The Campus of Tomorrow: Transforming Students into Resilient Leaders of Tomorrow through Remote Real World Consulting Projects


Gannon University business strategy and analytics faculty have embraced a variety of pedagogies and technologies to create a remote synchronous live client consulting program that develops students from around the globe into resilient world class leaders. Drucker defines leadership as, “Leadership is the lifting of a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a person’s personality beyond its normal limitations” (Drucker Institute, 2011). Resilience has been defined as “positive adaptation despite adversity” (Luthar, 2006). Rather than creating obstacles that make education more challenging, recent global events have set the stage for the development of new pedagogies that prepare students to become members of inclusive highly productive globally distributed teams. Experiential learning is replete with pedagogical benefits (e.g., Kerner, 2018). Remote student consulting has traditionally been a challenge in education. Depending on the class, students embrace remote technologies to collaborate and serve as consultants who work closely with real world clients to either develop implementation road maps for their clients to explore and/or to develop comprehensive strategic business plans for true strategic advantage. Through a strong collaboration between the Dahlkemper School of Business, the Erie Technology Incubator, the Small Business Development Center, and the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network (a collaboration of four universities), Gannon University faculty provide students with team-based semester-long real-world client consulting projects that incorporate all requisite content for their assigned courses. Faculty not only serve in the traditional role of instructors but also serve as mentors and coaches as students apply newly learned capabilities in real world settings. Instruction transcends the classroom into environments that simulate guided internship experiences. Clients in a variety of sectors, both profit and nonprofit, domestic and international, have been served. Truly a win-win-win synergistic environment for everyone involved. Success of the program is supported by stellar comments from participating students, clients who students have served, and faculty who instruct students in subsequent classes. Over several semesters faculty have developed best practices so that this new instructional methodology can be replicated and scaled for each new semester. Rather than creating insurmountable challenges, recent global events have created exciting new opportunities for faculty to develop world class leaders who can provide solutions and navigate the path forward during globally uncertain times. The following narrative provides details regarding implementation and management of the project from a faculty point of view. 


There are five distinct steps in management of the remote real world consulting project: project initiation, scoping, project phases, comprehensive oral and written reports, debrief and feedback.  

Faculty/Client Project Initiation

Faculty initiate projects by vetting and meeting with clients before the semester begins. Faculty describe the project and assure commitment from the client. Deliverables are determined and a delivery timeline is established. 

Client/Student Project Scoping

Faculty provide students with project management tools and the students meet the client. Student teams are assigned, team charters are prepared, and the project is time-mapped. 

Project Phases

Students provide clients with phased deliverables. Oral and written status reports are provided by the students. Students ensure they are on the right track for clients. Students are asked to provide feedback to their peers. 

Comprehensive Oral and Written Reports

The project culminates with comprehensive oral and written reports to the client by the students. The reports tie the request from the client to all work performed during the project. 

Debrief and Feedback

Clients and faculty provide students with feedback. Students are asked to complete the peer grading and self-reflection documents. 


Students are asked to provide the client with three overall deliverables. These include a comprehensive business model canvas, a business plan, and pitch deck/presentation. Working with clients on these three deliverables prepares students for resilient leadership when they are given the opportunity to lead their own organizations. 

Business Model Canvas

The first deliverable is a business model canvas (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). The business model canvas helps students develop an overall, “30,000 foot view” of the client’s company to ensure understanding of internal and external dynamics. The business model canvas explores interactions between the client’s value propositions, customer segments, customer relationships, channels, key partners, activities, key resources, revenue streams, and cost structure. Development of the business model canvas often helps clients develop new and deeper insights into their own businesses.  

Comprehensive Business Plan

Next, students are asked to prepare a comprehensive business plan that will assist the client in achieving their mission and strategy. The comprehensive business plan consists of ten sections: executive summary, description of the business, marketing, operations, management, finances, critical risks, harvest strategy, milestone schedule, and supporting appendices. 

Pitch Deck/Presentation

Finally, students prepare a pitch deck and accompanying presentation for the client. The pitch deck helps the client when presenting to potential customers, vendors, funding organizations, and angel/venture capitalists. The pitch deck consists of eleven components: introduction, problem, solution, team, SWOT analysis, competitors, comparison matrix, patents, sales revenue strategy, financial projections, and funding ask. 

Supporting Documentation

Three primary supporting documents are incorporated in administration of the project. These are a team charter, peer feedback forms administered during each presentation, and peer grading forms administered at the end of the project. 

Team Charter

In order to replicate the real world, faculty assign student teams to ensure a diversity of backgrounds and work experiences on each team. Ideal teams reflect all functional areas in a real world business. Team charters help support teams as they move through the four primary stages of Tuckman’s Model of Group Development: forming, storming, norming, and performing (Tuckman, 1965; Tuckman & Jensen, 2010). The team charter begins by asking students to provide their contact information. Next, the teams are to meet and provide
four items:

  1. How the team will work together and commitment/contributions expected of each team member
  2. How work will be assigned along with roles and responsibilities of each team member
  3. Primary communication method(s) between
    team members
  4. The process for dealing with conflict in the team

Faculty draw upon the charter when dealing with team management issues. Faculty direct students to revise the charter when the team expresses concerns that the charter is not effective. 

Peer Feedback

Peer feedback is an excellent tool to encourage engagement and are a source of rich feedback (Van Popta et al., 2017). Students provide peer feedback when teams other than their own are presenting. Peer feedback consists of two parts: a grading rubric for quality and content of the presentation and a series of questions to provide substantive feedback to presenting teams. The questions include the following: 

  • List two factors or considerations this student team presented especially effectively.
  • List two questions that you would ask the team if you were the client.
  • What two recommendations regarding either presentation style or content areas would you give the presenting team to make their next presentation stronger?

Peer Grading 

Each student completes a peer grading form at the end of the semester to assist the professor in gauging the team members’ level of learning and contribution. Peer grading helps guard against social loafing as each student’s level of contribution is partially assessed by their teammates. Teammates assess members of their team on five types of contribution: team dynamics, interest, and enthusiasm; research; oral presentations; written reports; project leadership and management. To ensure self-reflective learning faculty ask the students the following questions:

  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • What do you think went well?
  • What would you have done differently, given
    the opportunity?
  • What would you like to have known or practiced before starting the project? 
  • Do you have any other comments or suggestions about the project?

Student Feedback

The transformational nature of this revolutionary new pedagogical paradigm can be observed through the following sample comments from students: 

“I learned how to be a project manager and lead a group through something. In addition, I learned that listening to clients is really important and more when you are working face-to-face with them in consulting. It was a great experience and I wish I can do it again.”

“Entire experience of working with a live client has been great. I have learned how to professionally interact with clients, understand how a company works, and think out of the box. I also learnt how to identify a problem, understand the reason why the problem exists, and try to develop a solution for the existing problem.” 

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Faculty in remote real world consulting environments serve as professor, mentor, and coach to both students and clients. 

Best Practices in Regards to Students

In order to set the stage for success, faculty need to consider the project through the eyes of their students. Regarding students:

  • Communication is key
  • Every student has a speaking part during oral presentations
  • Peer feedback during presentations
  • Watch team size to guard against social loafing
  • Rehearsals are vital. Rehearsals build confidence.  
  • Coach presentation skills (Who talks/listens/watches? Who takes notes?) 
  • Repeat client requests. Make sure students and client are on the same page. 
  • Coach students to encourage and not overwhelm clients.
  • Check technology and final content before live meetings with clients. 
  • Coach and encourage students for confidence. 

Best Practices in Regards to Clients

Project success also requires that faculty consider the project from the client’s point of view. Regarding clients:

  • Continued communication is key 
  • It’s all about building trust
  • Preliminary planning is vital for success
  • Ensure client commitment. The client needs to be available to students. 
  • Client is in the driver’s seat regarding consulting deliverables
  • As trust grows, the client can change or expand the list of deliverables. Communicate with your client so that you don’t overwhelm your students. 
  • Build a healthy client pipeline.
  • Partner with clients in developing students into leaders 


Today’s students have much potential to develop into a leader of trustworthy influence but needs to understand why they are asked to perform tasks in order to provide faculty with permission to transform them. Gannon University has taken the challenges presented by the last two years and used them to open doors to exciting new pedagogical development. A new pedagogy has been developed that transforms students into resilient leaders by having them serve on remote consulting teams to real world clients. This model is effective in allowing faculty to transform students into leaders regardless of the type of environment or challenges that students may encounter in the world of tomorrow.


  • Drucker Institute. (2011, October 3). You’re No Leader – At Least Not Without Practice. Drucker Institute. 
  • Kerner, R. (2018, March 13). Five advantages of experiential learning. Insights.
  • Luthar S.S. & Chicchetti D. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development. 71(3) 543–562. 
  • Osterwalder, A. & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation. Wiley. 
  • Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63(6), 384.
  • Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (2010). Stages of small-group development Revisited1. Group Facilitation, (10), 43.
  • Van Popta, E., Kral, M., Camp, G., Martens, R. L., & Simons, P. R. J. (2017). Exploring the value of peer feedback in online learning for the provider. Educational Research Review, 20, 24-34.