First-Year Experience partners Lindner students with area companies

Students face real-world business problems with project strategy focus

Project-based learning and experiential education are cornerstones of the First-Year Experience at the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, preparing students to solve real-world business problems from “day one.”

All Lindner first-year students take a section of the Essentials of Business course, opening their minds to the principles of PACE — professionalism, academics, character and engagement — and introducing them to foundational business principles and functions, which they put into action through project-based learning experiences.

With a newly revamped approach to project strategy for the 2023-24 academic year, first-year students were paired with one of Lindner’s 56 employer partners to begin the recent fall semester. Students then were separated into teams to conduct a semester-long project intended to foster relationships with industry professionals and to test-drive their developing business problem-solving skills.

Students began by researching their assigned business and meeting with company representatives at Lindner Hall. Over the course of the semester, students:

  • Attended presentations from company representatives.
  • Toured the locations of their partner organization.
  • Conducted a SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
  • Presented their findings to company representatives.
I really appreciate how at Lindner every single first year gets to work with real companies and that every single first year gets to have these growth experiences.

Trisha Chidambaram, BBA ’27

Greg Eling, BBA ’75, group vice president at Cintas, who has been involved with the various iterations of the First Year Experience for around 25 years, believes Lindner's focus on project strategy opens students’ eyes to the “depth and complexity of business.”

“As they go into the co-op program, I think recognizing that there aren’t simple, short answers and solutions to the problems that they’re going to be exposed to is very helpful,” Eling said.

Employer partners visit Lindner

The first objective for the students was to listen as their assigned company detailed its background, operations, mission, culture and values. Comprised of nonprofits, small to mid-sized businesses and large corporations, Lindner’s employer partners are based in Greater Cincinnati and/or have a footprint in the area.

Ronald McDonald House-2

A first-year student takes notes during a visit from the Ronald McDonald House.

Trisha Chidambaram, BBA ’27, expressed that the representatives from Kao, a multinational chemical and cosmetics company, talked to her team as if they were part of the company.

“That was an amazing experience just because I had never been part of a discussion with actual company reps and people who are making a real difference in the workplace,” said Chidambaram, a member of the Kolodzik Business Scholars community.

Students queried company reps not only about details from their presentation but in areas such as sustainability, hybrid/remote work policies, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts, coping with competition and more.

“It was nerve-racking the very first week when I heard we were going to be working with a real company,” said Jake Slaboden, BS ’27, whose team collaborated with Deloitte. “But the reps came in, and they were very kind and informative. Any questions we asked, they answered without hesitation.”

  • 84.51
  • Acorn
  • altafiber
  • Ameritas
  • Beechmont Automotive
  • BM2 Freight
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Cincinnati Youth Collaborative
  • Cintas*
  • Coldwell Banker
  • Deloitte
  • Eastern Personnel Services
  • Enerfab
  • EY
  • Fastenal
  • FC Cincinnati
  • Fifth Third
  • Forvis
  • GE
  • Graeter’s
  • Great American Insurance Group
  • IKEA
  • Isotoner
  • Johnson Investment Counsel
  • JB Hunt
  • KAO Brands
  • Kept House
  • Kolar
  • KPMG
  • Kroger
  • LaRosa’s
  • Loth
  • Motz
  • Northwestern Mutual
  • Paycor
  • Pep Promotions
  • Perfetti Van Melle
  • Phillips Edison
  • Plante Moran
  • P&G
  • Prospiant
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati
  • Sibcy Cline
  • Skyline
  • State Farm
  • Taste of Belgium
  • Tata Consultancy Services
  • Terracon
  • The Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce
  • The Kleingers Group
  • TQL
  • Uber Freight
  • Valley Interior Systems
  • Woody Sander Ford
  • YWCA

*Cintas supports Lindner’s First-Year Experience through scholarships and in-kind contributions that benefit both first-year students and their peer mentors, known as PACE Leaders.

The site visits

Next up was the company site visit, an opportunity for students to gain in-person, firsthand knowledge about their assigned employer partner. Prior to the site visit, students met with their teams and assigned each other components of the SWOT analysis. For example, three to five students would be responsible for analyzing company strengths and would organize their questions for company representatives accordingly for the site visit.

“One of the things that we were focused on for Kao was their consumer division and how they were getting products out. And while we were there, we were very much looking at things like costs and production,” said Chidambaram, who was elected by her peers to serve as the team’s project manager. “It was an eye-opening experience for all of us and was big in learning how we can maximize our ideas and innovations for our SWOT presentation.”

Barry Bates 3

Barry Bates (front row, fourth from left), a real estate sales professional with Coldwell Banker, poses with his first-year student group after their SWOT analysis. Photo provided by Barry Bates.

Barry Bates, a real estate sales professional with Coldwell Banker, walked the students through his day-to-day operations as they probed him with insightful questions during their trip to his office.

“I gave them a chance to see behind the veil,” he said. “As a result of being transparent, I received really good information, and they hit on a couple of things that were blind spots for me.”

The SWOT analysis

The final piece of the project strategy puzzle was the SWOT analysis. The students dressed in their business best to deliver their SWOT analysis presentation in front of their company representative(s), class instructor and peers in Lindner Hall.

Jake Slaboden 2

Jake Slaboden, BS ’27.

The representatives questioned the students on their findings and submitted an evaluation form as part of the SWOT assessment. The presentations mimicked the required level of research and commitment students will face in professional settings and tested their ability to process constructive feedback.

After a successful SWOT presentation, Slaboden said that he felt prepared for a co-op interview.

“The SWOT analysis was a huge learning curve for me, but it was also a blast.”

Bates spoke highly of his group’s assessment and the other SWOT analysis he witnessed.

“The graphics, the articulation, the way they pivoted from person to person, it was elite. I was so impressed,” he said. “I have a big background in public speaking, and I’m telling you these young people knocked it out of the park. Everything clicked, which didn’t surprise me because of how engaged they were from our very first meeting.”

The takeaways

After completing the project strategy portion of Lindner’s First-Year Experience, students should:

  • Be equipped with professional communication skills and behaviors.
  • Have a foundational knowledge of core business functions.
  • Apply relevant leadership skills in the context of project management.
  • Feel confident connecting with business leaders and professionals from across industries and job functions.
Trisha Chidambaram 1

Trisha Chidambaram, BBA ’27.

As the operator of a small business, Bates took the students’ “fresh perspective” to heart.

“Where I had areas of weakness and opportunity, I complimented them on that because those are the things ... if you have a big ship and what seems like a small leak, over time you take on more and more water — and you can eventually sink.”

Chidambaram highlighted the acquisition of soft and hard skills, which translated to other courses she took during fall semester.

“I really appreciate how at Lindner every single first year gets to work with real companies and that every single first year gets to have these growth experiences.”

Featured image at top: Greg Eling, BBA ’75, group vice president at Cintas (top row, fourth from left), poses with fellow Cintas reps and Lindner first-year students after the latter’s SWOT analysis. Photos by Suzanne Buzek unless noted otherwise.

Become a Business Problem Solver

Lindner’s First-Year Experience will introduce you to the broad opportunities within business, allow you to apply what you're learning immediately to real companies and finish your first year strong with a deep understanding of what is expected of you as you progress through your degree program and pursue co-op opportunities. Request more information or schedule a visit today.

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