SEBA Professor Blazing a Trail in Community Engagement

kolhedeService and academic rigor are two cornerstones of Lasallian education. For nearly two decades, students in Professor Eric Kolhede’s applied marketing research class have been fulfilling both with community consulting projects.

The fusion of business savvy with the larger liberal arts mission of the College is at the heart of Kolhede’s class. Students are mastering not only marketing techniques, but also communication skills, leadership, and community service. Kolhede’s students have been taking part in community engagement for over 15 years, blazing the trail for what has now become one of the requirements of the College’s core curriculum.

By working with a wide variety of nonprofit organizations in Contra Costa and Solano counties, students get to engage with a community and have a real impact. Since 1997, students have developed strategic marketing plans for organizations such as the Linsday Wildlife Museum, the Town Hall Theatre Company of Lafayette, the Contra Costa Performing Arts Society, the Monument Crisis Center, the Eugene O’Neil Foundation, the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, the Hope Academy for Dyslexics, and the Saint Mary’s College School of Economics and Business Administration Building Project, and many others.

“I want the students get hands-on experience,” Kolhede said.

 Kolhede actively seeks projects that enable students to tackle real-world problems and make a real impact. For instance, 2010 was a particularly difficult year for Vallejo, as it was one of the communities hit hardest by the economic downturn, having recently become the largest city in California to declare bankruptcy in 2008.

Knowing that the arts are generally one of the first programs to be cut in times of economic crises, Kolhede reached out to the Vallejo Symphony specifically.

“Strengthening the arts is one of the ways you can encourage renewal,” Kolhede said. The hope was that these projects would help prop-up institutions that are vital to communities during times when funding is scarce. Kolhede also prefers to work with programs that support the arts because it reflects the liberal arts foundation of the College.

The projects at the heart of Kolhede’s class aren’t  just charitable acts—the organizations that Saint Mary’s partners with take the recommendations that students make seriously.

Students presenting for the Hope Academy for Dyslexics in the Fall of 2012Sandra Scherer of the Monument Crises Center said that member of her organization’s board were enthusiastic to hear what the students had to say when they worked together in 2008.

“The students treated us like we were their clients,” said Scherer. “They were very professional, very prepared, they had great follow-through with ideas. We knew the value of what these students were offering.”

“Organizations are appreciative of it, and they’re impressed by the presentations,” Kolhede said. “Students will address boards or directors who are enthusiastic about being the focus of the class. What our students give them is the kind of focused research that they normally wouldn’t necessarily have the time or funding to get elsewhere.”

The impact of Kolhede’s classes echoes for years, not only for the organizations they serve, but for the students participating in them as well. Lindsey Fatta ’13, who worked with the Town Hall Theatre Company in 2013, is now a marketing associate for Pacific Dental Services. She credits Professor Kolhede’s class for preparing her.

“I learned how to manage time and delegate [in class] which has helped professionally,” said Fatta. The recommendations she secured from her former teacher certainly didn’t hurt either.