Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - 10:15am

Students at other schools have to wait until they graduate to gain experience in the business world. But at Mercy, students in the School of Business’s graduate programs work with real clients through the Strategic Consulting Institute (SCI) while they earn their degrees. This year, students are consulting with Westchester County Government’s Office of Economic Development.

“SCI enables students to get a more well-rounded MBA education and work at a level of responsibility that they wouldn’t normally achieve for 10 more years,” explains Dr. Ray Manganelli, head of the graduate program in the School of Business and executive dean of SCI. “Students don’t come out of any MBA program ready to work directly with the president or chief information officer of a company, but at Mercy, they’re gaining that experience as part of their graduate education.”

Since SCI was founded in 2013, Mercy students have completed approximately 20 projects with various companies and nonprofits. Past projects range from advising a small Westchester toy company on marketing strategy to advising IBM on their internal resource allocation. In return, clients are asked to donate to the College or at least write a letter of commendation for the students. Approximately 30% to 40% of students in the School of Business’ four graduate programs choose to participate in an SCI project, estimates professor John Fuller who oversees the Westchester County Government project.

This year, Westchester County Government’s Office of Economic Development contracted SCI to consult on their efforts to create, attract, and retain jobs and provide affordable housing in Westchester County. The project focuses on four areas: small businesses, business incubator, tourism, and young professionals in Westchester’s urban centers. Mercy faculty members Dr. Victoire Denoyel, John Power, Maureen Cross, and Manuel Ron serve as “Managing Directors,” each advising a group of students working on one of the four workstreams.

Like all SCI projects, this one is driven by students as much as possible. “The Westchester County project is directed by Managing Directors, but we turn over much of the responsibility and the leadership to the students,” explains Fuller.

In the project’s first phase — which is nearing completion — students are conducting feasibility studies in each of the four areas. In most cases, this involves conducting interviews and statistical analysis. For example, to assess the feasibility of attracting and retaining small businesses, students are conducting interviews with small business leaders to identify their needs and determine whether Westchester already provides relevant services. At the end of the first phase, students will write and compile a report on all four areas and present to county leaders. The project’s second phase — which SCI anticipates being invited back for — will involve advising the county on how to move forward in the focus areas.

MBA student Melody Guaba is enjoying the opportunity to explore management consulting: “The program has helped me figure out what are my strengths and where can I see myself in the future. SCI means you’re not waiting until you graduate to figure it out.” And MBA student Matthew Dempsey is honing his research and presentation skills: “I put myself in the shoes of the client, asking: So what? Why? What does that mean? I keep pushing myself to find what the client really wants in a unique and usable way for them. And I try to remember that they’re people too, to make that connection on a personal level as well as on a statistical level.”

SCI’s impact becomes clear as students search for jobs. “Every student who participates in SCI talks about their project in job interviews,” explains Manganelli. “It’s much more interesting to an interviewer than which textbook the student used in a finance course. It gives students a little edge.” He asserts that the hiring rate for Mercy MBA graduates has increased since SCI was founded in 2013. Now, Mercy graduates win jobs right out of the MBA program at respected companies such as Accenture and Credit Suisse.

MBA student Kari Ann Brown already understands the advantages SCI will give her when she begins her job search: “Imagine if you could say in an interview, ‘I was a project lead while working with Mercy’s Strategic Consulting Institute. The client pushed forward our proposal, which resulted in Westchester small businesses raising profits by 10%.’ An SCI project provides you with experience and credibility, and it shows hiring managers that you will not only complete tasks and fill roles, but that you’ll do it all well.”

It is no wonder that Fuller calls this project a “win-win-win” for Mercy, School of Business students, and Westchester County.