Wabash Students Get Crash Course in Business

by Wade Coggeshall

July 5, 2006

A group of 12 Wabash College students are getting a crash course in business and entrepreneurship this summer. And they're applying their newfound knowledge to one of the most important projects in the community.

It's called the Summer Business Immersion Program, established three years ago and funded by a Lilly Endowment grant.

During the eight-week course, the students learn the importance of entrepreneurship through field trips and intense class work. Guest speakers, many of them alumni, offer their entrepreneurial expertise or knowledge on finance and law.

There is no business undergraduate program at Wabash. Students who enroll in the B.I.P., many of them economics majors, do so because they're interested in entrepreneurship, said Kathy Wise, a research fellow at the college's Center of Inquiry who co-directs the B.I.P. with Lu Hamilton. The students receive no grade or credit for the course. They're paid like in an internship.

"It's been great because you don't have the usual incentive structure set up, so the students are quite motivated," Wise said.

The program culminates in two projects, both involving the students working in groups of four. In one they must develop their own business plan, do the necessary research and present their idea to an evaluation panel during the course's last week.

The other assignment is known as a local consulting project. Wise said the idea is to have the students out in the community working with local businesses or organizations.

Scott Feller, an associate professor of chemistry, is a board member in 4-H Inc. He told Jim Luzar, director of Montgomery County's Purdue Extension Office, about the B.I.P. Luzar thought the construction of a new county fairgrounds by I-74 would make a good example for the class and contacted Wise last winter.

"The timing was right where students could lend assistance to a lot of the strategic planning to the new fairgrounds," Luzar said. "It was a fit for us and them."

Each group is studying various aspects of the project. One is looking into rental of the fairgrounds, who rents and who might be interested. Another group is working on the marketing, including what facilities will be available and demographic information. Others are concentrating on advertising and equipment needs.

"I think the overriding goal with this project is it has to be an asset to the community all months of the year in a variety of interests, and really support our economic development in terms of tourism and continuing education," Luzar said.

Luzar thinks the project is a worthy challenge for the students, given the makeup of the organization they're researching.

"It's pretty daunting," he said. "A fairgrounds isn't a same-old, same-old business. We've got public support. We've got multiple users. We're a not-for-profit organization that administrates the operations. We have volunteers. It's more of a community project and a community alliance. Decision-making is a little bit more complicated. Most people don't realize a fairgrounds is a unique creature in terms of cost, income and marketing."

The Business Immersion Program students present their research during a seminar with 4-H board members and the county Extension Office 11 a.m. July 5 in Trippet Hall on the Wabash campus. Both sides have expressed benefits about the alliance.

"It's been a great opportunity for the students to learn more about the community they're in," Wise said. "They've been out talking to folks. They've learned more about 4-H and the important role it plays in the county. And they've enjoyed it and said this is great, I wish we'd had other opportunities to do this and I hope it continues."

"It's really the first time with this fairgrounds that we've had someone look at it objectively, in terms of what type of facilities does the fairgrounds need, who would use the fairgrounds, who are our current users," Luzar said. "So it's been kind of refreshing because it's new ideas.

"It's still a work in progress. But it's going to be usable feedback. It's not fictitious. It's not like they're doing a case study. They're seeing real-life issues. And it's a project that's important to the community."

Businesses and organizations interested in partnering with the Business Immersion Program for a local consulting project are encouraged to call Kathy Wise at 361-6581.

Coggeshall is a reporter for the Crawfordsville Journal Review.


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