Real-World Consulting Projects Prepare Students for Careers

Anissa Patterson (seated fifth on the left) and DePaul sports business classmates review fan letters as part of a customer service consulting project for the Chicago Cubs baseball organization. (Photo by Kathy Hillegonds)

Anissa Patterson (seated fifth on the left) and DePaul sports business classmates review fan letters as part of a customer service consulting project for the Chicago Cubs baseball organization. | Photo by Kathy Hillegonds

Anissa Patterson (BUS ’21) took her first sports management class at the Driehaus College of Business three summers ago. At the time, Patterson was earning a business administration degree and unsure of what field she wanted to pursue, but she had always been an avid sports fan. So when she learned about a business class that would allow her to work directly with the Chicago Cubs organization, she signed up immediately.

Anissa Patterson (BUS ’21)

Anissa Patterson (BUS ’21) | Photo by Kathy Hillegonds

During the eight-week class, Patterson gained a firsthand look at what it would mean to work as a consultant who provides expertise for a specific problem. Students in the undergraduate course, taught by Andy Clark, director of DePaul’s sports business program, partnered with the Chicago Cubs Service Excellence Program and became “secret shoppers” who tested the quality of all aspects of the professional baseball team’s customer service. The class showed Patterson not only what it would be like to work in the sports industry, but also how to identify and solve problems for organizations.

“It was really nice to be treated like a professional during my experiential learning classes with Professor Clark,” Patterson says. “It wasn’t just making a presentation in class—you’re presenting to real execs who work in the industry. That was a great experience to have and to put on a résumé, and it helped me get a job.”

Today, Patterson works as the client services coordinator in partnerships for the Chicago Wolves, a professional ice hockey team playing in the American Hockey League. She credits her classes not only for helping her gain marketable skills and experience but also for helping her learn how to communicate with multiple stakeholders who have different perspectives, a skill that consultants must utilize when taking on projects.

“When you are consulting with someone,” she says, “you have to make sure you’re communicating on a level that everyone understands.”

Growing Demand for Consulting Skills

Marketing Consulting Club faculty advisor James Mourey (second from left) with student members Timothy Tran, Julia Adams and Faith Ramos. (Photo by Kathy Hillegonds)

Marketing Consulting Club faculty advisor James Mourey (second from left) with student members Timothy Tran, Julia Adams and Faith Ramos. | Photo by Kathy Hillegonds

Since 2012, the number of management consultants working in the United States has continued to increase every year. According to Statista, which specializes in market and consumer data, 734,000 consultants worked in the U.S. in 2020. Although consultants can provide a range of expertise, graduates with business degrees offer a blend of teamwork skills and business acumen that employers often seek. According to a Graduate Management Admission Council survey, 95% of consulting sector recruiters said they expected to hire MBA graduates in 2021.

Given this demand, the Driehaus College of Business is actively preparing students to enter the workforce poised for consulting careers or to use consulting skills to increase their success within organizations. A recent college survey found that 76% of the faculty incorporate consulting, case studies and other real-world projects into classwork.

Associate Professor of Marketing James Mourey serves as faculty advisor of the student DePaul Marketing Consulting Club, which has taken on consulting projects for companies ranging from alumni-owned startups to national companies, such as Philz Coffee. He also teaches a marketing capstone course that challenges student teams to propose solutions to organizational problems outlined in business cases for well-known companies and brands.

Exposure to real-world client work through classroom and student organizations “transitions our students from passive students to active, prepared practitioners of our discipline,” Mourey says.

Mourey, who worked as a consultant in Los Angeles before completing his doctorate, says he believes business students bring a different, holistic perspective as a function of their education and training.

“Importantly, though, having experience lends credibility that is important for consultants,” he says. “Formal education is one thing, but getting your hands dirty in your discipline exposes you to myriad issues, challenges and problems people in your field face, as well as potential solutions that work or don’t work, all of which makes you an informed resource in a consulting role.”

Solving Human Resources Challenges

Rachel Collins (MBA ’21) worked on a student consulting project for United Airlines’ human resources division.

Rachel Collins (MBA ’21) worked on a student consulting project for United Airlines’ human resources division.

For Rachel Collins (MBA ’21), gaining hands-on experience meant learning more about the human resources industry through a consulting lens. For several years Collins worked in a variety of events and sales roles and eventually found her passion for working with people in human resources. She came to DePaul after hearing about the human resources graduate program and decided to pursue an MBA.

To gain more real-world experience, Collins decided to enroll in a consulting skills course, taught by Associate Professor Jaclyn Jensen, which allows students to work on quarter-long projects with real clients. In winter 2021, Collins worked with four other students to help United Airlines develop a hiring and retention framework for the Chicago-based airline’s human resources division. Collins worked closely with United Airlines HR professionals to identify their needs and then interviewed several of the organization’s employees. At the end of the class, Collins and her team presented their findings to United Airlines’ chief learning officer.

The project, although challenging at times, helped her become more comfortable with leading interviews and problem-solving. “Sometimes in consulting, the company you’re helping thinks they know what the issue is but in reality there may be a lot of underlying issues,” says Collins, who now works in talent acquisition for a Chicago-based trading firm. “I think that kind of came up in this project, and that was a big challenge for us. It made us learn to be flexible and be willing to [initially] fail. But sometimes that’s okay because it means you’re getting closer and closer to the end result.”

Consulting Expertise “A Big Differentiator”

A class project inspired Matt Almeranti (BUS ’18), now a LinkedIn regional account manager, to become a sales professional. (Photo by Mike Nowak)

A class project inspired Matt Almeranti (BUS ’18), now a LinkedIn regional account manager, to become a sales professional. | Photo by Mike Nowak

As a graduate of DePaul’s Sales Leadership Program, Matt Almeranti (BUS ’18) had an opportunity to utilize consulting skills early in his career. Almeranti credits his experience in an analytical sales course for preparing him for his current role as regional account manager for global clients at LinkedIn.

The undergraduate course challenged students to address a business case scenario in which they were consultants tasked with persuading 3M corporation to buy Salesforce software. While the case was hypothetical, the students had to make a presentation to actual Salesforce employees who came to their class. Almeranti says his experience with the class was “singlehandedly the biggest differentiator I had coming out of college,” igniting his passion for sales and teaching him to apply consulting skills in his career.

Although his current role at LinkedIn is in sales, Almeranti says it’s important to be seen as a collaborator with expertise that clients can rely on. “When you are working at a company like LinkedIn where you’re so strongly positioned in the market, coming off as a consultant and a trusted advisor and a problem-solver is much, much more impactful than someone who is trying to jam product down someone’s throat the entire time,” he says.

As a consultant, “if you build trust, you can earn responsibility and really scale your career, whether that be for internal projects or externally with customers,” he says.

By Jaclyn Lansbery

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