A man wearing safety glasses and gloves examines a pipe in a career readiness course.

Student Projects Making Community Impact

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Mark Van Benschoten
Mark Van Benschoten, '23 MBA
Daniel Wenger
Daniel Wenger, '23 MBA

Two recent projects by Carlson School students are making an impact for a Twin Cities nonprofit that helps connect underserved communities with housing and employment.

Amid a shifting financial landscape, Project for Pride in Living (PPL) sought analysis from the Carlson Consulting Enterprise (CCE) to advance its mission to provide affordable housing and career readiness training for individuals and families experiencing housing or income instabilities. 

Daniel Wenger, ‘23 MBA, and Mark Van Benschoten, ‘23 MBA, served as the respective project leads.

“It meant a lot to have an impact not just for improving an [organization’s] bottom line but improving the community at large and being able to see that in your actual work,” reflected Van Benschoten.

Wenger led a team evaluating the operating costs of PPL’s housing program. The students found the nonprofit faced steep increases in operating expenses over the last three years, outpacing revenue. After completing a cost analysis of PPL’s properties and examining competitors, the students provided recommendations for greater financial sustainability.

“While the vast majority of these increases are from factors that are out of their control—like property tax rates and insurance—we

also showed them some smaller expense categories where they do have a higher level of control,” explained Wegner. “It showed them you can't solve the problem all on your own, but there are some things they can do to help get part of the way there.” 

Scott Cordes, PPL’s chief financial officer and senior vice president of operations, says the nonprofit is already using the findings to inform discussions during the current legislative session as the nonprofit seeks additional government funding for its housing program.

A man wearing safety glasses and gloves examines a pipe in a career readiness course.
A student takes a training course in a Project for Pride in Living (PPL) career readiness program. Photo Courtesy: PPL

A different student team also examined the potential of partnering PPL’s career readiness program with employers, which has previously been funded through grants or government support. Through sponsorship, PPL could work directly with employers to train for specific positions within a company. Van Benschoten and his team conducted research to determine a valuation of PPL’s program and assess how it would fit in the market.

“PPL has a great number of diverse job candidates and access to these communities that employers want, but don't know how to get to right now. So that was where PPL’s strengths really were,” described Van Benschoten.

In addition to helping the nonprofit better serve its mission, Van Benschoten says the CCE project provided him with crucial experience he can use in his career after graduation.

“It's been helpful in connecting the dots between what you learned in the true academic classroom and what you do in the business world,” Van Benschoten reflected. “How you do storytelling with data, how you ultimately make your point, and how you get your point across in a clear and concise manner.”

Cordes commended the professionalism of the two teams and the high quality of the results. 

“Whether [the CCE project findings] are immediately actionable or helping inform our thinking as we build out something for the future, we've had both experiences and we found good utility out of each one of the projects,” shared Cordes. “All our projects with the Carlson Consulting Enterprise have been great experiences.”