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Earning a college degree remains an important first step for young Americans looking to enter the job market. But according to a recent survey, about 73 percent of employers said that finding qualified candidates is somewhat or very difficult. And, roughly one-in three employers indicated colleges and universities had not sufficiently prepared students.*

Luckily, universities like John Carroll are taking innovative approaches to ensure career readiness, offering experiential learning opportunities that put classroom concepts into practice to develop confidence while building concrete experience.

Experiential Learning Meets Social Enterprise

So what does experiential learning look like at John Carroll? For the aspiring social entrepreneurs pursuing John Carroll's Social Entrepreneurship Minor, it means creating and launching a food truck business from scratch while serving a greater good. 

The student-run JCU food truck will serve Cleveland’s full-pay lunch market with the goal, like most businesses, of earning a profit. Staying true to the Jesuit university’s core beliefs, the business also has a social mission to positively impact the community it serves. Students will use the proceeds of the daytime business to provide low or no-cost hot meals on nights and weekends to the area homeless.

Working With the Media

Students practice media interview skills in a local news segment. 

 

“With this project, we set out to take experiential education at John Carroll to the next level,” says Sister Katherine Feely, director of the Center for Service and Social Action (CSSA). “Students with all learning styles are applying classroom concepts to bring a student-designed, student-run business to market. By using their profits to provide the same menu options to customers who are homeless, they’re learning how business success can have an even greater impact on our community.”

A Fresh Approach to Business Education

The project moved forward in Spring 2020 after the CSSA used a major donation from a JCU alum to purchase the truck. Feely then worked with Doan Winkel, director of the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University, to integrate the effort into JCU’s Donnelly School for Leadership & Social Innovation.

We didn’t come to the students with a plan. We wanted this to be their project from start to finish, giving them experience with every step of the process needed to bring their food truck business ideas to life.
– Doan Winkel

Working in teams, Spring 2020 Social Entrepreneurship students conducted market research, interviewing potential corporate clients to better understand the Cleveland lunch market. They also met with social service organization leaders to identify the homeless population's needs and movements.

In Fall 2020, students utilized marketing research to design the menu, model pricing, create all point-of-sale marketing, and define the guest experience. 

"I’m having to visualize how to start a business from scratch – the operations, the marketing, and the financials,” says Jack Heller, a social entrepreneurship student at JCU. “Everything about being an entrepreneur is covered in this food truck project.”

By working together to research, design, and sell-in their concepts to the class, students are also building critical workplace skills like communication, collaboration, influencing, and reflective observation. 

JCU Food Truck

Executing the Plan and Improving Results

The students will launch their business through a series of events in Spring 2021, then use sales data, marketing analytics, and customer feedback to further refine their menu and operations through active experimentation in the market.

Like in any true business setting, these students put the necessary steps into place from inception to launch,” said Winkel. “And to further test their planning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, they’re setting their plans in motion during a pandemic. The entire experience is one that we believe will set our students apart and showcase their job readiness in interviews – and throughout their careers.

Winkel and Feely anticipate expanding the initiative over time into a self-sustaining, student-run social venture. The goal is to create a long-term platform for social innovation, and opportunities for students to leverage and strengthen CSSA’s relationships with non-profit organizations across Northeast Ohio.

 “We are currently exploring ways that this initiative can help other community partners advance their own efforts to serve the city of Cleveland, while extending the boundaries of the classroom in new and more dynamic ways,” says Feely.

 

 

*The survey was conducted online in September 2019 by Morning Consult for Cengage, an educational technology and services company.

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