The Impact Lab, a duo of classes focused on problem solving and applied action for undergraduate students at the Carlson School of Management, has been visiting the Toaster, leaving behind a trail of inspiration, innovation, and invaluable experiences. These research project courses center on collaborating with an organization to not just solve business challenges, but to also make a tangible, lasting impact.
Effective leaders are able to parse through the overwhelming number of inputs received to understand what needs to be done; this comes down to not just seeing a problem, but seeing the foundation and components of the problem. Uniquely, the Impact Lab recognizes this and notes that “What problem are we trying to solve?” is a crucial question that too often goes unaddressed in the rush to “just fix it”. The Impact Labs Problem-Solving course exposes students to a clear problem-solving framework and process, a variety of perspectives on how to approach problems, as well as individual and group activities and assignments to inform and sharpen skills. Then, the students take these skills to apply them in the Impact Lab in Action course, where they solve a real problem alongside their peers and an organization facing that particular problem. They learn to define the problem, disaggregate the issues, conduct appropriate research, generate data-driven solutions, critically evaluate alternatives, and finally present their final recommendations to the client partner.
This educational initiative has empowered business students with the resources and skills for critical thinking and problem solving, giving them a foundation to practice upon in the classroom and apply beyond graduation. As we reflect on this journey, it’s evident that the Impact Labs have played a pivotal role in shaping the perspectives and ambitions of the participants. Here we explore the exciting outcomes of the Impact Labs collaboration with the Toaster and University Library, highlighting key takeaways and the lasting impact on Carlson students and the world they aspire to change.
Real-World Problem Solving
One of the defining features of the Impact Labs was its emphasis on real-world problem solving. Students were challenged to identify pressing issues, conduct in-depth research, and propose innovative solutions. This hands-on experience allowed them to bridge the gap between theory and practice, preparing them for the complex challenges they may face in their future careers.
Alison Nelson Chabot, Caroline Lilyard, and Mary Schoenborn spoke at the Impact Lab sessions (18 sections) as the University Libraries Team. They helped students explore the variety of University resources, such as journals, periodicals, and exclusive access to academic research. As another integral part of the Impact Lab, the Team highlights the uniqueness of the program. It’s not just another business class; it’s foundational and focuses on crucial library research skills, giving students an early advantage in their academic journey.
“An early observation of impact was evident during the class session work time,” says Alison. “Students saw how the process of business research can be quickly successful using real-world business research tools available to them through the U library—resources students are now aware of early in their academic careers!”
Kimberlie, our Operations Coordinator here at the Toaster, was also one of the speakers at these Impact Labs sessions. She highlighted the practical nature of the program: …The projects are a great example of applied learning. Students have an opportunity to gain skills that are directly transferable to the workplace.” This recognizes that the skills gained in these classes are not confined to the classroom; they are the building blocks of a successful career.
Amee McDonald, the Managing Director of the Impact Lab agrees: “The courses are interdisciplinary, helping students connect a myriad of concepts across business and related disciplines. They are hands-on, interactive, and based on real-world projects.” This real-world, kinesthetic emphasis is what sets the Impact Lab apart from other business classes—instead of simply bringing the classroom skills to the real world, the real world is the classroom.
Personal and Professional Development
Another critical aspect that emerges is the realm of personal and professional development. This program extends beyond classroom learning, offering Carlson students the opportunity to nurture their personal growth and enhance their professional skills.
“These classes give students an opportunity to be creative and really have fun with the assignments,” says Kimberlie. “It’s rewarding to see students physically and verbally indicate that they made progress, feel like they have more of a plan, and are more confident moving forward in developing their project.”
Here, Kimberlie’s words reflect the emphasis on holistic problem-solving, creativity, and fun in the Impact Lab. It’s not just about learning; it’s about enjoying the journey of discovery and innovation. Moreover, the courses equip them with not just the skills to succeed, but the confidence to do so.
Amee also comments on this confidence and development: “Students have also shared that they appreciate the flexible structure of the projects and how they are empowered to design the project and fail safely along the way.”
This confidence and safeguarding is importantly fostered in the holistic nature of the program. “The Impact Lab are foundational courses in the new Carlson School undergrad curriculum,” adds the Libraries Team. “It has a focus on fundamental library research skills for new undergraduate students.”
This highlights how the courses teach transferable skills; even outside of the business world, students are still able to use their knowledge of the University Libraries to supplement the other parts of their learning and development. It allows them to become well-rounded individuals who are proficient in a variety of fields, helping them adjust and be flexible to the diverse demands of the professional world.
Tangible, Lasting Impact
As the program concludes, we’d like to highlight that the Impact Labs aren’t just a set of classes; they’re a force for tangible, lasting change. The seeds of transformation sown during these sessions continue to bear fruit long after the final project presentation, and they keep giving to the students themselves and their communities.
The University Libraries Team is especially excited about the social legacy that the Impact Lab will leave: “The fact that the Carlson School has redone their curriculum to partly focus on DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] issues and impact is innovative, and being a part of that change is inspiring.”