The timing of the call was fortuitous.

Kerstin Soderlund was mulling over possible assignments for students enrolled in her section of Theories and Models of Leadership when the phone rang.

“The caller wanted to know if Jepson students would be doing leadership assessments for local businesses and nonprofit organizations again this spring,” says Soderlund, associate dean for student and external affairs. “She was on the board of an organization students assessed last year and was impressed by their work.”

Soderlund hung up and revised the syllabus. Gill Robinson Hickman, the faculty member who frequently assigned the project, retired last year. “But it’s such a great project," says Soderlund. "I thought it would be good to assign it.”

As a result of the call, her class spent the spring semester getting a taste of consulting work and evaluating leadership styles and strategies for Richmond Country Club, Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT) and Richmond College.

Students were split into three teams. The teams conducted 15 to 20 interviews with employees, sat in on meetings and examined processes. They were then asked to make recommendations about what the organizations might consider changing. They presented their findings during a formal presentation.

“It was slightly intimidating to present our findings to the CEO and another senior staff team member,” says Colleen Connolly, ’14, who worked with CHAT. “Ultimately, it went well. They were very positive and appreciative.” 

Connolly hopes she will be able to apply what she learned to her internship this summer.

“When students have done this in the past, they have found that they are more comfortable walking into an internship or job and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a company,” says Soderlund. “It helps them figure out if they want to work for a certain company and to recognize that things like environment may be as important as pay.”

Gina Maio, head of school at Church Hill Academy, says the assessment was beneficial. Students pinpointed the organization’s strengths, outlined areas for improvement and mentioned books the organization could use for leadership development.

“And we gained new relationships with amazing University of Richmond students,” says Maio. “They were professional, respectful, thorough and accommodating to our schedule. I have come to expect nothing less than the highest caliber from UR.”