The National Alliance on Mental Illness Taps MBA Students for Advice on Business Model

The Raymond A. Mason School of Business at William & Mary strives to create leaders inside and outside of the classroom. The Field Consultancy Program provides a unique opportunity for second year MBA students to gain real business experience by collaborating with local organizations and companies. Students are invited to work through real-life problems and create solutions, which provides a strong foundation for future experiences. The projects these teams tackle are incredibly diverse, ranging from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to Genworth Financial to Lumber Liquidators.

For the past two years, the William & Mary School of Business’s students have been given the opportunity to work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to help create a business model for a cohousing unit in Williamsburg. In cohousing, multiple families with a loved one who suffers from mental illness live in a residential community together. The community aspect of this project allowed students to see how their work can make positive changes for others.

NAMI president Corey Trench describes cohousing as “providing another way to care for those in recovery and give them opportunities. Cohousing creates a larger family and a bigger community for those who struggle with mental health.” It also allows for all participants to build relationships with others who are going through similar struggles, without losing the emotional support of their immediate family. Trench describes how “We want our loved ones to know that they are looked after and cared for, as well as given opportunities to connect with one another.”

Five 2nd year MBA students at William & Mary worked with NAMI during the school year to help create a cohousing unit in Williamsburg, called Hope Family Village. The team was able to participate in every stage of this venture, from helping perform preliminary research, estimating the rough costs of the project, and creating a cohousing business model. The students were also given the opportunity to work closely with the leaders of the organization, as Trench describes how “We [NAMI] wanted to be involved with the team from the very beginning.” Trench and his colleagues worked right alongside the graduate students, as both groups worked to develop a model to determine if Hope Family Village could actually become “a viable business entity,” as Trench describes it.

Trench has nothing but positive praise to give for everyone involved in the project and the result they produced. “It started out as an ill-defined project, that gradually became more specific as we went on. The project was a lot of collective research.” Trench was a consistent presence and resource on the project, and can even describe the exact moment when the students began to feel truly passionate about their work. He says “The turning point for this group, when they really started to deeply care, was when they were able to sit down and listen to the family members describe how it is to live with a loved one who suffers from a mental illness. It became real to them in that moment.”

After that crucial encounter, “everything sort of aligned perfectly, and it turned into this incredible accomplishment of work.” The group was able to give their final presentation to an audience of peers, professors, and members of NAMI.

During the 2017-2018 school year, NAMI continued to work with the Mason School through the Field Consultancy Program and the Entrepreneurship Center, where a group of undergraduate and graduate students set about to “simulate a cohousing scenario,” as Trench describes it. This group was given the challenge of using a business canvas model to determine whether or not the cohousing unit could feasibly work and produce results, as well as reviewing the work done by the previous team.

The group coordinated a collaborative event with the William & Mary Phi Gamma Delta fraternity to test out the feasibility of community living and the extent to which it will help those living with mental illness. The students were also responsible for creating a three-phase implementation process for Hope Family Village, as well as an outline of the current needs of the project and the steps to take moving forward.

Trench describes the interactions with William & Mary as incredibly enriching for both NAMI as well as the MBA students. Trench plans to increase NAMI’s involvement with William & Mary in the future, including projects with the School of Education and the new Health and Wellness Center.