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5 Best Practices for Launching Student Projects with Third Party Hosts

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Written by Capsource

So you’ve decided to incorporate an experiential learning project into your curriculum this semester.

You have a real company to collaborate with, and you know the teaching objectives for the engagement. The students are getting excited about gaining real experience through working with a live client and it’s time to think about how you’re going to kick off the engagement.

How do you best prepare yourself, the students, and the company for a productive project experience?

Before students can get started applying their classroom knowledge to solving real-world challenges, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done. Here are the best practices we recommend when preparing to launch a hands-on experiential learning project with a third-party host organization:

1. Discuss the project structure and goals with all parties so everyone understands what to expect from this experience.
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Students working on an experiential learning project should be tasked with working on specific business challenges for the host company. It’s important to ensure that the students are prepared for this experience and that the project expectations match the curriculum and the capabilities of the students. It is also critical that the faculty mentor touches base with the host company a few weeks before the project begins to set the expectations for the engagement.

When on-boarding the host companies, the conversation should cover: 
1. What you hope the students will get out of the experience,
2. The format of the class and the project,
3. What you’re hoping to see in terms of commitment from the company,
4. What areas of the business the students will be focused on,
5. What helpful information the host can send over to help get the students up-to-speed, and
6. What the company should expect in terms of next steps.

Before the students are able to meet the company, the faculty should:
1. Explain the project structure and how it’s different than a traditional course,
2. Establish that the stakes are high, they’re representing the school, and they’re working on a real project with a live client,
3. Provide an overview of what the students are going to be working on and with whom,
4. Help the students identify where they can go to learn more about the company and project,
5. Prepare the students for the kickoff meeting, including setting the agenda and goals,
6. Answer any questions about the project, company, or next steps.

2. Choose a kickoff meeting date and provide the host companies with a basic schedule of what to expect throughout the term.
Project managers from the host company are usually expected to participate in various checkpoints with the students and faculty throughout the semester. Before starting the project, it is best to set up a clear schedule with the specific dates for faculty, students, and company staff to meet. Some things to include on the schedule are launch date, special check-in dates (for example, a site visit), and final presentation dates. You can also include special requests for information if you haven’t received what you need by this point.

3. Set the expectations for communication including tone, cadence, channels, and frequency with all parties.
Some universities prefer to have the faculty member act as the main liaison between the students and the company, while other universities allow students to directly communicate with the host company. This is often determined by the student level, organization type, project scope, and several other factors. Before the project begins, it’s important to set the expectations around how often host companies are expected to engage with the students and faculty. These engagements include both formal checkpoints and a cadence for additional contact as needed. It’s also important to decide what mechanisms will be used to communicate, i.e., phone calls, web conferences, emails, Slack, Trello, etc. The students should also be briefed on the communication protocol, which should include tone and etiquette.

4. Host a kickoff meeting and set expectations regarding next steps and immediate deliverables.
The purpose of the kickoff meeting is for students to learn more about the company and project objectives, and for the company to learn more about the students. Students should use this opportunity to learn how to run a real business meeting. A kickoff meeting should be scheduled a few weeks in advance and the agenda should be delivered to the company at least two days before the meeting. The host company should provide an introduction to the team, the business model, and the project so the students can begin developing a better understanding of the engagement. The students should likely be prepared to ask questions about the business and project in order to better understand expectations. Companies should also have the opportunity to ask any questions about the course or project structure in order to ensure everyone participating is on the same page. Before leaving the room, the company should also know when to expect to hear from the students next and what they should expect to receive at that time.

5. Sign any necessary legal paperwork to solidify the relationship between the companies and students.
CapSource typically uses a Rules of Engagement and Mutual NDA when connecting students and companies to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. Host companies may also request additional legal paperwork depending on their internal policies and practices. It’s very critical to ensure that all paperwork has been approved, signed, and delivered before commencing any work on the project.

At CapSource, we walk you through every step of the experiential project-based learning process, from connecting your classroom with a company, to launching the project, and facilitating communication through final presentations and beyond.


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