Grow Irish Week elevates graduate business student experience
Published: September 2, 2023 / Author: Brandi Wampler
At the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, experiential learning programs have long been considered a vital component of the Notre Dame MBA student experience. The Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program has been a staple for 15 years and the Mods-Away program – seven-week programs in Silicon Valley, California, and Santiago, Chile – is entering its third year.
And now, Mendoza is deepening its commitment to experiential learning for all graduate students through Grow Irish Week.
“In a classroom setting, students are often focusing on case studies where everything they need is perfectly packaged with a predetermined, correct solution,” said Megan Piersma, director of experiential learning at Mendoza. “But the reality of the workforce is that professionals are thrown into challenging situations without clear answers. The value of experiential learning is bringing learning to life.”
Experiential learning happens by doing, and Piersma believes it makes abstract theories and frameworks concrete. Hands-on learning gives students the space to learn how to lead, how to work effectively in a team, and how to communicate with and influence others.
Emphasis on ‘Grow’
Set to launch across most of Mendoza’s graduate programs in fall 2023, Grow Irish Week is designed to provide meaningful skill-building and field experience for career development through immersive, off-campus learning opportunities. As a required one-credit course for nearly all graduate business students, the experiences are tailored for each degree program. The program is optional for Master of Science in Accountancy students.
Grow Irish Week builds on Mendoza’s previous immersive learning opportunities, which took place during “interterm” – the period between semester modules in the fall and spring. The word “Grow” in the name signifies the program’s goal: to underscore the opportunity for students to grow personally and professionally, as well as to grow their circle by forging new relationships with alumni and mentors. The changes also reflect an elevation in academic rigor and a deeper integration with career development frameworks offered by Mendoza’s Graduate Business Career Development.
“We needed to reimagine and rebrand the entire interterm experience,” said Piersma. “We wanted to give it the appropriate weight, emphasize that this is a week of meaningful personal and professional growth for students, and make it a hallmark of Mendoza’s premier graduate programs.”
During Grow Irish Week, student teams serve as consultants on projects that require them to use knowledge and skills gained during the previous semester module. The aim is to solidify newly learned practical and technical skills, and in turn, prepare students for upcoming coursework and ultimately for the workforce.
The experiential learning team will leverage Notre Dame’s alumni network to identify consulting projects that align with each graduate program. In turn, students will receive real-world work experience as well as an opportunity to engage with the University’s larger community.
“Grow Irish Week will help students grow personally, professionally and academically,” said Ben Wilson, associate director of experiential learning at Mendoza. “But a key component is finding Notre Dame alumni that have a need within their organization and are interested in sponsoring a team of smart, talented and hungry Mendoza graduate students to help them tackle it.”
This initiative calls for serious involvement from Notre Dame alumni to provide valuable mentorship and networking opportunities that will support students’ academic growth. By partnering with alumni, the experiential learning team envisions a “much greater sense of connection, ownership and responsibility” amongst students and their immersion experience.
“We are hoping to significantly increase the number of project teams Mendoza will be sending out for the upcoming spring semester’s Grow Irish Week, which is why we are actively looking for alumni whose firms or nonprofits could benefit from these immersions and are interested in mentoring graduate business students,” said Wilson.
Mendoza’s graduate students’ first taste of Grow Irish Week came through the Notre Dame MBA, the Master of Science in Management (MSM) and Master of Science in Nonprofit Administration (MNA) programs last year.
While off-campus immersions have long been a part of the MBA program, the experiential learning team has made key innovations to include more international experiences. An example of this was the MBA students’ travels to Poland in spring 2023 to participate in a project in partnership with the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) to establish a center in Wroclaw, Poland, to support Ukrainian refugees. The students were tasked with advising the UCU on how to set up the center as well as to decipher what the new center should accomplish.
Although supported as a Grow Irish Week experience, the trip also served as an incubator for the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program to explore future opportunities for its program.
In fall 2022, MSM students worked with U.S.-based organizations and brands. One student team worked with the Pat Tillman Foundation to grow its Pat Tillman Scholar community outreach by improving engagement and responses. Students analyzed why the foundation’s communications, informal texts and emails had low response rates and identified a new path forward that provided clearer and more structured communication.
Another MSM team worked with Veryable, a flexible labor solution that provides an on-demand marketplace for manufacturing, logistics and warehousing labor. Students were tasked with developing and recommending go-to-market strategies for Veryable’s professional and educational offerings.
For the MNA program, nearly half of the Class of ’23 cohort traveled to California to work with nonprofits throughout Orange County, including Catholic Charities of Orange County (CCOC), Cristo Rey of Orange County, Farmers & Merchants Bank and RAD Camp. Student teams delivered vital recommendations, such as evaluating the path toward becoming a Trauma-Informed Care organization and providing recommendations to reach enrollment targets.
“The Grow Irish Week project gave me the opportunity to learn, grow and recognize my ability to find solutions to complex problems in a limited amount of time,” said Drake Shrader (MNA ’23) who worked on the CCOC project. “I can’t speak highly enough of the experience and the incredible work the [experiential learning] team did to plan this.”
In fall 2023, MBA students will partner with 20 different organizations in the U.S. and 11 international projects in Mexico, Ireland, Canada, Israel, Croatia and the U.K. Meanwhile, the MSM program will send graduate business students to four regional Notre Dame alumni clubs in Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and South Bend to work with 14 firms, and MNA student teams will collaborate with a dozen different nonprofits.
By the 2024-25 academic year, the College expects Grow Irish Week to be fully integrated into the curriculum for each graduate business program. The goal, said Piersma, is for all Mendoza graduate students to have an opportunity to be off campus during at least one Grow Irish Week.
“We want Grow Irish Week to be a signature dimension of a graduate business degree from Notre Dame,” said Wilson. “After they finish their week of immersion, students will have developed their skills, confidence and humility as they enter the workforce. They’ll be better able to tell their story about what gifts they bring into their career.”
Organizations and alumni interested in working with students can reach out to the experiential learning team to set up a Grow Irish Week immersion.
“We are sending Notre Dame students out across the world,” said Piersma. “It’s how we are shaping people with real capacity for working in a business world that is increasingly more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”