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Iona Business Students Gain Skills From Community-Centered Service Projects

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Photos courtesy of Ben Hider/Iona College

At Iona College in New Rochelle, business students don’t have to wait for their diploma to put their skills to work.

A unique program at the college’s LaPenta School of Business encourages seniors to apply their learnings and talents outside the classroom, in support of local nonprofits and small businesses. The class — titled “The Role of Business in Contemporary American Society” — currently has students providing data analysis for a local food pantry, running marketing campaigns for the city’s chamber of commerce, and more.

Left to right: Darrell P. Wheeler, Iona College provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs; Hannah McGowan ’20, Student Government Association president; Seamus Carey, Iona College president; Robert V. LaPenta ’67, ’00H, Board of Trustees member; and Andrew Dolce ’57 ’19H, Board of Trustees member, cut the ribbon on the new LaPenta School of Business on Jan. 29, 2020. Photo Credit: Ben Hider

“Research shows that students learn skills best through the experiential learning process,” says Bret Sanner, an assistant professor of management at Iona who currently runs the curriculum. “I wanted to find meaningful and challenging experiences for my students. Nonprofits and small businesses tend to be ideal for this, as they don’t have the excess resources to take on side-projects, and are experienced working with students.”

Of course, there’s the added benefit of philanthropy, too: “Their great work has launched programs that continue to make a positive impact on New Rochelle well after the class is over,” Sanner adds. “The class reflects one of Iona’s core values: collective responsibility.”

68 students are currently participating in the course, and spend about four hours each week working alongside their local business. “They are out interviewing potential partners, clients, and supporters,” Sanner explains. There’s a more traditional element to the course, also: “To help them draw lessons from the experience, I assign readings and lecture,” Sanner continues.

Left to right: Iona College students Khody Wright, Ana Caceres and Timothy Susko provided an analysis of parks usage for the City of New Rochelle as part of the “Role of Business in Contemporary American Society” class. Photo Credit: Iona College

The program is shaping New Rochelle and the surrounding region for the better: one students’ project is increasing participation in community events like the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, and another is helping local architects understand market trends.

The program is shaping its students, too. Sanner recalls a recent lunch with a graduate of the course: “An excellent former student enjoyed the small business and interactive feel of working with Meals-on-Wheels so much that he changed his initial career plan from being a financial advisor to being an entrepreneur.”

Even better? The start-up incubator the student is working for is based right here in New Rochelle.

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