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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Mendoza College offers new, hands on minor

In an attempt to expand their offerings for business students, Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business recently launched two new minors. One of these minors is the 15-credit impact consulting minor. This minor aims to give students the opportunity to use interdisciplinary experiential learning to make an impact and tackle some of the world's most pressing issues.

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“The origins really began from my Innovation and Design Thinking class where we work on solutions grounded in empathy for key stakeholders," Wendy Angst, professor and Director if Undergraduate Studies for the impact consulting minor, said.

"Then, the course would end with a recommendation to the partner and that would be it. To truly have a transformative impact, we recognized the value of having students continue to work with the course partners all the way through implementation.”

After recognizing the demand for an impact-oriented field of study, Angst began investigating the idea of enabling students to follow up with their projects and go on site to work hand-in-hand with those most impacted by the challenge at hand.

“We then launched another course piloting what it would look like if those student teams were allocated funding to actually build the prototypes, test them, visit their clients and go all the way through launching a business,” Angst said.

In 2019, Angst’s class developed a partnership between the University of Notre Dame and St. Bakhita’s Vocational Training Center in Northern Uganda. St. Bakhita’s is a Catholic school created in 2007 as an opportunity for girls who were abducted in the Lord’s Resistance Conflict to receive an education and to support themselves and their children.

Together with her students, Angst worked to reimagine St. Bakhita’s to support the school to become self-sustaining and to improve the economic prosperity of the region through an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Our strategy involved reshaping the curriculum a bit so that aside from students learning and vocation, they're also learning skills and entrepreneurship,” Angst said. “So, we worked with the school to install a computer lab, solar and internet, and then began offering a work study program for the students.”

The primary projects undertaken by Angst and her students involved creating revenue-generating businesses for St. Bakhita’s. “Our main goal is to be generating additional revenue for the school because part of their goal is to reduce their student’s tuition because that's a big barrier for women being able to receive an education in Uganda,” Abbie Hegarty, a 2023 Notre Dame graduate who majored in Management Consulting and Spanish, said.

The projects students tackled allowed them to incorporate knowledge learned in the classroom to their projects at St. Bakhita’s.

“The project I worked on was related to peanut butter, which we called ‘Bakhita butter.’ A lot of what I did was financial tracking and projecting revenues. I also created a Google Sheets tracker for revenues and expenses for their business,” Grace Kamholz, a 2023 Notre Dame graduate who majored in Finance, said.

Several students involved in the various St. Bakhita’s projects took the Innovation and Design Thinking class, completed the immersion course and then implemented their ideas in the Applied Impact consulting class, both of which are required for the new impact consulting minor.

“When I was in the Innovation and Design Thinking class, my team and I started the project to write a book about Victoria’s story, the principal of St. Bakhita’s,” Hegarty said. “After traveling to Uganda in January for Wendy’s Applied Impact Consulting class, I shifted my focus to helping improve the overall operations of St. Bakhita’s restaurant, while another team continued working on Victoria’s story."

A unique aspect of the classes that are now required for the impact consulting minor is their interdisciplinary nature. In the past, students with various majors and interests were able to offer their perspectives in order to provide St. Bakhita’s with a holistic experience.

“As I got more involved, I realized there was a possibility to improve the school architecturally,” 2023 architecture graduate Carlos Flores said. “I worked with a younger class of architecture students to design a childhood development center to help take care of the students’ children. We are currently looking for contractors to get the process going.”

While the minor is currently only open to students in Mendoza, Angst is working on making it available to all students. She is also striving to expand the immersion opportunities available to students in the minor.

“We are working on other projects that are both domestic and international so that we do give students the opportunity of collaborating on projects beyond Uganda,” Angst said.

Students who have been involved in Angst’s projects have already recognized the immersion part of the program as one of the most impactful and important parts of the process.

“You can plan all you want and you can Zoom the people all you want when you're in the classroom, but you don't really understand how the culture works or what resources are available or really how remote this place is until you go there and experience it yourself,” Hegarty said. “The immersion is super important.”

Based on past students’ positive learning experiences with immersion trips, they are now a required aspect of the minor.

“Consulting is all about making assumptions, and probably every assumption I made about the school was wrong. So, we told Wendy a big thing we thought was really important is the immersion requirement,” Kamholz said.

Students who took Angst’s classes in the past have been vocal about their recommendation that students take advantage of the opportunity to minor in impact consulting.

“It is something I wish was available when I was a student. It is very rewarding to be a part of that type of collaboration and the classes offer a good way to build your own education and your skills,” Quin Gallagher, a 2022 graduate who majored in Management Consulting and Spanish, said.

A key aspect of the impact consulting minor is that it allows students to gain a different perspective and emphasizes the diverse paths one can take with a business degree.

“The minor takes the best part of the entrepreneurship program and puts it in the frame of consulting. I think it's really cool that you are required to go to a site and see what is actually happening. You are consulting with people in need,” Alex Potts, a 2023 graduate who majored in Science Computing and minored in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said.

The impact consulting minor is a demonstration of Mendoza’s theme of “Grow the Good in Business.”

“The idea of growing the good in business, which Mendoza is pushing for, can really benefit Mendoza students and help them realize there is a lot more to do with a business major than the set path several Mendoza students follow,” Flores said.

The application for the minor is open until Friday, October 13 and is available on the impact consulting minor’s webpage. The course requirements and other important information can also be found on the website.