Jumpstart Tuscaloosa: Collaboration During COVID
Working Together While Staying APART
By Stephanie Cohen
If there’s one thing that’s been made clear by the COVID-19 pandemic, is that it’s offered many people the opportunity to rise to the challenge to help their communities. Students at The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business are no exception. In fact, over the past several months, they’ve also been able to gain invaluable hands-on, real-world experience using what they’ve learned in the classroom.
One of those efforts has provided not only direct benefit to local businesses but to Culverhouse students as well.
GETTING A JUMPSTART
Summer is when many of Culverhouse’s students work an internship, often getting their first taste of what it is truly like working in an office environment on projects related to their career goals. These internships also often serve as a way for companies to recruit talented students to their teams after graduation. However, many of these internships were canceled with the onset of the pandemic, leaving students scrambling to find ways to get experience over the summer.
In stepped Jumpstart Tuscaloosa, which was initiated by Culverhouse professors Lou Marino, Jef Naidoo, and Gina Simpson, all faculty members in the College’s management department. They are also all involved in various efforts to grow and support entrepreneurs in the West Alabama region. Hearing students express their disappointment over canceled internships and the outcry for help from local business owners who were reeling from the effects of the slowing economy made the next step an obvious one: connect them.
“What we wanted to do is offer a mutual benefit for our students and the community,” said Dr. Naidoo.
Over the summer, Jumpstart Tuscaloosa paired student-led teams with businesses to offer free consulting services, which included developing marketing strategic plans or reviews of business plans. The students would in turn get experience working on a team on projects over a compressed timeframe.
All along the way, Culverhouse faculty were there to offer support and actionable feedback. According to Dr. Naidoo, “Students in our check-in meetings expressed how much they have gotten out of the project in terms of learning and ability to manage projects.”
Dr. Marino added, “We wanted to take Dr. Naidoo’s students who had been taught a proven methodology in consulting to be a part of these earlier teams and as students gain the experience they then become team leaders and spawn additional consulting teams.”
“Our goal is that once we grow a cohort of team leaders, we can start reaching out to other areas throughout the College to recruit for those newer teams.”
Student-led teams worked with various local businesses including Black Warrior Brewing Company, Emerald Coast Charters, and Dizzy Dean Fireworks to offer robust recommendations for cohesive and integrated marketing and branding strategies.
The project outputs included prototypes of both digital and traditional marketing collateral, which earned praise and gratitude from the business owners. Glenn Dodd, the owner of Dizzy DeanFireworks, said, “I can’t wait to dig into these recommendations and tools! All of [the students] have been wonderful to work with and your end product is phenomenal. Makes me even prouder of my university!”
Jumpstart Tuscaloosa put into practice classroom lessons in leadership and project management—and it’s going to continue as a regular offering, pandemic or not, under a new banner: the Culverhouse Consulting Initiative. The rationale for that change is so that there are no limitations where Culverhouse student talent can be deployed.
ADAPTING TO THE “NEW NORMAL”
The lessons of the summer have laid a foundation for going forward. A new elective course, “Culverhouse Learning Communities,” allows students and faculty to partner together to apply business principles to a variety of topics and hands-on learning opportunities. Topics include learning how to cultivate a growth-oriented mindset, backed by resilience and tenacity, and adapting to life in the “new normal,” which focuses on enabling students’ skills in identifying opportunities and challenges in the current climate.
“Not only does this elective make the concepts more accessible, it provides in a format that facilitates a sense of community and interpersonal connections to their peers, which in normal times is invaluable and as of late, near priceless.”
GET MORE INFO
To get all the details on how Culverhouse is growing the next generation of resilient and adaptable business leaders, visit culverhouse.ua.edu.