W&L Student Consulting Group Makes Connections on Campus and in the Community Students in the Williams School consulted on a number of projects including marketing, research and social media strategy for businesses and organizations.
“We provide pro-bono work that is mutually beneficial for our clients to get new student perspective and for our members to hone their consulting skills.”
~ Diya Shreenath ’24, executive director of Washington and Lee Student Consulting
Washington and Lee University’s Student Consulting group (WLSC) spent their Fall Term pursuing local collaborations on and off-campus.
A student-led executive team works with Lloyd Tanlu, associate professor of accounting and faculty advisor to the group, in facilitating this hands-on course each semester. Many of this term’s projects were for local clients, which Tanlu said can be very rewarding for students as they interact with the greater Lexington community during their time on campus.
“Students typically really love working on the local projects,” said Tanlu, “since that allows them to actually see the impact of their work with the client.”
WLSC was founded in 1998. Most students join WLSC as sophomores, transitioning into team lead positions during their junior years and director roles during their senior year. WLSC directors screen applicants for the course and are responsible for creating syllabi in collaboration with Tanlu. The team is also responsible for finding clients and projects for upcoming terms and planning speakers for the course’s weekly meetings. Each project team also has an alumni mentor, many of whom were involved in WLSC as undergraduates. Students receive an experiential learning credit for participating in WLSC each term.
The WLSC executive team works closely with Tanlu to source clients, determine project needs and staffing, and find speakers to enhance WLSC members’ professional experience as they complete their projects. For instance, students working with Blue Sky, a popular lunch spot downtown, and their new venture, Skybar, were able to see immediate results from their research at the recent karaoke event they organized with owner Karen Jackson. More than 50 undergraduate students attended, and the group is working with the venue to connect Blue Sky with other student groups who are interested in booking the space for private events in the future.
“These students were wonderful to work with. They were very professional and brought great ideas,” Jackson said, adding that students generated a comprehensive list of ideas for evening events and social media marketing. Team lead Em Becker ’24, a business administration major from Floral Park, New York said the group gained more in-depth experience with survey design during their research, and that she and the other team members appreciated the opportunity WLSC provides to give back to businesses that shape much of their student experience in Lexington.
Michael Ott ’24, an accounting major and classics minor from West Newbury, Massachusetts, said his team enjoyed working with the Virginia Horse Center on a plan for updated signage at the facility.
“This experience was an opportunity to solve new problems,” Ott said. “Not every solution we generated proved to be possible or effective, so we had to engage in frequent ideation and develop strategies that fit the client’s needs.”
Cinda Ayers, chief development and external relations officer for the Virginia Horse Center Foundation, connected with the class through outreach from the university’s Office of Community-Based Learning and said the partnership was mutually beneficial.
“As a nonprofit organization, the Horse Center has limited marketing funds, and it just makes sense to tap into the intellectual capital of the university and its talented students,” said Ayers. “I hope that our team was able to demonstrate to the students how collaboration in the workplace occurs and why it is so critical to an organization’s success, as well as highlight the subtle differences that can exist between nonprofits and the private sector.”
“We provide pro-bono work that is mutually beneficial for our clients to get new student perspective and for our members to hone their consulting skills,” said Diya Shreenath ’24, an accounting major and data science minor from Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Students even had the opportunity to connect with an alumnus during their Fall Term WLSC experience. Enrico “Rick” de Alessandrini ’84, P’23, owner of Sassaia Winery, said the opportunity to partner with W&L students provided an added layer to his relationship with the university. The student team working with Sassaia researched areas for the brand’s potential market expansion in Europe, while plans are underway to expand the brand on campus (Sassaia’s wine will be served at events surrounding the next Mock Convention in February 2024). De Alessandrini said working with WLSC provides students with a valuable professional experience while offering employers a fresh perspective on new ways to market their company’s product.
One student team also tackled a project quite close to home – the university’s own Writing Center. Bill Oliver, the center’s director, said the group delivered a polished final product detailing ways to advertise the Writing Center’s wide range of resources more effectively to students and faculty.
“The group took a comprehensive approach to the task,” Oliver said. “They studied all the data we provided them, surveyed faculty and students about their perceptions of the Writing Center, and explored creative ways in which we could make an already good operation even better.”
The students provided Oliver with a detailed content plan for social media marketing, strategies for faculty outreach that target new faculty members and ideas for structured collaborations with entities like the Williams Investment Society that would introduce students to the center’s resources for oral presentation preparation. Matt Bell ’24, an economics and Spanish double major from Colts Neck, New Jersey, who served as team lead on the project, said the team collaborated with W&L students from another undergraduate course about social media strategy to help them design the proposed social media plan for the center, focusing their efforts around increasing student awareness.
“We quickly learned that students who had worked with Writing Center tutors were extremely pleased with the instruction they received and that we would not need to focus on improving the Writing Center’s offering of services as much as student awareness,” Bell said.
In addition to handing their clients a final product, students in the course send client deliverables to Tanlu and WLSC’s executive directors at the end of the course for evaluation and feedback. Tanlu said he was impressed at how thoughtfully and creatively this group of students approached their work with clients.
“It’s always surprising – even if it shouldn’t be, since I’ve seen this every semester – and impressive how much work students have done and the creative solutions they have produced,” Tanlu said.
Tanlu will be handing WLSC over temporarily next term to Elizabeth Oliver, associate dean of the Williams School and Lewis Whitaker Adams Professor in Commerce and one of WLSC’s co-founders, while he takes a sabbatical semester in the winter. Students in this fall’s course, who presented him with a parting gift during their final presentations, said he will be missed during his absence.
“He does a fantastic job of offering feedback to each team and facilitating conversations within WLSC that really enrich each project,” said Bell.
For more information about Washington and Lee Student Consulting, visit their website.