December 18, 2007

Graduate student business offers hands-on training

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Forget traditional fundraisers like bake sales. When graduate students in the applied psychology program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale want to raise money to attend the annual American Evaluation Association conference, they pull out a lot more than cookies and cupcakes.

They have their own research and consulting service with a client list that includes Microsoft Corp., the City of Carbondale and the Jackson County Health Department.

Applied Research Consultants, better known as ARC, is a graduate student business serving the dual purpose of financing special projects and also of providing the kind of hands-on experience that just can't be duplicated in the classroom.

Basically, ARC offers data analysis and evaluation as well as survey design and research. The group makes sense of statistics, surveys and programs to help businesses and other organizations optimize internal relations, training programs, customer service, recruitment, performance appraisals – they'll take just about anything their work load will allow them to tackle.

"We look for variety," Nicole Cundiff, a doctoral student from Oakwood who hopes for an academic business career, said. "If we can handle the workload, we don't say 'no.'"

For example, ARC worked with the SIU School of Law several years ago on an admissions project. They looked at those students accepted by the law school but who chose not to attend, an analysis that helped the law school with its recruiting efforts. Other projects have seen ARC students analyzing employee satisfaction surveys and evaluating training programs.

While the money earned from their work does pay for the annual convention trip and for advanced computer equipment, the biggest advantage, the students say, is intangible.

"We not only have the training but also at least two years of doing the work," Virginia Dicken, a doctoral student from Newburgh, Ind., said. "The client interaction is something you can't get from a textbook."

Another benefit is that the students not only attend the annual conference for their professional organization – they also present papers based on their experiences with ARC. As Cundiff said, ARC gives the students a chance "to contribute to the knowledge in their field."

Rebecca Weston, associate professor of applied psychology and the faculty director of ARC, said SIUC is one of the few psychology programs in the country with a consulting company operated by students and may be the only one where the company is student-owned.

"The experience level of our students is limited only by the number of research projects that come through," Weston said, noting that ARC is never hurting for clients. "Students coming out of this program are so much further ahead in so many ways."

Only graduate students participate in ARC. The group generally has about nine students each year, and each student is in ARC for about three years. The first year is a learning time, with limited responsibility and lots of mentoring. Responsibilities increase with experience. ARC graduates go on to careers in business, social psychology, consulting and academia.

Other students currently in the program are: Gagri Bhattacharya, Calcutta, India; Jeremiah Edwards, Boise, Idaho; Nicholas Hoffman, Rockford; Meghan Lowery, Springfield, Mo.; Steven Middleton, Mason City, Iowa; Joel Nadler, Benton; and Kristin Pankey, Herrin.

To learn more about ARC, visit them on the Web at www.arc/ or contact them at