So you’re getting ready to partner with a university for an experiential learning project. We hope you’re getting excited! Unlike many internships and part-time jobs for students, an experiential learning engagement should be regarded primarily as a learning experience, rather than employment, since they’re designed to benefit the students who are using this as an opportunity to gain real-world exposure to different business models. In most cases, the lessons that students learn through these experiences will stay with them for the rest of their academic and professional careers. If managed correctly, these types of hands-on collaborative learning engagements with schools and their students can yield very exciting and valuable outcomes for you and your business.
Pulling off a learning engagement successfully requires some time management and careful allocation of company resources. Not sure where to begin? We’ve published this article in addition to the complimentary presentation below to guide you through the best way to prepare for an experiential learning engagement in order to maximize the outcomes for all parties.
BEFORE THE ENGAGEMENT
1. Finalize the Project Scope & Schedule
Before diving into the project, students should know exactly what is expected of them. It’s important to design the scope so that it’s research-oriented and has a clear set of deliverables. Make sure the projects don’t involve key personnel or operations from your company unless you’re prepared to provide deeper access and more supervision. You should also finalize the engagement schedule as early as possible, which should include any key meetings and deliverables.
2. Manage Stakeholder Expectations
Ensure to check with managers and other stakeholders that might need to be involved with the project so that they know what to expect in advance. You may wish to hold a brief meeting or send out a special company-wide email with an overview of the learning engagement. If students are planning to be on-site at all, make sure folks in your office are aware and encourage them to stop by and say hello!
3. Organize Information in Advance
Organize as much information as you can in advance of the project launch. You might choose to include company brochures, links to special reports and materials on your website, a simplified version of your business plan, videos with product demos, financial models, and other downloads that might be helpful in getting the students and their faculty up-to-speed. Deliver these materials to the students as early as possible so they can familiarize themselves with your business model, product, industry, and project scope.
4. Prepare Legal Paperwork
Make sure all legal paperwork has been finalized and is ready for execution as soon as the students start gaining access to materials. For example, you may require that students sign our Rules of Engagement document before starting any work, which includes an NDA and IP Assignment. In some cases, companies choose to customize our templated document and/or use their own documents. Please keep in mind that any changes made might require approval by university counsel, which can take a few weeks.
KICKING OFF THE ENGAGEMENT
5. Send a Welcome Email
Send a warm welcome email to the students and faculty. Provide any details about how you expect to launch the engagement, including when the kickoff will take place, whether the meeting will be local or virtual, and where students can find more information to prepare in advance.
6. Host the Kickoff Meeting
The engagement should be fun and exciting for everyone. Use the kickoff meeting to set the tone for the engagement. Acknowledge that this project is high-stakes and for a “real-world” company, which means there are real consequences. You should also emphasize that students don’t need to be intimidated and that you are available to guide them along the way. The kickoff meeting should be 45 minutes to 1 hour and include background on you, the company, and the project. Feel free to use this sample agenda as a guide.
RUNNING THE ENGAGEMENT
7. Stick to the Scope
Once the scope is finalized, please use it as a guide for the engagement. Students are often graded based on the outcomes that were set from the get-go. Moving the goalposts can be discouraging for students and faculty, and it may ultimately result in poorer outcomes for you and your business. We try to emphasize the importance of designing the scope from the very beginning and provide plenty of time to add more insight or detail before the kickoff meeting. However, once the scope and engagement schedule are finalized and approved by the students and faculty, try and stick to the project plan so everyone is on the same page about the goals on the go-forward.
8. Provide Feedback
Throughout the engagement, it’s important to provide students with feedback on communication, collaboration, teamwork, tactics, outcomes, and deliverables. Remember that the faculty member involved with the engagement will be doing the same thing, and that students will find it helpful to hear feedback from both the academic and professional perspective.
9. Remain Accessible, Stay Engaged
Undertaking an experiential learning engagement is a manageable, but significant commitment. We expect that if you take on these engagements, you’ve allotted the time to manage it. Make sure to be available to your students and/or faculty liaison for at least one hour per week when the engagement is running. Please be timely with information requests, since a student project can hinge on one crucial piece of information they’re expecting to receive from you. Remember this may be the first time students and/or faculty have played with “live ammunition,” so answer questions and be patient. Since this is a learning experience, things that come easy to new hires and folks on your team might not come as easy to the students and faculty.
CONCLUDING THE ENGAGEMENT
10. Grade Fairly
While the bulk of the grading will be done by the faculty member, you will likely be asked to be a part of the grading process for students. Please do this in a fair and timely manner. Qualitative feedback is crucial for professional development. Students should be graded more on their effort, teamwork, and professionalism than the quality of their ultimate deliverable. If you are ever unsure of the criteria for grading, reach out to the faculty member for clarification.
11. Keep in Touch
These students usually leave engagements on a high, inspired by you, your company, and your team. Keep in touch with them, and they should keep in touch with you, as friends, mentors, and professional references. Encourage them to share their experience working with you on their LinkedIn and during job interviews. Guide them on what’s appropriate to share publicly. You may also want to consider helping them navigate through open job requisitions at your company if you really liked their performance.
Remember that you and your team were once students and that you have so much to offer as mentors. Pay it forward. The students that are involved with your experiential learning projects today might be your work colleagues or biggest brand enthusiasts tomorrow.
If you have any questions or want to learn more about how CapSource can help you prepare for an experiential learning engagement, please feel free to email [email protected] or call us via 1 (631) 729-0745.