Skip to main content

Presidio Graduate School Reached Over 100,000 Sustainability Consulting Hours in its 10-Year Experiential Learning Program

This signature hands-on approach to teaching continues to deliver measurable triple-bottom-line results to organizations across the globe

For more than 14 years, Presidio Graduate School has taught the foundations of sustainability in its classrooms and for the last 10 we have been using its experiential learning (EL) program, a practical applied learning approach to its 100% sustainability curriculum. In 2007, the practice of teaching classroom theories via active participation in existing businesses was relatively new, but at Presidio it quickly became integral to the Presidian approach to sustainability education.

“The focus of Presidio Graduate School is to change the way businesses (and organizations) run on the planet. We’re not talking about incremental improvements; we’re talking about a paradigm shift. In conventional business we know that long-term horizons and decision making are ultimately better than short- term horizons. The triple bottom line model is essentially the same model extended. It’s only new in that it has a longer and broader horizon that considers the environment and the people side. Those that don’t will pay a price.”

In our programs, student teams ranging from one to five members, are deployed to organizations to help solve both internal and external sustainability challenges. Over the past decade, students have applied 135,000 consulting hours to 600 organizations throughout the world.  Each 16-week project is closely integrated with the course curriculum and covers functions such as Operations, Strategy, Finance, Marketing, Public Sector Finance, Research, Organizational Development, and Stakeholder Engagement.

Presidio students can advise, guide, and support almost any partner organization striving to move the needle in sustainability. These EL projects are an ideal low-risk entry into sustainability initiatives for organizations of all sizes in any industry or sector.  

Many organizations have returned year after year to participate in additional projects.

The offering includes:  

  • Presidio offers low- and no-cost “consulting” programs
  • As little as a one-hour a week time commitment for participating partners
  • In-depth research
  • Acute analysis
  • Actionable recommendations

EL Partner profile: The school’s portfolio of partners is as diverse as the sustainability challenges organizations face. Past partners have included Fortune 500 companies, local/regional businesses, start-ups, major cities, and non-profits. Public, private, or other organizations of all sizes and experience levels in sustainability efforts can benefit the latest thinking from our world-class academic team.

Kevin Cuffe, CEO of BruBroth says: “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Presidio Graduate School students on several projects and have consistently been impressed by the caliber of their work.  They have a firm understanding of traditional business principles, yet inspire us to be more environmentally and socially sustainable.  They have helped us position BruBroth into a company that is succeeding in the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. I look forward to working with PGS students again.”

Impact on sustainable practices

Examples of impact include:

  • Reduced packaging footprint for a large Northwest outdoor retailer resulting in $1M in savings.
  • Provided data and validation for the creation of a sustainability department at a rapidly-growing Bay Area software-as-a-service company.
  • Provided a plan that reduced the energy/carbon footprint of a South American health beverage producer by over 30%.
  • Created a stakeholder engagement strategy for a large West Coast energy company seeking to integrate internal sustainability initiatives.

Professional development

Presidio Graduate School’s EL programs help position organizations for success in the triple bottom line and also prepare students for sustainability careers upon graduation. Many Presidio students are professionals seeking to move from traditional verticals into ones with positive social and environmental impact.  The EL programs provide opportunities for students to access new industries, expand their professional networks, and immediately apply sustainability skills and add practical, relevant work experience to their resume while in school.  

Janice Wisniewski Neitzel, MBA C2 says: “My experiential learning project with McDonald’s Corporation was a catalyst for my starting my own firm – the Sustainable Solutions Group, Inc. The immediate application of classroom frameworks to ‘real-world’ issues helps both the student and partner organization. I developed my professional portfolio while helping McDonald’s solve multiple sustainability challenges and this contributed to developing my firm leading US and global food clients to improve farm animal welfare and reduce antibiotic use in their supply chains.”

The next decade

The sustainability landscape has changed considerably over the past 10 years.  Presidio will continue to evolve its programming and EL offerings to ensure that its students and partnering organizations have access to the latest and most effective programs. Presidio is a partner that is committed to evolving our students, organizations, and society toward a more social and environmentally sustainable world.

Dwight Collins, co-founder of the EL program and former Faculty (now Dean Emeritus) says: “Not only has the EL program helped provide students with real world experience, but it has also empowered hundreds of organizations to do the ‘next right thing’ for people, the environment, and for profit.  This program proves that we can do well and do good. I look forward to seeing what challenges our students will solve this decade.”

Learn more about experiential learning programs.  

Experiential learning program history

The experiential learning program was co-founded by Provost Emeritus Byron (Ron) Nahser, Professor Russell Derickson, and Professor Collins early in 2006. Prof. Nahser, who led the discussion and initial implementation, was Provost of the Presidio Graduate School from 2004 to 2008, teaching both the Managerial Marketing and Integrative Capstone courses. He infused in the curriculum the theme of students uncovering and acting on their “calling” or their deep purpose. They engaged in the practice of “Pragmatic Inquiry,” reflecting on and learning from their experiences. The founders’ vision for the Experiential Learning Program (called Project Oriented Learning in its early days) was that it would provide a vehicle through which students could practice Pragmatic Inquiry in a number of real-world settings as part of their MBA Program.

A white paper generated by Prof. Derickson late in 2005 laid down much of the vision for the EL program. Prof. Derickson developed and taught the first offering of Presidio’s core course in Sustainable Products and Services. This course was designed as another vehicle through which students would acquire direct experience in Pragmatic Inquiry by designing sustainable projects and services. Prof. Collins taught Presidio’s core course in Operations and Production to every MBA cohort since the school’s founding until his retirement in 2021. As a second-semester offering, this was the first course in which students were introduced to the EL program. Prof. Collins developed the EL program’s management infrastructure and managed the program in its early years. You can learn more about Dwight here.

The program has deep roots in Presidio’s history. In Seattle, a similar approach was taken earlier. The students in the former Pinchot University (previously hosted in Presidio Graduate School’s Seattle campus at the time) had also participated in an Applied Learning Program that was similar to the EL.

Ready to take the next step in your career? Explore our Master of Public AdministrationMaster of Business AdministrationDual MBA/MPA Degree program, and Certificates, and get in touch to start a conversation.

About the Author / Presidian Editor

Return to top