Students Get Down to Business in New Professional Consulting Groups On Campus

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Presenting before CEOs and performing market research on top of a full load of classes is all in a day's work for junior Karanvir Singh.

As president of Berkeley Consulting, he and a group of about 20 students do what many professional consultants do-give advice on business strategies to corporations and organizations in the Bay Area.

They suit up for presentations and the group runs much like a real firm. They scour their contacts and the local area for client projects, hold training sessions and keep up alumni relations.

But unlike other student groups, they reject more than half the people who apply.

However, getting seasoned business men and women to trust a group of college kids for management advice is not easy.

"The biggest stigma is whether or not we have enough experience," said Jennifer Loo, vice president of a newer campus consulting organization, The Berkeley Group.

However, most clients simply want to forge a connection with college students, and most projects are earned through networking.

Berkeley Consulting sprouted during the dot-com craze, when the consulting industry was at its peak in the 1990s.

Today, although the market has cooled, consulting is the third-most popular option for MBA graduate students at the Haas School of Business.

With eight years of projects behind them, Berkeley Consulting no longer needs to advertise: Now organizations knock on their door.

"Getting projects isn't a problem," said Gennie Chen, account manager of Berkeley Consulting. "There's a wide selection."

Other consulting groups have cropped up as well. A larger group of 35 students which started last semester, The Berkeley Group, found clients through contacts, phone calls, presentations and letters.

But The Berkeley Group focuses strictly on nonprofit organizations.

It is a twist that gives members a chance to gain business experience and do community service at the same time, said Co-President Julie Zhu.

"We realized that nonprofits need as much help as for-profit companies, but they usually don't have the financial resources to go and hire someone," said Michael Lew, external vice president.

They are now working on a feasibility study for an ethnic open-air marketplace in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

Berkeley Consulting has worked with companies and nonprofits from Mervyn's to the Northern California Cancer Center. The details of Berkeley Consulting's projects are kept confidential.

For both student organizations, the variety of projects is what draws members to the groups.

"It's like you have a new internship with a new business every semester," said Jonathan Tien, external vice president of The Berkeley Group.

Both groups encourage nonbusiness majors to join. A variety of majors is an asset when working with different companies, Chen said.

"There's a really steep learning curve," Chen said. "For every project, it's in a different industry."

Both groups train members through professional business workshops and partnerships with faculty and industry professionals. Each manages about four projects a semester.

"We have to try to juggle a really professional service with a normal school course load," said Tien.

But experiencing real-world business practices is a lesson outside the classroom, Chen said. Abstract concepts in class became easier to grasp for her.

"It made everything seem more practical and applicable," she said.


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