University of Southern California

Consulting for the Community
Marshall Undergraduate Student Group Los Angeles Community Impact Showcases Semester-Long Projects
June 1, 2009 • by Mike Martinez

Since Day 5 of his freshman year, Siddharth Ramakrishnan has been volunteering for the Los Angeles Community Impact (LACI), a USC student group whose mission is doing good works off-campus.

Now LACI's president and a USC Marshall School of Business junior, Ramakrishnan staged the year's crowning achievement, the April 28 "Project Showcase," a town-and-gown collaboration describing how students helped small businesses and nonprofits near campus and beyond become stronger institutions this past semester – all in an effort to foster good will between USC and the community at-large. Students volunteered for up to five hours a week or more.

"This is the most important part: to help someone who really needs help," Ramakrishnan said.

LACI is more than just a philanthropic group that so far has worked with 76 clients and completed 87 semester-long projects in which students logged more than 17,000 hours of community service since its founding in fall 2006.

It's a real-world experience in which students function as pro-bono business consultants who write marketing and financial reports and provide make-or-break recommendations on how a firm or nonprofit can remain viable or expand. LACI has won accolades, including this year's Students' Choice Organization of the Year and the 2009 Marshall Most Outstanding Organization.

At the Project Showcase, some of that practical work was on display when teams of five students, all dressed in formal business attire, used PowerPoints to summarize their written reports, some 40 pages or more. About 150 people attended the event, held at the University Club.

In all, students worked with 14 different local organizations this past semester, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Archdiocesan Youth Employment Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of East L.A., and the Los Angeles African American Women's Public Policy Institute. USC Marshall faculty served as advisors to the students.

Satisfaction ran high among students and organization officials.

"In a class, you get a grade on a midterm or final, but in this, you get passion and a real sense of responsibility. You put your clients on the line," said Chris Mengay, a Marshall freshman from Rocky River, Ohio, who's majoring in business with an emphasis on cinematic arts.

"There's only so much you can learn from books," added Brandon Maher, a Marshall sophomore from Santa Monica, Calif., who was the team leader on a project creating a marketing plan for the Education Consortium of Central Los Angeles. "Normally you get your baptism by fire when you go out in the real world after graduation, but you’re getting real world experience through LACI before being thrown out into the world."

Clients said they were impressed.

Gloria Driver, who lives in Los Angeles' View Park neighborhood, wants to open a soul-food, Southern-style restaurant at 5411 Vermont Avenue, about 20 blocks from campus, and the LACI students gave her a business plan that included how to access city redevelopment grants.

"I loved what they did," Driver said. "I loved the fact that they took an interest in my idea and my concept."

Added Genevieve Ostrander, owner of Delilah Bakery, a boutique high-end bakery in Echo Park: "It was a fabulous experience. I was asking the team if I could apply for another semester." She received a 20-page business and marketing plan that listed churches and country clubs as potential clients.

The gathering was also a family affair. Parents of two LACI students attended the event, including Ramakrishnan's mother, Rashida, who traveled about 350 miles from San Ramon, Calif. Her son, whose term as president ended with this academic year, spent his winter break at home working on a LACI project.

"During Christmas, he was constantly working on his laptop while we were watching a movie," Mrs. Ramakrishnan said. "He was making the website for LACI."

About USC Marshall School of Business
Based in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, at the crossroads of the Pacific Rim, the USC Marshall School is the best place to learn the art and science of business. The school's programs serve nearly 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, professional and executive-education students, who attend classes in facilities at the main Los Angeles campus, as well as satellite facilities in Irvine and San Diego. USC Marshall also operates a Global MBA program in conjunction with Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.