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Build Students’ Resumes with High-Stakes Clients (and No Exams)

To provide students with vital work experience, Scott Grant, EdD, created a business-cum-marketing class serving a local sports team.

Educator

Scott S. Grant, EdD

Assistant Professor of Business, University of Findlay, Findlay, OH

EdD in Leadership Studies, MBA with a concentration in Sport and Event Management, BA in Integrated Social Studies Education

As president and chief impact officer of the firm Triple Threat Leadership, Scott S. Grant, EdD, says he would never hire a student who has no real-world experience—and neither will many businesses today. As an assistant professor of business at the University of Findlay, in Ohio, Grant has the power to ensure that his students do not fall into that category. (Ironically, though, his approach requires him to hire inexperienced students. More on that soon.)

“Entry-level job descriptions often ask students to have [multiple] internships and/or years of experience,” Grant says. “Students often say, ‘How the heck do I get that?’ Many are required to work during their college careers, so it is imperative that they are doing the type of work that counts as ‘outside experience.’”

To address this concern, Grant created The Oiler 10, a student-run business at the University of Findlay that doubles as a marketing class (BUAD 495: Seminar in Business Administration). Through this venture, Grant has created an in-house, student-run, on-campus consulting agency that supports external business clients.

Through their participation in The Oiler 10, students gain experience with real-life business entities, address actual business problems, and take ownership of it all. “It’s about having real goals, real deliverables, real action, and real companies to work with,” Grant says.

Context

“I don’t care about major, or grade year, I just want some passionate, hard-working people! This course will focus on building an in-house consulting agency to work on external professional business projects.”

— Scott S. Grant, EdD

Course: BUAD 495 Seminar in Business Administration

Course description: This course is an invitation to become part of an on-campus student consulting business organization that will support external business entities.

 

See resources shared by Scott S. Grant, EdD

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Creating the Oiler 10: A student-led consulting group

For his first semester teaching BUAD 495, Grant put the word out that he was looking for passionate, hard-working students, ultimately choosing what he called the “Founding 10.” He sent an email to 50 students who showed a desire for needing more in some capacity, and who then responded and showed up at 6 a.m. on the first Friday morning meeting. Those 10 students developed an internal consulting agency and operated it from the ground up. Its name was “The Oiler 10” as an homage to their university’s mascot, an oil derrick.

With The Oiler 10 in place, Grant scrapped the traditional trappings associated with a college class, and instead gave the students space to develop and hone new skills and gain valuable work experience. The students have real clients—currently six located throughout the United States—with whom they consult on a regular basis, and their decisions carry a real financial impact.

To extend the length of time students can participate in experiential learning, the process is carried on semester after semester, and even in the summer, with some members continuing and others joining in. His goal is to add students with different passions, ages, skill sets, and areas of expertise. Existing members run the recruitment and onboarding of new members, both to ensure that the buy-in needs are being driven by the students and to help them learn valuable processes at the same time.

Set expectations high—and communicate them clearly

From the clothes that they wear (business casual) to the time commitment, Grant ensures that his students know what they are signing up for when they apply to the program. “This isn’t for the faint of heart,” he tells them. “It’s going to be work. Real work. And expectations will be high.”

That means meetings can happen at 5 a.m. or 9 p.m., and conference calls with clients can pop up at the last minute. It also means that the students must fulfill client obligations during school breaks and while traveling for sports, juggling it with their other classwork. “Business doesn’t stop, so neither do they,” Grant explains.

Seek top-notch students

Students interested in the seminar must fill out an application and be vetted and interviewed. These processes are built by the students, with Grant’s mentorship. This allows for deep discussions about internal and external needs as well as necessary hiring practices, such as questioning and evaluation, which provide the students with essential insights into the hiring processes of real businesses.

Like the Founding 10, newly selected students—about 10 to 13 per semester—must be passionate and hard working. The course is competitive and popular. “Students stop by my office daily to ask about being a part of The Oiler 10, and it’s all because of the buy-in from other students who are gaining a unique experience within the program,” says Grant.

Use connections to find clients

Bringing on clients who are willing to work with students can sometimes be tricky, so Grant suggests leveraging personal and professional connections, on and off campus. For example, Grant had a preexisting relationship with The Oiler 10’s anchor client, the Upfield Group—a marketing agency whose partner was a University of Findlay graduate. The company had low bandwidth and needed the help, and in return for students’ work, representatives of the Upfield Group visited the campus to share their business insights and mentor the students.

Ties & Tennies: A Pathway for Engagement

Grant recently was a speaker at the TedX Hilliard event in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, where he opened up about a life-changing moment more than a decade ago that led him to rethink the way educators traditionally engage students. Thanks to a pair of squeaky-clean mid-1990s Nike Air Max Tempo Lows he wore to class due to a back injury, Grant was able to pique students’ interest and engage them for the first time all semester. If your interest is piqued—or if you just want to know why his company is named Triple Threat Leadership—it is well worth a watch.

In addition, Grant recommends tapping into existing university partnerships. For instance, he was able to secure the Cleveland Browns as an Oiler 10 client, thanks to the Browns Edge Program—a University of Findlay–NFL partnership, which provides a path for students interested in working for the sports industry.

Grant also encourages students and educators alike to “think big” and reach out to people outside of their sphere of influence. “It’s important to try to find a client that isn’t in close proximity, and use it as a way to get the students out together building a culture, experiencing a new place, and ‘living’ real business,” Grant says.

Treat students like business partners

The ultimate goal is to empower students to take ownership of the client relationship and the work, says Grant. To that end, he supports them like a boss or mentor would, rather than as a traditional teacher or instructor. “I make it about how we best serve the clients,” he says. “My job is to clear away the barriers we often put between students and their dreams, goals, and passions, and get out of their way.”

Accordingly, Grant allows students as much autonomy as possible. For example, he does not always participate in client calls. “I simply keep my thumb on what’s going on,” he says. “My teaching philosophy is based upon student development—truly building a partnership with them, and letting them have control.”

Provide a variety of experiences

The Oiler 10 has added a newly integrated RFP (request for proposal) process. The RFP process allows organizations to submit proposals for work projects they need assistance with, including but not limited to:

  • Consumer research and presentations
  • Development of marketing deliverables
  • Analysis of procedures/process
  • Development of new business opportunities

The student-led agency on campus analyzes incoming RFPs for feasibility, then students work together to manage viable projects, find resources, and create deliverables.

Replace tests with business evaluations

Employees are evaluated by their output, not test scores, so Grant is not a big fan of traditional assessments. “We assess our organization weekly in our business meetings,” he says. “We have open dialogue and develop deliverable structures for our clients and ourselves.” Clients also provide ongoing assessments through oral feedback, email, and post-production surveys, and students meet over breakfast, lunch, or coffee for peer review sessions and group discussions on how to improve. Grant also meets with each student individually at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester. Finally, before the course ends, students evaluate themselves and negotiate their grade with Grant based on their perceived performance, just as employees might negotiate for a raise.

Grant wants to provide students with a new perspective that will serve them well in the future: “In the real world, if you get a C, the company [will] lose money,” Grant tells them. Approaching work with an “above-and-beyond mentality,” he says, is the key to success.

Outcomes

To be clear, Grant acknowledges that this is a radical approach to education, which he fully embraces. In fact, one of The Oiler 10’s nicknames is the #disruptors. “I’m a pusher, good or bad. I want to disrupt the status quo and traditional education processes to help engage in a different way,” he says. “A lot of people in higher ed don’t like what I try to do. But it works for these students.”

In fact, he has been able to continue his work primarily because it has been such a success. “At the end of the day,” he adds, “[professors] are assessed by our students’ ability to [get jobs and] produce high-quality work in the real world.” Students who have participated in The Oiler 10 have gone straight from graduation to roles in marketing management and digital strategy. Word has spread, too—and not just on campus. “Businesses have contacted me wanting to work with our students,” Grant says. “They’ve offered agency contracts with monthly stipends. The students are becoming a staple within the realms they have studied.”

Additionally, the program was just awarded the Higher Education Innovation Grant from Proctor & Gamble—$10,000 that has allowed the students to engage in deep-dive agency work trips and in workshops in Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York City.

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