Student consultants develop key skills while helping businesses

Education
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What began about 10 years ago as a student club with a few members has transformed into the Consulting Group at Virginia Tech, giving students opportunities to develop or hone important professional skills while in college and providing businesses and organizations around Virginia with pro bono consulting services. 

Each semester, 130 to 150 students apply to CGVT, which is sponsored by the Department of Management in the Pamplin College of Business. From the 30 to 40 who are interviewed, 10 to 15 are chosen to enter a rigorous associate program that prepares them to work on a team of three or four consultants the following semester. Membership in the group lasts until graduation.

About 50 percent of the group’s members are students from Pamplin; the other 50 percent are from other majors/colleges across the university.

“CGVT provides a remarkable opportunity for students in the management consulting and analytics option to collaborate with students from various colleges to solve complex problems,” said Devi Gnyawali, management department head. “Student teams apply the concepts, tools, and skills they have learned in their courses and build networks with clients and recruiters. Business clients benefit immensely from the expertise of the interdisciplinary teams. “

Reed Kennedy, associate professor of practice in the Department of Management, has served as the group’s faculty advisor since its start. “From a few students expressing interest in consulting, it quickly evolved into a prestigious group dedicated to learning all about the profession,” said Kennedy. 

“I am particularly impressed with the relationships the students have built with major national and international consulting firms. These firms recruit here at Virginia Tech and know that CGVT members are top candidates who are motivated to excel.”

Srikar Manjuluri, president of the group and a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering, said, “CGVT is primarily about the ability to view and dissect a problem from various perspectives and finding a solution.” Manjuluri said that the number of consulting firms seeking to employ engineers is increasing.

The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce sought the group’s help to develop a “Best Places To Work” list to showcase local elite and prestigious businesses in a way that would attract highly educated and talented employees from the Virginia Tech community and beyond.

“I was so pleased to work with my team from CGVT because the students had no preconceived notions of how something should be done. It was refreshing to see their process,” said Sharon Scott, executive director of the Montgomery Chamber. 

“The cross-disciplinary approach to team selection was a huge benefit to our project and the students genuinely enjoyed working with each other. I appreciated their eagerness to research best practices, engage in conversations, and make recommendations,” Scott said. “The response time was outstanding, far better than many consultants I have worked with in the past. When the group presented to the board of directors at the culmination of the project, there was disbelief that the presenters were students.”

“The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce project was one of the most exciting projects I have led,” said Neal Roberts, a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering who also serves as director of projects for the group. 

“The demand for leadership and initiative that this group expects has pushed me out of my comfort zone to grow both professionally and socially. Being able to apply classroom concepts to the real-world to make an impact, embracing Ut Prosim —That I May Serve — has significantly bolstered my college experience,” he said.

Another project is Chris’s Coffee & Custard, a small coffee shop scheduled to open in January 2019 in Roanoke, Virginia. The shop will provide jobs — where none have previously existed — for people with disabilities (trained through the owners’ separate nonprofit organization). Four of the group’s consultants have been tasked to create a business plan and develop marketing strategies. 

“Our team is very passionate and motivated because we know that our work will not only significantly impact the business, but the Roanoke community as a whole,” said Dean Coffman, the project manager and a junior majoring in industrial and systems engineering. “And thanks to this partnership, we have developed skills that will greatly benefit us as future consultants.” 

“I have been extremely impressed with the cutting-edge solutions that Dean and his team of consultants have created thus far,” said Beth Woodrum, founder and owner of Chris’s Coffee & Custard. “The final deliverables will help me understand my potential markets, finalize my menu, and organize my finances. I look forward to continuing this partnership in the coming semesters.”

Other current projects include Avopodo, Back to Nature Landscaping and Construction, Mitchell Law Firm, Baseline Solar Solutions, Moog Inc., and JC Enterprises.

In addition to real-world experience, the student members benefit from industry mentors, continuous preparation and training through case studies, case competitions, company workshops, and mock interviews. To address an increasing interest in data analytics from both students and businesses, the group is planning to focus more on this area in the coming months. 

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