Most first-year MA-HRIR students have enough on their plates, what with their classes, group projects, and internship searches; few would even consider working while completing their degree, let alone  taking on a high-level consulting project. Nonetheless, nearly half of all first-year MA-HRIR students dedicate their time and talents to providing complementary business consulting to local non-profits as part of the Graduate Volunteer Consultants (GVC) program. The GVC program recruits Carlson MA-HRIR and MBA students to be business consultants, and connects them with local non-profits throughout the Twin Cities in need of services.


GVC Managing Partner Brandon Phillips, '15 MA-HRIR, raves about the unique opportunity. “There aren’t a lot of HR programs that are able to offer this kind of experience to their first-year students,” he says. “It is definitely part of the Carlson value proposition to be able to give [students] this opportunity.”

In fact, GVC has been recognized for its unique opportunities by many of its past clients. Hennepin EMS, Goodwill, and Children’s Cancer Research Fund are just a few of the non-profit corporations that first-year students have had the opportunity to collaborate with.

Phillips says there is a high demand for business consulting in the area, and the benefits are mutual for both clients and consultants. Most of the projects taken on by GVC are short-term and fast-paced. Consultants dedicate an estimated 5-10 hours per week to GVC work, which typically occurs during spring semester. Student consultants have developed a fairly streamlined process from start to finish. First, the consultants meet with the clients, and the clients give a basic overview of what their goals are for the final product. Then the consultants enter a data collection and research phase to create a base of knowledge for the project. After that, they spend time creating a report that can be utilized by their clients. Finally, they present their completed proposal to the nonprofit’s senior leadership team and their work is finished.

Each non-profit typically “has nothing but positive things to say,” according to Phillips. “Every year we ask clients to give us feedback on the process and it’s very rare that they don’t have glowing things to say,” he notes. 

So what makes the GVC program so successful? “The projects are meant to stretch the consultant’s skills and experiences and give them 'real world' experience before graduating,” says GVC Managing Partner Meg Shoemaker, '15 MA-HRIR.

Beyond bi-weekly meetings with their clients, consultants are working with total independence, taking the reins on their project. “The consultants’ independence and autonomy allows them to use their creativity and other resources to come up with solutions that clients may not even have considered beforehand,” Phillips says. He also indicates that most consultants come in understanding the “mission-based values” that can set a non-profit organization apart from for-profit businesses.

Although most MA-HRIR and MBA consultants go on to work in corporate settings after graduation, they appreciate the experience they gain providing project management and consulting services for local non-profits. Shoemaker worked in a non-profit for three years prior to returning to school, so she was attracted to the collaboration with local non-profits; she became a consultant and eventually a managing partner.

Phillips is excited to complete an ongoing project with Metropolitan Council. “This is the first year we are working with the Metropolitan Council in order to provide consulting work on employee relation issues that they want a little more evidence on,” he says. “It’s a really exciting partnership for the students to be a part of.” 

Because most GVC consultants are first-year students, they often are learning about subjects in the MA-HRIR program simultaneously as they apply them to their projects.

Ultimately GVC immerses students in working with others for a worthy cause. Shoemaker says her experience “was a great opportunity to give back to the community and get exposure to working with real HR issues.”