience that is personal, meaningful, and impactful for themselves, their families, and their communities. It fosters the type of environment in which students learn in the classroom and on the ground, working with professionals in a variety of fields through experiential learning opportunities that act to build upon their knowledge and provide them with real-life experiences.

Such is the basis for Albion College’s Community Collaborative (AC3), a unique educational learning laboratory that serves local community-based, regional, and national partner organizations, from nonprofit agencies to government offices to small enterprises.

A few weeks ago, AC3, which officially launched last spring, opened in the renovated historic building at 207 S. Superior St. in downtown Albion with a joint logistics presentation between AC3 and defense consulting firm Black&Rossi, one of its first national clients with close ties to the College. The presentation demonstrated how AC3 is meant to function for students, faculty, and clients and is changing the landscape of liberal arts college education.

“AC3 harnesses innovation in education through the power and strength of business and community partnerships as we take a liberal arts college education to the next level,” said Dr. Vicki Baker, faculty director of AC3 and professor of economics and management. “Our experiential learning lab is the quintessential liberal arts college learning experience in which interdisciplinary teams of students come together to create solutions that don’t yet exist to tackle real-world problems.”

Through AC3, students worked closely with members of the Black&Rossi team to develop research on critical defense supplies impacted by supply chain disruptions and novel methods for providing logistics and operations support to theoretical military units carrying out missions in challenging distributed environments. The team’s research drew on the fields of history, economics, political science, mathematics, and more to combine diverse data and concepts to produce valuable insights. This research resulted in several case studies on critical supplies with at-risk and limited manufacturing sources, innovative logistics support practices in extreme environments, and an optimization model for forward positioning of supplies.

Colonel Bill Black, ’82

The founder and CEO of Black&Rossi, Colonel Bill Black, ’82, USMCR (Ret.), said, “Black&Rossi is so pleased to have partnered with AC3 and the ‘Harvard of the Midwest,’ Albion College, in this important work.”

Black&Rossi is a solutions aggregator that focuses on linking technology and defense. A team comprised of professionals with extensive experience in logistics, asset lifecycle management, transportation, and supply chain operations in the public and private sectors.

“Black&Rossi was looking for a way to think outside of the box on this project and decided engaging college students might be a good way to achieve that,” said Ethan Sutton, ’17, senior analyst with the Texas-based firm.

Ethan Sutton, ’17

“That the Albion College Community Collaborative (AC3) was starting up as we contacted the College was fortunate. It has been a pleasure working with the student teams over the past year. We knew we wanted to partner with Albion College but didn’t know it was possible,” Sutton continued.

“With very little prior knowledge of the subject, those exceptional students explored the subject in-depth,” said Black&Rossi subject matter expert and member of the joint team, Master Gunnery Sergeant Robert W. Appleton, USMCR (Ret.). “Unburdened by preconceived notions, these bright young people discovered unique insights and developed creative recommendations.”

Appleton went on to say that it is clear that Albion College attracts the best and brightest from around the world. “Three of the original team of eight were international students,” Appleton noted. “This is a testament to the worldwide reputation and extraordinary faculty at Albion. The report the students produced demonstrates the value of the high-quality liberal arts education they are receiving at Albion.”

For this capstone presentation and opening AC3 event, a panel of recognized experts in the field of national defense were assembled to assess the outputs of the Albion College and Black&Rossi joint team. Included on the panel were Representative Lieutenant General Jack Bergman, USMC (Ret.), who represents the 1st Congressional District of Michigan in Congress, and Dr. Robert Lusardi, a retired defense civil servant and defense expert in industrial base challenges.

“The importance of all colleges and universities, especially those that focus on the liberal arts like Albion College, is to expose their students to the value of collaborative efforts outside of the normal academic curriculum,” said Rep. Bergman. “These synergies spur industry and higher education innovation, leading to new and creative solutions for old problems. The students at Albion are free thinkers and are proof positive that America’s greatness depends on people working together to solve complex problems. I can’t wait to see what they do next!”

“Working with Black&Rossi was an incredible experience that brought innovative thinking to the challenges presented,” said David Asmar, a junior from Warren, Michigan, studying economics and management. “I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work with such an amazing team.”

AC3 as a whole and its recent partnership with Black&Rossi highlight the importance of a liberal arts college education and the high-impact learning opportunities we are known for at Albion College. “This partnership allows students to address real-world problems while giving the sponsors another set of eyes to view their problems from multiple perspectives,” said Dr. Lusardi.

“We are proud of AC3 and its programs at Albion College,” said Interim President Joe Calvaruso, ’78. “When students can practice what they learned in the classroom yesterday, it exemplifies the very heart of our mission and what differentiates Albion College from every other small, private liberal arts college. Here, we teach you today what you will need to be successful tomorrow — and we’ll stand beside you all the way.”

AC3 is modeled after the consulting industry, Baker said. Students can engage along a leadership pipeline moving from junior consultant to senior consultant and team leader as they hone their consulting skills and business acumen while refining their professional skills such as networking, communication, and critical thinking. Past and current clients have included the Office of Marketing and Communication, the Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Center for Student Success and Academic Achievement, Walk the Beat, and the Albion Economic Development Center.

The AC3 experience brings together those students from across campus and disciplines interested in organizational challenges and supporting community organizations who want to offer creative solutions. By supporting a model that aligns more closely with the real world, students engage in the learning lab year-round, with client projects spanning semesters. The students gain consulting experience, team engagement, innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication. As AC3 projects progress, students gain more and more responsibility for the project outcome, providing them with both experience and stakes in the project itself.

“I am excited that during this time in our College’s history that we can demonstrate how Albion can build college-community efforts to support new business activities,” said Larry Schook, ’72, a member of the Albion College Board of Trustees.

AC3 is funded, in part, by a $265,000 grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations’ grant is its third to the College since 2000. The Foundations are supported by trusts established by Arthur Vining Davis, a Florida industrialist-turned-land developer and philanthropist. He led the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) in the first half of the 20th century. Today, the Foundations support “colleges and universities that prioritize undergraduate education and emphasize the liberal arts” through its longstanding Private Higher Education grant program. One of the Private Higher Education program’s current focuses, Purpose-Oriented Education, seeks initiatives that “develop courses or curricula that provide opportunities for students to discover and develop a sense of purpose concerning their education, their eventual occupations, and their roles as citizens.”

“The grant helped us create the heart of the experiential learning lab,” Baker said. “It included resources for students to take ownership of their dedicated space and immerse themselves in a professional work setting. A donor-supported renovation of the building’s interior added state-of-the-art technology.”

And, by all accounts, it is working.

One Albion College senior said the experience at AC3 could not be replicated elsewhere, especially at this particular time as the economy continues to face challenges as it emerges from the worldwide pandemic.

“This unique experience opened my eyes to some of the growing complexities of global supply chain issues,” said Robert Mazza, a senior from Canton, Michigan, studying finance. “It was a privilege to collaborate with such a talented team.”