Spring CBL Project Sheds Light on Climate of Scranton Business Community

Students in two Kania School of Management courses work to provide an update to Scranton Business Inventory.
Spring CBL Project Sheds Light on Climate of Scranton Business Community

During the spring semester, University students in two sections of Dr. Ovi Cocieru’s Principles of Management and Entrepreneurship II (MGMT352) courses worked on a community-based learning (CBL) project to provide an updated inventory of Scranton businesses. For this project, students worked with the City of Scranton’s Office of Economic Development and community-partner organizations Scranton Tomorrow, NeighborWorks Northeastern PA, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern PA, and The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to create and conduct a business inventory survey.

Through the courses, students worked to create an up-to-date business inventory by conducting online research by reaching out to businesses via phone and email. The goal of this outreach was to help capture the current climate of businesses in the city of Scranton and to provide this information to community-partner organizations to help inform their outreach to and support of businesses in the city of Scranton.

This CBL project proved to have an impact on both students in Dr. Cocieru’s courses and on the work done by community-partner organizations.

“From a pedagogical perspective, this project was at the intersection of community-based learning and classroom-as-organization. In this approach, the instructor acts as a guide and trusts the students with critical real-world decisions. When it works, it is an empowering, meaningful, and rewarding learning experience. Despite the pandemic and online learning challenges, our students showed a lot of dedication to improving the city. They own the success of this project, and I am very proud of them.” said Ovidiu Cocieru, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, management and entrepreneurship.

Participating in this type of course can provide a unique and transformational learning experience for students. Students in Dr. Cocieru’s courses needed to work together to identify how best to execute the course project.

“One aspect of this project that I loved was the opportunity to work on a team with a few members of my class, and then with the class as a whole. It helped us to come together and try to make Scranton a better place,” said Hallie Murphy’21, an accounting major.

In addition to working in both large and small teams, University students also needed to identify how best to gather business information while remaining mindful of the pandemic and its impact on the business community.

“The project was nothing like I have ever experienced in a class before. It really brought the management class full circle because we were able to experience what we were learning about in class and apply it,” said Emma Nemitz ’22, a chemistry and business major.

She continues “I think this project made everyone realize how much the pandemic had an effect on businesses and all of them in completely different ways. It was very personal because we weren't hearing it from the news, people were personally telling us their stories.”

One common theme identified by students in Dr. Cocieru’s courses is the personal connections that this project provided. Hearing the individual perspectives of Scranton business owners truly made the numbers and data come to life for University students.  

“The CBL report allowed me to see how COVID affected everyone personally. Throughout the semester being allowed to speak to different business owners gave me insight into the hardships they persevered through. It also turned the statistics we all saw on TV into real events, it was no longer abstract, but rather true stories. Having these conversations was truly impactful,” said Gerardo Sanchez Garcia ’22, a finance major.

By engaging directly with Scranton business owners during one of the most unique and challenging times in memory, University students were able to hear firsthand about how businesses were adapting to survive during the pandemic. 

“This project has instilled in me an appreciation for our city’s entrepreneurs, especially family-run businesses. It was an eye-opening experience to see the resilience of the business owners in my community and the diverse challenges each has had to overcome running a business, particularly during the pandemic,” said Gabriele Hanstein ’22, business management major with an environmental studies concentration.

As the students in Dr. Cocieru’s courses worked to help provide insights into Scranton’s business climate, many students found that they were learning a lot about Scranton and all the city has to offer.

“It was a really interesting experience, as even though I'm a lifelong Scranton resident, I never realized how much of the city I didn't know about. I'm from West Scranton, so many things that I want are nearby, and I'm usually pretty hesitant when it comes to trying out new things or places to buy them. Doing this project, being required to go out of my comfort zone and reach out to a slew of businesses across South Side, was eye-opening. There are some great businesses run by amazing people that I will most certainly give my business in the future. I'm so glad that I was given this opportunity to discover even more great things about the city where I live and love,” said Jimmy Greenfield ’22, an accounting major.

Perhaps the most important part of the project is the continuing impact that it will have on Scranton businesses. The data captured from this CBL project will be used by the community-partner organizations in their work to support businesses in the city of Scranton.

“As a nonprofit organization, NeighborWorks is always looking for ways to do more with less. The students helped us identify the greatest challenges facing small business owners so that we can help them grow their businesses as part of our long-term neighborhood revitalization efforts in West Scranton. The assistance the students provided is indispensable. We wouldn’t have been able to reach out to so many business owners without their help,” said Todd Pousley, the neighborhood revitalization manager, NeighborWorks NEPA.

This project also provided insights into the many different neighborhoods within the city of Scranton. During their outreach, University students learned about the variety of businesses and business owners in the Scranton community, and in turn were able to share these insights with the community-partners to help guide their work to support Scranton businesses.

“It was a great experience working with the students on the Scranton Business Directory CBL project. They provided insights into how we can better serve our small business community, especially in underserved and immigrant populations.  These types of projects are invaluable to a social service organization like UNC, allowing us to dig deeper to uncover and address important needs in the community.” said Chrissy Manuel, Director of Community Revitalization, United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA.

As the community-partners look ahead to how they can best support businesses as we hopefully move out of the pandemic, the work from this CBL project will continue to inform their outreach.

“It has been a great help to have so many students connecting with businesses in the City of Scranton and gathering this information,” said Lisa Hall Zielinski, director of The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center (SBDC). “It will be impactful as we continue to work, along with our economic development partners, to help businesses address problems, pursue opportunities and continue to grow.”

For more information about the Office of Community-Based Learning, please visit here or email carolyn.bonacci@scranton.edu.


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