As University of Delaware senior Sal Klosiewicz closed in on his final year of classes, his academic advisor recommended a course that promised hands-on experience and the opportunity to work with a small business.
That’s how the marketing major found himself doing a quick dive of poultry mortality and analyzing the scalability of a company that sells collection units to chicken farmers as a green alternative.
“It was fun because we had a really good team,” said Klosiewicz, who took an Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management class taught by adjunct faculty member Margo Reign last fall. “You don’t realize how much you know until you apply it.”
Application of skills and the transition from student to working graduate is why Reign, also a business analyst at the Small Business Development Center, and other UD professionals tout experiential learning projects as a critical gateway to life after graduation.
The University of Delaware has required all undergraduate students to take at least three credits of discovery-based or experiential learning in fulfillment of their degrees since 2005.
Reign’s small business management class already offered a nuts-and-bolts look at the inner workings of small business — from identifying target markets to building an operations and marketing plan, and hiring and managing employees. But classroom knowledge needs to be tested, said Reign.
“I think for the students it’s valuable because it’s one of the classes you can’t go to library and look up the answer,” explained Reign, who has paired students with area small businesses for 20 years. “It requires rolling up your shirt sleeves and figuring it out. There’s no simple answer to anything once you’re in
the real world.”
For their part, businesses that participate in the projects must have a specific and definable request. Some companies pay a nominal fee, depending on the project.
Klosiewicz and his four-member team worked with Victor Clark, co-owner and vice president for legal and government affairs at Greener Solutions, a Millsboro-based company that markets collection units for routine poultry mortality.
The collection units, or freezers, are a foil to composting and bit burials, marketed as an environmentally friendly alternative.
Clark and co-founder Terry Baker launched Greener Solutions in 2012, and market to growers, breeders and laying operations throughout the Delmarva peninsula, according to the company’s website.
But in-depth market research to scale a company takes time, so Clark contacted Reign about marketing and research project led by her students.
“Our bandwidth is limited,” said Clark. “So to have someone to provide some resources in exchange for getting hands-on experience, that seemed good for us.”
Klosiewicz said he and his teammates conducted extensive research on the industry and its history, met regularly with Clark and leaned on Reign’s guidance. “We looked where we think it’s changing and where challenges might be,” he said.
Eventually, the group recommended a leasing option for farmers to try the collection units before buying.
“It was a fresh set of eyes and hands,” said Clark, who added that he and his partner are considering implementing the students’ suggestions. “And they did a lot of research on the industry on how we could expand the scope.”
Erwin Saniga, Dana J. Johnson professor of information technology at Lerner, teaches operations management students. He developed an experiential learning program in 1984 after talking with industry professionals about the skills deficits of graduates.
“They said don’t know how to take charge, do something, and communicate the results,” said Saniga, of his findings. “They want people that have the ability to decide what’s important and do it to make the organization better off.”
Saniga said he took a page from tried-and-true consulting programs, and paired students with nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies and organizations to solve problems and improve business systems.
Over the years, Saniga said, his students have talked worked on myriad operations problems, and have been able to pinpoint and refine variables that impact the quality of the product and optimization of the operations.
Recently, one project group worked with a local hospital to address scheduling issues in its emergency room.
While the physician in charge of scheduling thought he had pinpointed the ER’s busiest times, Saniga’s students analyzed three years of data that suggested the physician’s findings were off base.
“So we built a big forecasting model to schedule doctors and nurses,” said Saniga, who added that the experiential learning projects are not “make work” projects for his students. “The students get this great learning experience so they’re ready to go into the job and make a difference immediately. They are making the organization better.”
Kris and Melinda Nonnenmacher, owners of Delaware-based Galleyware Company, paired with a group of five UD business students last year to update their website. The company is an online retailer that sells everything from items for galleys in yachts to gift items.
The Nonnenmachers met weekly with their team, who analyzed their existing website then researched the marketplace for a better platform to feature the company’s more than 2,500 products. Then they built the framework.
“At the end of the project we took them out to a dinner and asked if we could keep in contact with them to plot their careers,” said Kris. “We got the best team by far. On a weekly basis, it was a joy to be with them.”
As for Klosiewicz, he said he hopes to pursue a job in the pharmaceutical industry after graduation in December, and he thinks he’ll be ready.
“The business acumen that you develop over the years is really transferable, because I never in a million years thought I would be touring a chicken farm and doing that research,” said Klosiewicz. “You realize that your education has prepared you for a wide range of things, and this project brought that to the forefront.”