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Irelands the venue for student consultants

As part of the Lehigh in Ireland program, students served as consultants for three community clients, including the annual Galway Sessions Festival.

For six weeks this past summer, a few community organizations in Galway, Ireland relied on more than the luck of the Irish in helping to promote their interests.

That’s because a team of eight Lehigh students, six of whom are business majors, were their designated business consultants. It was partnership that allowed students to conduct market research, analyze data and offer recommendations on how to effectively position their organizations in front of the public.

The students involved in the community consulting projects are just a few of the 27 undergraduates who traveled to Galway this past May and June as part of the Lehigh in Ireland program.

“Not only is there a strong classroom component to this program, but students get the opportunity to work closely with the local community. That relationship is critical to really understanding how to structure their research and their data collection projects,” says Vince Munley, Iacocca professor of economics at Lehigh.

Studying at the National University of Ireland in Galway, students from Lehigh’s three undergraduate colleges take an Irish Studies course as well as an experiential learning course during their time overseas. For the experiential learning course, 19 of the 27 students were enrolled in “supervised research” in the areas of psychology, biological sciences, bioengineering, civil and environmental engineering, computing sciences and English.

But for the eight students-turned-consultants, a community consulting practicum course rounded out their academic experience. The venue proved to be a good match: Galway is not only Ireland’s third largest city, but it’s one of Europe’s fastest growing cities. Events and tours in the region are gaining popularity—and are helping to bring in additional revenue and interest in the city.

It is with this backdrop that students each had the opportunity to work in collaboration with three popular, local destinations: Brigit’s Garden, the Galway City Museum and the Galway Sessions Festival.

Officials at the museum, which opened in April 2007, asked students to gauge interest in their displays and tours and provide feedback on how to enhance the visitors’ experience. Likewise, students scrutinized the advertisements and promotional activities associated with The Galway Sessions 2007, a music festival featuring 180 musicians in over 80 venues throughout the city.

And a team of students recommended that Brigit’s Garden add concession fees and family packages while giving out information pamphlets explaining how the entry fees are beneficial to the gardens. That would result, they say, in a wider range of visitors who are happy to pay an entry fee.

A fascinating experience

“I learned a great deal about the amount of work that is involved in surveying and gathering data for a community organization,” says Rob Bowne ’09, who worked with the Galway City Museum. “It was also fascinating to interact with the people of Galway and the many visitors from around the world.”

The culture and environment weighed on students mind, as well. “While doing my research, I found the friendliness of the people and their willingness to participate in the surveys to be rather unique, and feel like we would have been met with much more resistance and reluctance in the United States,” Bowne says.

Student research interests extended beyond the bounds of business. Jenna Paradiso ’09 says this experience has changed her mind and opened her up to future research opportunities in microbiology.

“I had a wonderful experience working in the microbiology department at the National University of Ireland. I couldn’t have worked with better people or have had more of a hands-on learning experience,” she says. “I could definitely see myself pursuing this in the future.”

--Natalia Krepak

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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