MOORHEAD – Gone are the days when a student’s work was confined to the classroom.

This past semester at Minnesota State University Moorhead, seven business students served as consultants for two local companies. At North Dakota State University, two landscape architecture students designed an outdoor classroom for the Red River Zoo.

“People used to think of college as separate from the real world,” said Julie Sandland, an NDSU senior lecturer who taught the spring Writing in the Design Professions course.

Today, that’s no longer the case. More majors require internships, and more classes, such as Sandland’s, resemble internships.

“Getting them out into industry, out of the classroom, working with clients, I think is good for them in a lot of ways,” Sandland said. “I was telling students, ‘This can go on your resume, this can be in your portfolio.’ It’s not just a school project. It was a real client.”

Landscaping at the zoo

For Sandland’s course, students partnered with local nonprofits to design or redesign a space.

Ellie Nyquist and Matt Ellingson, both landscape architecture majors, knew they wanted to partner with the Red River Zoo. When they approached Executive Director Lisa Tate, she suggested an outdoor classroom.

Nyquist, 22, had never designed an outdoor classroom before, but she and Ellingson both loved animals, so they took it on.

They interviewed Tate and other zoo leaders, conducted a site analysis and researched plants that would be nontoxic to animals and children. In the end, their design incorporated a stage for educational presentations, a private entrance for staff, planting to hide the nearby vet clinic and a curved pergola to dapple the hot sun.

“I couldn’t have been more impressed,” Tate said. “Every single thing that we asked for, they just knocked it out of the park.”

“I was really surprised they liked it so much,” Nyquist said. “We really didn’t know what to expect, just like they didn’t know what to expect.”

Tate was particularly impressed the students took such care with the project’s cost.

“We knew that if it was going to be a $100,000 project or even a $50,000 project, that is just not something we would have the ability to allocate the funds for,” Tate said. “It was something we could actually do.”

The students’ design will cost about $32,000 if the zoo has to hire all of the work, which Tate said is unlikely because employees and volunteers can do some of it.

Tate is applying for grant funding now and said she’d like to start as soon as possible, which is an added bonus for Nyquist.

“It’s so fun just to converse with people and come up with ideas,” Nyquist said. “And seeing our design enjoyed by the people at the zoo was really encouraging, as well. That we did something they really wanted, that was a great reward.”

 

Student consultants

This spring also marked the first semester of MSUM’s Center for Innovative Business Solutions, a program that director Barry Gish said was “a lot like an internship, only an internship on steroids.”

In an internship, the student follows directions. In this program, students were in charge.

“This isn’t a class project in any sense of the term other than we’re using class time,” said Gish, who’s a professional consultant himself.

The students, who had to apply for the class, were divided into two groups, and each group was assigned a local business’s problem. One worked on a plan to increase profitability of fuel transportation at Petro Serve USA, and the other developed an initiative to retain employees at John T. Jones Construction.

“We had established that we would independently put in 13 hours each week for this project, and I guess we didn’t keep track, but I would say that we blew that out of the water,” said junior Steve Schutz, whose three-member team did the retention project. One Sunday, they spent 11 hours at school.

Schutz’s group conducted an employee survey and researched best practices in human resources. Meanwhile, the Petro Serve group interviewed and rode with truck drivers, which impressed CEO Kent Satrang.

Satrang thought the students would bring him three or four ideas, “and then they came up with 10 really deep, well-researched, solid ideas—things I wouldn’t have thought of,” he said.

For example, they suggested staggering start times, naming a full-time weekend employee and using full-time employees instead of part-timers for long-distance trips, all of which took into account the fluctuations of the fuel market.

“I really don’t think we’d have gotten any better results if we’d hired someone in town, some big management firm to come in and do some consulting for us,” Satrang said.

He laughed as he added, “I hope they don’t become my competitors in the trucking business.”

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