Students Build Crucial Project Management Skills Through New Albion College Community Collaborative

Guided by Dr. Vicki Baker, professor of economics and management, and soon to be situated downtown, students in AC3 connect with and advise local clients, build and refine strategies ranging from operations to marketing, and gain valuable experience and professional preparation.

March 12, 2021

By Chuck Carlson

Albion College students in the Ludington Center in downtown Albion

Students in the Albion College Community Collaborative discuss a project during a recent meeting in the downtown Ludington Center.

Zac Besant, ’22, knows a little about running a business.

In his spare time, he’s a woodworker who runs Besant Wood Designs literally out of the family garage at his home in Flushing, Mich. Among his creations are handmade cornhole boards, the ubiquitous bean-bag-toss game that can be found at nearly every family outing in the Midwest—and elsewhere.

“I’ve shipped them to California, New York, even Puerto Rico,” he said. “I’ve really jumped on that opportunity.”

Besant is a biology major and a member of the Lisa and James Wilson Institute for Medicine. He is also minoring in management, and now that he knows a little about running a business, his goal is to learn a lot more about it.

That’s why he’s part of a new class this spring that may well blossom into something far-reaching for students seeking not only careers in business but in communications, management and more.

The initiative is called the Albion College Community Collaborative, or AC3, and is coordinated by Dr. Vicki Baker, professor of economics and management. The class of 19 meets four times a week, including every Friday when students/teams present and share their progress on building processes and templates for the client work they will do later.

“It’s literally like a job,” Besant said. “It’s like running a business and that’s what I like about it. I first heard about this from Vicki and I reached out to ask her if she knew of any support outside the school for small business. She told me about this class and I was hooked right away.”

Initial Steps Into Consulting

Dr. Vicki Baker (left) and an Albion College student

Dr. Vicki Baker, professor of economics and management, speaks with a student in her Robinson Hall office.

For Baker, who took on the new assignment at the suggestion of President Mathew Johnson, it’s another opportunity to help students form a plan for the future in a practical, meaningful way.

“It’s about solving real-world problems,” said Baker, who works with the class to form a semester-long consulting project. “Our students are all about experiential learning, and any opportunity they have for hands-on learning they’re all for it. I describe this as an experiential learning lab.”

But it’s more than a one-semester introduction into the world of project management. The idea is to recruit students, mostly sophomores and juniors with an interest in tackling organizational challenges and supporting community organizations. Baker said this will require students from across campus, representing different majors and career interests, to offer creative solutions to community clients. They will gain consulting experience, engage in teams, problem solve, and innovation.

“The class is a lot of consulting and that’s what I don’t know,” Besant said. “It’s communication, and communication in the consulting world is really important.”

Baker said that starts by setting up a management and consultation infrastructure, eventually identifying a business client to advise and help through the management process, and giving an escalating degree of responsibility to the students as the project progresses.

“It’s a deep dive into the leadership pathway,” said Baker, adding that AC3 will eventually move into its own physical space in the former bank building on South Superior Street in downtown Albion. “It’s a chance to develop project management skills, progressive pipeline skills, driving that client experience.”

Three clients have already been identified to help students learn the basics, and all have ties to the College: the College’s Office of Marketing and Communications in which students will help develop a brand/messaging for the new program; the new Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Center for Student Success and Academic Achievement, and the popular Walk the Beat musical series coordinated by Dr. Cliff Harris, professor of chemistry.

“These are solid projects with clients who have expectations,” said Baker, who expects to see the list of community clients, especially in the nonprofit arena, grow as AC3 becomes more well known.

Directly Transferable Outcomes

For Emily Rancour, ’21, an E&M major with an emphasis in human resources and a member of the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, this is an ideal opportunity to expand her business experience.

“You identify client problems, come up with solutions to long-term problems, and then you put them into practice and make adjustments and recommendations,” she said. “The clients can leave with real long-term solutions.”

She agrees with Besant that AC3 serves as more of a preparation for what awaits in the professional sphere after graduation.

“It’s another great experience to have,” said Rancour, who will start her first job out of college in June as a staff recruiter at TEKsystems, near her home in Schaumburg, Ill. “It’s an experiential learning class, and those are the type of classes that give you the skills that set you apart when you go and start your career.”

Baker sees AC3 as taking a long-term and significant role in helping students identify and tackle real-world challenges presented by nonprofits, businesses and government agencies.

“It’s about being able to engage in diagnosing situations, thinking creatively, having to dig in and do research, and taking ideas and turning them into action,” Baker said. “It’s about quantitative and qualitative skills like leadership and professionalism. There’s so much that comes from this that’s transferable.”