Neil Niman, director of the Business in Practice program at UNH's Paul College of Business and Economics, and Stephanie Lawrence, VP of Licensing & Strategic Initiatives at Vera Bradley, discuss the "matchmaking" process of involving industry professionals in teaching business students.
Bridging Business Practice and Teaching
Expert-Led Experiential Learning
Neil Niman: [0:15] It's a dating process, I guess. We've got a wide network. We've got faculty that make recommendations. We've got our advancement people that are constantly talking to other individuals.
[0:30] We've got a big alumni network here at the University of New Hampshire. We've got our Career Services people constantly out talking to employers. We encourage them to talk about the Business in Practice program.
[0:45] Believe it or not, we don't have to spend a lot of time prospecting for potential industry professionals to participate in the BiP program.
[0:57] What I will say where the challenge or the hard work is in taking that professional and their idea, or their concept or their passion or their interest or their experience, and turning that into a two credit course that works for our students here at Paul College.
[1:16] A potential partner comes. We'll have a series of meetings with them where we're asking them what is it that you're passionate about? Tell us about your professional experience.
[1:27] At the same time, we're constantly looking externally to see what are those skills or tools or experiences that employers would like our students to have? Then we take our knowledge of the marketplace. We look at people that we've been talking to. We look at their experience.
[1:49] Then, I won't call it an interview, but we have one or two meetings where we're feeling each other out and deciding whether they're right for the program and whether we can turn their experience and their passions into a course that we'd like to see in our program.
Stephanie Lawrence: [2:07] The challenges for this role haven't been many, other than making sure that I have booked the time and organized my schedule to allow the prioritization of this class at the times that it's scheduled.
[2:21] Other than that, it's been tapping into my experience, my past history, things that would give a good general overview for the students in the class about product licensing, and open their eyes to the possibilities. Look behind the curtain, see how products actually come to market. What's the business model behind it?
[2:47] That's been quite fun. It hasn't been a chore at all. I would say the biggest challenge has been booking the time and making sure that I'm present when I need to be there and there for the students.
Niman: [2:59] I don't think that New Hampshire has a lock on a motivated business community or alumni network that only wants to give back to the University of New Hampshire. Every university has a community, an alumni network, a series of professionals that are affiliated with the university that would love to participate.
[3:24] The problem is that participation tends to be very limited. Come in and be a guest speaker or come in and be a judge for an event or something like that. For many professionals, by the way, that's the only time that they have available, and we welcome their participation.
[3:42] There are a number who have more time and would like to give more back, like Stephanie Lawrence, who can provide a perspective that you're not going to get from a full time PhD faculty member. Stephanie does licensing every day. I won't say that that's all she does, but that's her primary focus.
[4:10] She can open up opportunities and a vision of a potential career or skills or techniques that you can apply in any business situation as part of her two credit course. That's something, I should think, that every business school would want and that every business school could have.
Lawrence: [4:36] It would be wonderful for business leaders to know that these types of program exist. Again, it's a way of paying forward. It's a way of taking the career that you've built, over sometimes decades, and bringing that back and drawing a connection between what the students are learning in the classroom and how that applies out in the real workforce.
[5:01] Sometimes it's difficult to see in the moment what you're learning and then how are you going to need it or how you're going to apply it later on in your career path.
Niman: [5:38] At the end of the day, what it requires is a commitment to experiential learning. It's a commitment to this idea that we're going to put our theory into practice.
[5:50] A fundamental part of a business education is, in some ways, getting your hands dirty and working with the concepts or the tools or the techniques that the students learn in their core curriculum and putting that into practice in an authentic context guided by an industry professional with some outcome at the end.
[6:17] If you buy into that vision, is it a lot of work? Yeah, it's a lot of work, but we've proven the concept. It's a concept that's scalable and transferable to other business schools.
Filmed by Jack Bouchard at the University of New Hampshire Paul College of Business and Economics in Durham, April 2021.