Consulting Course Gives Students Real Client Experience

Professor Robert Rubin’s MGT 584: Organizational Consulting Skills course not only provides graduate students the unique opportunity to develop valuable consulting skills, it also gives them the chance to get involved with the community by working with real nonprofit organizations.

The course focuses on developing knowledge and skills to effectively engage in professional organizational consultation. These skills include client contracting, proposal writing, problem diagnosis, data collection and analysis, client readiness and other consultation activities.

“My overarching goal for the class is for students to understand what it means to be truly helpful,” Rubin says. “Through the experience, students learn that consulting is about truly understanding client needs and helping create energy within their client organizations to motivate change.”

For the final project in the course, teams of students complete a service-learning consultation with a nonprofit that has articulated its challenges. Based on the organization’s goals, the student teams develop a proposal that addresses these needs.

“We partner with nonprofits not only because it is part of the Vincentian mission, but also so students quickly see how impactful their business skills are within the non-profit arena,” Rubin says. “Our community partners are often highly under resourced and heavily reliant on volunteers. Students bring their business capabilities to help these already strong nonprofits become even stronger.”

Ashley Byrd, an MBA candidate, took MGT 584 to strengthen her interviewing and analysis skills, but found that it also gave her a valuable team-building experience and project management skills. Byrd and her team partnered with the Howard Area Community Center (HACC), a social service agency that provides free education, employment and health assistance programs for residents in and around Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.

Learn more about DePaul's MBA Program

“Howard Area Community Center gave our group the opportunity to gain real-world consulting experience, while giving back to the community,” Byrd says. “HACC never treated us simply as students, but were receptive to our feedback and analysis based on our previous work experience and the education we gained through class sessions.”

Maxine Bailey, partnership coordinator at HACC, has worked with DePaul in the past to select interns for tutoring and teaching English as a second language. The experience was so beneficial to HACC’s community that they reached out to DePaul for a consulting project, too. HACC asked the four-member DePaul business student team working with the organization to address database management concerns spurred by the size and scope of its program offerings. HACC also sought insights about budgetary concerns and the lack of diversification and stability in its funding sources.

“We found the four MBA students to be an absolute delight to work with,” Bailey says. “They were thoughtful, asked all of the right questions, and quickly learned about our organization. At times, it almost felt like they were a part of the HACC staff, but with the advantage of an outsider’s perspective on our particular issues.”

In order to analyze the stated issues, the DePaul students accessed key personnel and past and current documentation, such as marketing campaigns and financial reports, that would aid in developing strategy recommendations for HACC. The students interviewed HACC’s chief executive officer and finance director, as well as the organization’s development, partnerships (Bailey) and communications coordinators. The team also sent out a staff survey to conduct an in-depth analysis of HACC employees’ views.

“The team exceeded our expectations,” continues Bailey. “The report they produced was top-notch and truly reflective of a nuanced understanding of our organizational challenges and needs. Their recommendations, which were practical and achievable, will be used by the HACC Development staff and the Fund Development Committee of our board to chart our course moving forward in diversifying and expanding our funding base.”

MGT 584 is a popular class for business students at DePaul and is offered regularly. The 26 students enrolled in the winter quarter course partnered with seven local nonprofit organizations. Each group presented their final consulting project in front of their non-profit partners on the final day of class.

“I’m always impressed with the level and quality of the students work,” Rubin says. “It’s wonderful to see their confidence increase over the quarter and it really shines through in the end.” ​​