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Students at American University can gain experience working for a company as a consultant or in a co-op.

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A 2022 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found 77 percent of students believe developing specific skills needed for their career is an important outcome of an internship experience, closely followed by developing general workplace skills (74 percent) and growing knowledge in a subject they’re passionate about (65 percent).

American University’s Kogod School of Business offers experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to build their résumés and human skills. The initiative, Kogod in Practice, places students in small groups to work pro bono on consulting projects and, more recently, in co-op roles.

Since launching in 2020, the program has engaged over 200 students and 50 clients, many of whom are AU alumni themselves, providing learners with job opportunities and experience and building a talent pipeline for business partners.

On the job: The pro bono consulting assignments last three months, with a weekly commitment of six to eight hours, involving meetings between the client or project-engagement managers.

Most projects are remote, but some are hybrid, and students work alongside small to midsize companies in the U.S. and abroad.

Students rank their top three project choices, and staff organize the groups with the hope of putting them on a preferred project. AU sources the business partners, with over half being AU alumni who are investing in student success.

The five-person project teams are made up of students from across the university, offering a diverse mix of degree paths, experience and educational backgrounds, “for creativity and diversity in problem-solving,” says Angela Petras, assistant dean for experiential learning and director of Kogod in Practice.

The project requires no prior experience, and students can be part- or full-time or online learners in any of AU’s undergraduate or graduate programs. International students can also participate, though there are some additional visa considerations depending on their home country.

“These consulting teams work closely with the client on a weekly basis; they also work with their engagement manager—a student leader who has completed a project like this in the past—and a partner, a Kogod staff or faculty guide, to solve the clients’ business needs per a predetermined statement of work, just as would happen in a real business scenario,” Petras says.

Projects are available every fall, spring and summer and are not attached to credit or a particular course.

Students receive training from the student-run AU Consulting Club before starting.

Getting students on board: Establishing infrastructure prior to launching has been key to the initiative’s success, as it requires a high level of student buy-in and accountability. Infrastructure includes having necessary legal and nonlegal documents, clear processes, data management, regular communications, and clear marketing, Petras says.

Despite not earning course credit for the project, students are highly engaged and dedicated, because they are obtaining real-world skills and résumé experiences. Since launching, only 1 percent of participants have dropped out or disengaged.

“Many students come back to do additional projects, and clients return to do additional projects due to the value they receive from the student consultants,” Petras says.

The payoff: Since launching, Kogod in Practice has benefited 220 student consultants who have completed 54 projects for 50 clients. Fall 2023 had 28 student participants with six clients.

Some of the 160-plus client deliverables include go-to-market strategies, logistics and operations plans, key performance indicators, data analytics strategies, social media marketing plans, financial modeling, target market strategies, and more.

Following pro bono work, clients often offer students, sometimes the entire team, an internship or full-time job opportunity. The program has also attracted more employers to partner with the university to offer projects because they want to hire experienced talent, Petras says.

Kogod in Practice now includes co-op education—paid and credit-bearing internships with organizations lasting between four months and a year.

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