Business, Management, and Community Engagement Blend for a Rewarding Experience
Nicholas A. Hays
When Nick Hays began an assistant professorship in the Broad College of Business during Fall 2014, he brought not only academic qualifications, but years of private sector job know-how.
From Hays' perspective, community-engaged learning is a vital component of the student experience. The year following his arrival at MSU, he incorporated a community engagement project into a capstone course for seniors majoring in management. His intent was to include hands-on involvement for his students that illustrated the sometimes stark differences between "knowing that" and "knowing how."
The community engagement experience is something that had a significant impact on Dr. Hays more than 20 years ago. While at the University of Pennsylvania, he was an undergrad student involved in a coursework-and-community learning project in Philadelphia. "It was very memorable. You learn that things don't go as planned. You learn that you have to be flexible. You have to fix problems as they arise, or work around them," said Hays.
After college, Hays entered the corporate world. He worked as a purchasing analyst, a business consultant, and a researcher, developing skills in management and organizational processes, growth strategies, product development and implementation, and industry research.
During those years Hays traveled extensively and worked long hours. He enjoyed what he was doing, but along the way discovered that he preferred research and teaching. His academic interests led him to pursue a doctorate in organizational behavior. "My background gave me the ability to discern theoretical concepts from experiences based on practice," said Hays.
Believing that students would learn more and gain invaluable understanding from a real-world project outside the classroom, Hays began researching ways to design the capstone course. Still familiarizing himself with MSU, he went online to explore how to connect with external partners who would work with his students. Hays reached out to the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE) and met with Christie Schichtel, an academic specialist who supports faculty in developing service-learning courses through tools, trainings, and consultations.
Service-Learning: Resources for Faculty
The Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE) supports faculty in creating meaningful service-learning opportunities. Resources are available for enhancing a new or existing course, and might include:
- Facilitating community partnerships
- Faculty development workshops
- Service-Learning Toolkit
- Student service-learning orientations
- Student enrollment database
- Transportation (e.g. free CATA tokens)
- Consultations on service-learning course development
- Tools of Engagement, a web-based curriculum on community-engaged learning for undergraduate students
Learn more: servicelearning.msu.edu/faculty
Schichtel works with faculty, students, and community partners toward the goal of creating meaningful service-learning opportunities that provide beneficial experiences for everyone involved. When successful:
- Faculty are able to engage students with different learning styles, promote active learning, and provide opportunities for students to meet learning goals.
- Students increase their understanding of course material and apply what they learn in the classroom to the situations, expectations, and demands of professional work environments.
- Community partners gain energy and assistance to broaden their service delivery, along with the opportunity to participate in the teaching and learning process and leverage MSU resources.
"Dr. Hays worked with us on creating a coffee hour where we invited organizations and introduced the relationship-building possibilities. We introduced the capstone course, shared the syllabus, and discussed course objectives. If the organizations thought it might be a good fit, we invited them to submit projects. It was, basically, a call for proposals," said Schichtel.
One of the first community partners to explore a collaboration was Austin Ashley, the former executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) in Lansing, and currently an account executive at the branding agency M3 Group. OTCA's mission is to facilitate continued growth, economic development, and vibrancy in the Capital City's Old Town district. The organization embraces community empowerment, culture, and creativity.
"As a grassroots organization that relies on volunteers to operate, the OTCA needs to constantly maintain a pipeline of new volunteers, and work to maintain current volunteers. Through research, interviews, and data analysis, the students created a plan they presented to the board of directors for consideration at the end of the semester," said Ashley.
Ashley is an MSU alumnus who participated in a community learning class while on campus. "In my TE 250 class we examined how bias and privilege affect the learning process. The class used service-learning to take concepts learned in the classroom and make them tangible in real world applications. While I didn't stay an education major, I did retain knowledge that I can apply in my daily life," he said.
"Working in something every day, you become almost too familiar with your projects. Bringing in students allows for outside perspectives that we can learn from. For a grassroots organization, the more diversity in perspectives, the better," said Ashley.
According to Hays, the community learning model is a more powerful experience for students. "Passive learning is so different. For instance, management conflicts and their resolutions sound so straightforward in a conceptual framework. But applied to actual employees, volunteers, customers, vendors, managers, etc. it is much more difficult," said Hays.
The students were not the only beneficiaries of the capstone course.
"They learned a tremendous amount, but so did I," said Hays.
The experience also strengthened Hays's own observations about planning and capacity building. He points to five valuable components for incorporating community engagement into a course:
- Establish one point of contact with community partners—and that contact person is the one responsible for directing students and interacting with students.
- Make a detailed plan that includes objectives, specific tasks, deadlines, and individual responsibilities.
- Conduct training for students that includes the basics of professionalism.
- Follow up by scheduling regular check-ins and progress reporting.
- Create accountability, and include feedback from the community partner. It is important that everyone has the opportunity to evaluate the project.
Hays also credits Schichtel and the Service-Learning Toolkit, which CSLCE developed as a guide for MSU faculty and instructors.
"The toolkit is an excellent resource for illustrating how faculty can go about designing a meaningful engagement experience, including everything from developing a partnership to evaluating that collaboration from the faculty, student, and partner viewpoints. In addition, we are happy to meet with faculty and work with them to develop a plan that is suitable to their circumstances," said Schichtel.
Service-learning pedagogy focuses on critical, reflective thinking to develop students' academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community. MSU faculty interested in learning more can contact the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, or check out the online Service-Learning Toolkit.