A group of Armstrong State University students received national recognition earlier this month at the Small Business Institute Conference in San Diego after their consulting project for the Wilmington Island Farmers’ Market placed third in the nation.
The project was the result of a partnership between Armstrong and the Small Business Institute and is lead by Armstrong economics professor Dennis Barber. During the spring 2016 semester 17 students performed consulting work for five area businesses as a course requirement.
The goal of the winning project, according to Samuel McPherson, who was one of four students that developed the report, was to provide the farmers’ market with an in-depth report with analysis and recommendations for the business.
“We looked at aspects like organizational structure, finance, human resources, volunteer recruitment, market feedback and many other areas,” McPherson said.
Each group of students sign confidentiality agreements with their businesses, but projects ranged from marketing plans and budget statements to helping businesses build their brand and make a name for themselves. The student groups developed a history of the company, conducted an industry analysis and a company analysis.
“The Wilmington Island Farmers’ Market has just been incredibly successful in the short time that they have been operating. They’re truly a great organization and our team just tried to provide recommendations that they could use during their period of growth,” McPherson said.
Last spring was the first time the course was offered at Armstrong, and Barber said he couldn’t be more pleased with the results and the winning project.
“In the first semester of this course, Armstrong students offered over 1,700 hours of service-based consulting hours to small businesses in the community. These were essentially professional consulting hours that the small businesses received without having to pay…” he said.
McPherson, who like the other students who participated in the course is working toward a business economics degree said he chose the class because it provided a unique experience, but he had also taken classes with Barber before and enjoyed his teaching methods.
“He is one of those professors that inspires you to achieve more than you ever thought you were capable of. His classes require you to dig deeper and while the sleepless nights aren’t fun, in the end you’re proud of what you accomplished,” he said of Barber.
The course also allowed him to apply lessons and skills acquired in other classes into real life experiences, which readied him a little more for the professional world after college.
“It provided an opportunity to work with real local businesses and get an idea as to what it’s like to be in the field as well as give me a chance to learn how to conduct myself around other professionals,” he said.
“It also gave me a chance to practice many skills many skills that I’ve learned in school like critical analysis, problem identification, problem solving and so much more.”
Barber said the competition was rigorous and that throughout the project the students and Deborah McIncrow, manager and coordinator for the farmers’ market worked closely to tackle and solve problems, which helped make the project a standout.
“I heard during and after the semester that this was the most work they have put into any course. The ability of the students to apply the concepts they have learned, problem solve, think critically, brainstorm and make decisions as a group was impressive,” he said.
“Do not get me wrong, they did not always agree but the disagreements were met with respect. This helped the team grow and develop a consulting report which was beneficial and ultimately competitive.”