San Diego Business Journal Education: Senior Biz Students Get Credit in
Senior Experience Course

When Temecula-based FFF Enterprises Inc. sought assistance in finding new business ventures in the vaccine industry, they called on consultants from California State University San Marcos.

The San Diego Children's Museum also used CSU San Marcos consultants to create an interactive Web site, as did the Rancho Bernardo Inn to pump new life in its Preferred Guest Program.

Since 1993, the consultants have been used by companies including Cox Communications, Qualcomm Inc., 24-Hour Fitness, and Solar Turbines for various projects.

The consultants are not a part of the university's faculty or staff and receive no fee for their services. They are senior business students fulfilling credits in the Senior Experience course at the university.

"This program helps students with the transition from the classroom to the real world by putting them in situations that require original problem-solving," said Alan Omens, director of the Senior Experience program. "It challenges them to think and work independently."

The Senior Experience is a 16-week course that provides an on-the-job opportunity for graduating students in the College of Business Administration. The students consult with area organizations and companies to tackle business and organizational problems.

Unlike an internship, students are not directly managed by the companies for which they work and don't have a specific work schedule.

Collaboration

"This is a collaboration, consulting relationship where the students are working with companies to jointly define projects and define their approach to the projects," Omens said. "That way when they come up with a solution they're more likely to have a useful solution because the approach was designed by the students and the company."

The nature of the projects varies depending on the needs expressed by the company. A student team might be asked to diagnose the causes of an accounting problem or an information systems problem, then evaluate the possible solutions.

On the other hand, a team might be asked to conduct a feasibility study for producing a new product, entering a new market, building a new facility or implementing new technology.

That was the case for Tamara Cummings, John McKay, Melanie Prince and Jeremy Young. They were asked to find new business opportunities for FFF Enterprises, a distributor of pharmaceutical products.

Creative Challenges

The team focused on the company's core competencies , industry data and primary research to identify opportunities in an industry unfamiliar to most of them.

"The project really enabled us to be creative and challenge ourselves and what we've learned in the four years in the school of business," Cummings said. "We had to be more than students for this project. We had to be professionals, we had to be good diplomats and had to learn to interact with different audiences."

The teams, usually made of four students, get a feel for how things work in the real world from the very start of the course. In order to win a project, the team has to draft a proposal and compete for the project, similar to the way companies respond to a Request for Proposals to win projects.

Students receive eight units of credit during the program and are expected to spend from 10 to 15 hours working on the project outside of class each week.

During the last semester, student teams worked on projects for 27 companies.

Omens said the program faces a problem that they don't mind having; there are more requests from companies than there are teams to meet them.

"Companies know how Omens said the program faces a problem that they don't mind having; there are more requests from companies than there are teams to meet them.