From Classroom to Application

Connecting students with clients at the Research and Business Development Center

Published online: Aug 24, 2020 Articles, Education And Arts
Viewed 1597 time(s)

Young students often pose the question, ‘When am I going to use this?’ More mature students may wonder, ‘How do I apply this in my career?’ Across the country many schools and universities are incorporating more and more experiential learning into their curriculums. According to David Kolb, experiential learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” There is a unique non-profit in Rexburg, Idaho that is focused on delivering just this sort of a learning opportunity for the local undergraduate students.

The Research and Business Development Center (RBDC) has a mission to provide meaningful work experience to undergraduate students to better prepare them for careers and life. Connecting students with clients to work on projects that deliver value to both student and client is central to this mission. 

The history of the RBDC starts with a different organization, the Eastern Idaho Entrepreneurial Center or E-Center as it was casually known. The E-Center was a non-profit started in 2007 by Robert (Bob) Pothier at the request of then President Kim B. Clark of Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-Idaho). The E-Center was founded to contribute to the economic development of Eastern Idaho. However, Bob was given an invitation to involve the students as much as possible to provide opportunities for them to gain experience to complement their academic studies in business. 

In 2010, Pothier teamed up with former BYU-Idaho faculty member Glen Embry of the Southeast Idaho Research Institute (SIRI) to provide experiential learning opportunities for students who were not studying business. In 2014, the E-Center was merged into SIRI to create the RBDC with a new course to focus on experiential learning across multiple disciplines.

The RBDC fulfills its mission by providing a wide range of opportunities for students to work on guided projects for the clients of the center. The core programs of the RBDC are the Applied Learning Projects or ALPS. ALPS is a suite of educational training programs. The vast majority of students who participate in ALPS are earning required internship credit at their university. The educational training programs are intended to deliver both value to the student and to the client. Over the years, the center has learned this requires guidance as the students are still new in utilizing their skills gained through their coursework. 

Over the total history of the RBDC, over 3.5K students have participated in the various programs and activities which has provided over 500 internships and provided value-driven results for over 850 clients on almost 2,000 projects.

Another way that the center helps students to apply their learning is by sourcing clients that have projects that align with upper division or capstone courses at their university. These types of projects have included data analytics, public relations campaign development, engineering design and development for products, social media marketing strategy development, and agricultural commodity pricing analysis. 

In 2019 there were almost 750 unique students who participated in RBDC programs and activities. Continuing to expand this reach is the core aim of the center. Accordingly, the staff are always looking for new ways to connect students to clients through guided projects. 

Student Quotes

I think a lot about my experience with ALPS and how much it has blessed me with analytical skills, soft skills, and above all the determination to do my very best with whatever information and resources I have available. It also taught me how to be professional, and it has prepared me for the job I have now as a data analyst, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

-Daniella Jordan, Financial Economics

ALPS | Basic was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to obtain real world experience where I was able to make a measurable impact while working with actual paying clients. The stories I gained from my time at ALPS allowed me to stand out in interviews and lead me to gaining a full time offer from Goldman Sachs. 

–Seth Baker, Business Management – Finance Major

Client Quotes

I have used the services of RBDC and their project teams twice in the last year.  Both times their diligence and communication exceeded my expectations and have been utilized beyond what was intended.  I was impressed with the team members, their courtesy, attention to detail and their ability to present information that was well prepared.  Any business owner should consider their engagement if they are in pursuit of these type of service.  The department is well led by experienced professionals and the cost is a bargain, when compared to alternatives.

–Gil Birdsong, COO – Westmark Credit Union

Often, we come across new business opportunities that excite us, but our capacity keeps us from working them in a timely manner.  We use RBDC to fill those capacity gaps so we don’t lose our momentum or excitement.  Their detail and dedication to each project continues to exceed our expectations and give us a head start on developing the next “Big Idea” for Emerson. 

–Jason Born, Cold Chain Innovation Lead – Emerson’s Helix Innovation Center

Robertshaw is constantly in need of collecting and analyzing market intelligence related to market trends, competition and potential new applications and end markets.  When we heard about the scope of services that the Research and Business Development Center provided we quickly engaged a couple of student teams with their advisors to help us gain additional information and insights into a critical market expansion opportunity as well a deeper understanding of the global competitive landscape for one of our top product categories.  We are still early in the process but so far have been impressed with the quality of information being delivered, as well as the enthusiasm and diversity of backgrounds related to the student teams.  We are looking forward to the data and findings of both of these research studies.

 –Andy Culver, VP Business Development – Robertshaw

Rob is the Director of University Relations and Marketing at the RBDC ( He is a multi-disciplinarian that is dedicated to a purpose driven career. He combines his design skills with analysis and business rigor to contribute to the mission of the RBDC. He is a native of Idaho Falls. He holds architecture degrees from the University of Idaho and an MBA from the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University.

Click here to read more of the August issue of Idaho Falls Magazine.


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