Farmer J-term consulting experience moves to Chicago


Miami University’s Farmer School of Business. Photo by Leilani Neme

By Leilani Neme

Miami University’s Center for Business Leadership study away program moved from Cincinnati to Chicago during this winter term.   

The Farmer School of Business Emerging Leaders Consulting Experience trip has taken place in Cincinnati for the past two years. But this J-term, Farmer decided it needed to change locations because  more businesses are located in Chicago. 

Sixteen Miami students took the trip. The students range from freshmen to seniors, with majors or minors in accountancy, business, management, and human capital management. 

“The students will be acting as leadership consultants, which is a very interdisciplinary program meaning we want students from different majors,” said Megan Gerhardt, assistant director for this trip and a professor of leadership. “We believe that solving really complex leadership challenges is the product of all kinds of different skills, information, and strengths.” 

The course these students will take will receive three credit hours in either accounting or management for the course. They arrived in Chicago Jan. 5, and the trip ends Jan. 17. 

To win a spot in the course, the students had to have a clean disciplinary history along with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. The students also had to complete an application and be in Farmer with a background in leadership. 

Ernst & Young LLP sponsors the trip. The accounting firm provided generous sponsorship for the students reducing program fees to a small amount. The students will still have to pay for their credit hours for the trip. 

“We are very thankful that Ernst & Young will be sponsoring our students this year,” said Brian Ballou, primary director for this trip and a professor of leadership. “They are even hosting the students when we have classroom sessions and taking us to a dinner.” 

Goals for the program

All study abroad/away programs that Miami offer are designed to capitalize on location and are more experiential than the standard courses offered on campus. While many students find it easier and more engaging to learn with hands-on experience, the courses offered as a part of these programs meet the same standards for quality and rigor as all other Miami courses. 

Upon arrival in Chicago the students are treated as their own consulting firm, working with their peers and three different clients within businesses. These businesses include The Field Museum of Natural History; Wills Towers Watson, a human resource consulting firm; and the Union League Club, a private club. 

“Overall, the students will learn about the consulting process,” said Gerhardt. “We want them to experience what it’s like to really work with a client and the fast pace and intensity of this process.” 

The students are staying in the Hilton Garden Inn, in downtown Chicago for the two weeks. 

“Because that is what you would do as a consultant,” said Ballou. “You would go to some city and live in a hotel and your client would be there, you would then work with the client a little and then work on your own. That’s kind of the idea. We want to make this experience the most real we can, given the sources we have.” 

The first couple of days the students visited all three client sites. Prior to visiting, the students received background information on each of them. A few days later the students split into three groups, each having a client to take care of. 

The students work freely and in whatever location they determine best fits their assigned jobs. They also have opportunities to attend cultural events planned by senior Ireland Bender, a member of the group and a strategic communication and entrepreneurship double major, who helped set up the itinerary.

Projects will vary

The projects that the students receive from these businesses vary. As of now, The Field Museum of Natural History was to be a project dealing with the right way to produce and distribute tickets to maximize profit. The Union League Club planned to have a project dealing with population growth and change and what new services they should offer to match the groups they are after. 

The day before they leave Chicago, the 16 students will go back to all three clients, even if they were not working for them, and the group assigned to each of the businesses will present 90-minute summaries about their findings. 

This trip is aimed at preparing students for jobs in consulting for large businesses and corporations. Upon completion, students will have a better understanding of what they plan or hope to do in their future. Many students may also walk away with an internship or ideas for one.

“I don’t really know what I want to do after graduating, since I am a senior here at Miami, so I figure this will be a great opportunity to help lead this trip and see how all the different business techniques will work out for each company,” said Bender.  

If this study away trip works out well, they plan on officially moving it to Chicago in the future.