Attracting Companies with Consultancies

How Bryant University embeds student consultancies throughout its curriculum to enrich education and strengthen bonds with corporate partners.
Attracting Companies with Consultancies

A student in Bryant's GSCM senior practicum presents her team's recommendations.


Organizations love student consultancy projects for good reasons—they allow companies both to develop the next generation of leaders and to have their biggest business problems solved by student teams. Likewise, business schools turn to student consultancies to deliver experiential learning to students—and, of course, to attract corporations to campus.

Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, has taken the power of the student consultancy to heart. By integrating consultancy projects at different stages of the curricula, the school has significantly increased corporate involvement on campus. Here are three examples:

IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All). Launched in 2013, IDEA is an immersive, three-day design thinking “boot camp” for all of the school’s 900 first-year students. Coordinated by the College of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences, the interdisciplinary event is part of Bryant’s 13-credit First-Year Gateway Experience, which includes introductory courses in business, leadership, writing, and literature. Students complete these courses in the fall before participating in IDEA just before the start of the spring term.

On the first day, students learn to apply skills in design thinking, such as observation, brainstorming, idea generation, and teamwork. Students then form five-person teams comprising both business and liberal arts majors, which each work on one of about 30 challenges. For past challenges, students have considered how malls can compete with online retailers and how libraries can reimagine themselves for the 21st century. Teams conduct field research and interviews off campus, before returning to disperse to breakout rooms for brainstorming and rapid prototyping. On the last day, student groups present their ideas at a trade show, where judges rate their concepts, recommendations, and thought processes.

IDEA attracts more than 150 business and community leaders from regional and national organizations. By volunteering their expertise as mentors and judges, says IDEA co-founder and Bryant Trustee Professor of Management Mike Roberto, these leaders help students learn “to fail forward.”

Psychology/Management 440: The Design Thinking Process. IDEA’s success inspired the creation of this interdisciplinary course where students apply similar design thinking skills. Launched in 2016 and taught by Roberto and associate professor of applied psychology Allison Butler, the course brings together business and psychology students who work together on challenges that reflect the complex human behaviors that come into play in business interactions.

Last fall, Fidelity Investments sponsored the class and provided the challenge, in which it asked teams to find ways to convince young people to save more for retirement. Fidelity executives attended class sessions every week to provide feedback to the students. This spring, the course challenge was provided by a U.S. healthcare company.

Global Supply Chain Management Practicum. The Global Supply Chain Management (GSCM) senior practicum has been in place eight years. After being selected for the course via an application process, students are assigned to team projects that best align with their interests, strengths, and career goals. Student teams work with companies on challenges related to logistics, inventory management, transportation, vendor contracts, data management, and analytics.

GSCM faculty collaborate with industry executives to define the challenges. Past projects have included one with FGX, the manufacturer of Foster Grant eyewear, which implemented a student-created algorithm to better manage inventory. More recently, warehousing company Barrett Distribution Centers has projected a US$322,000 return on investment when it acts on students’ recommendation to implement robotics in one of its facilities.

In 2016, GSCM team recommendations resulted in more than US$46 million in projected and actual savings for corporate partners, says marketing professor and course co-founder Chris Roethlein. The practicum not only provides students with hands-on experience, it strengthens the university’s bond with corporate partners who are diverse both in industry and geographic location, he says. As of spring 2017, more than 230 GSCM students had worked on 56 different capstone projects with 49 different companies.