From the South Side to the Riverside: One MBA’s Service Learning Experience
Photo copyright Emily Brock.
What does a b-school student from the south side of Chicago end up doing over the course of a summer spent along a 48-mile stretch of river in Georgia? Financial analysis, of course. William Gordon, Jr. was a second-year MBA candidate at Darden focusing on social enterprise and sustainability, when he spent a summer working in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Atlanta, GA as a National Park Service Business Plan Intern.
“Even though it’s a great resource in a major metropolitan area,” William says of the park, “it doesn’t get the visitors that other parks get.” He and a partner were embedded in the park, where they researched regulation policies, conducted interviews, and analyzed the performance of the park’s commercial services. Based on the results, they made recommendations on how the park could recoup their costs and increase revenues through various services, like a concession program. “They will be able to make their operations a lot more efficient,” says William. “They can make sure the resources within the park are preserved, and they’ll be able to make sure that the park is safe for the general public.”
For an urban area experiencing unprecedented population growth and development, a well-preserved and accessible recreation area is essential. The Chattahoochee is an important source of drinking water, which is being threatened by agricultural land use and pollution. The National Park Service has partnered with Net Impact to place MBA students like William in parks across the country, where they can put their business skills to use in support of these critical natural resources.
Hands-on service learning
But the NPS BPI program serves the students, as well. “Being in a mission-driven environment was critical,” William says of his summer internship. “People are there not just for a job but because they have a passion for what they do.” By the end of the summer, he’d gained hands-on expertise and was able to speak more effectively about how tax policy influences the public sector.
“The critical mass of people turn to high profile jobs in banking and Fortune 500 companies,” says William of his fellow MBA students. “BPI reaffirmed my goal to work for the public. I want to be able to utilize my skills for the greater good.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing now. Since his internship last year, William has continued consulting for the National Park Service, most recently working on the Healthy Communities Project, a partnership between NPS and the Community HealthCorps aimed at increasing healthy physical activity in the public parks among the medically underserved.
“It’s a great opportunity,” William says of the NPS BPI program. “There’s wonderful training, you get to experience nature, utilize all your training from business school, and also serve a greater good. There aren’t a lot of programs that can say that, especially if you’re going to a traditional business school.”
Held every summer, the National Parks Business Plan Internship combines students’ business and leadership skills with their passion to make a real difference through the work they do — all against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. You can read more about NPS interns in action and even apply to be one!