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Tippie Build Puts Students' Business Skills to the Test

It might not seem like a construction project is the place to put one’s business school skills to work, but Joyce Berg swears it’s a great fit.

Berg is a University of Iowa business professor and the adviser of Tippie Build, where business students raise funds and build a Habitat for Humanity home each year. She said the 5-year-old project gives students practical business experience.

“The students figure out how to market the activities, accounting students here make sure the cash is being handled correctly. All the things that they learn in class get put to use,” Berg said. “Construction, obviously, they aren’t learning in class, but teamwork is a big part of what we do here and they put that to work on the build.”

Not only has Tippie Build been successful locally—the students have built five houses and raised more than $250,000 in half a decade—the campus organization’s work with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate has become something of a national model for campus-community partnerships.

Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Mark Patton said the local chapter’s work with the campus chapter caught attention a couple years ago when a representative from the national Habitat for Humanity organization visited Iowa City.

“I took her to a presentation at Tippie where students were presenting projects. She got excited and said if we can replicate this at other schools, we’ve got a home run,” Patton said. “Certainly Tippie isn’t the biggest or most famous business school in the nation, but when I talk to other organizations, their jaws drop when they hear it’s undergraduates who drive this effort.”

The connection between the business school group and the local Habitat chapter—which recently was recognized as one of only two chapters in the country to win the Clarence E. Jordan Award this year—began when Tippie Build started in 2006 as a one-time project in honor of UI business school benefactor Henry Tippie’s 80th birthday.

“The students wanted to do something big, but it’s difficult to develop the infrastructure on their own, so it was a perfect partnership,” Berg said. “We built the first Tippie Build thinking it would be our only Tippie Build, and now we’ve completed our fifth and raised $250,000 over the past five builds, which is pretty remarkable.”

Tippie Build developed into a year-round project. In the fall, ground breaks on the project and volunteers complete most of the home’s exterior; in the spring, the students finish the interior of the home. All along, students are working on promoting the project and raising money, putting their marketing, accounting and management skills to use.

The project also helps students hone one of their most important business skills: networking. When representatives from various companies come to campus to recruit applicants and interview graduating students, Tippie Build leaders sometimes challenge the visitors to donate or spend some time on the work site.

“It gets some potential employers to get to know the students a little bit better and gets the people who wear suits all day to get a little dirty,” Patton said.

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