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How Drexel and Saxbys Partnered to Boost Experiential Learning

Episode 155

October 24, 2023 38 minutes


EAB’s Paul Gunther hosts a conversation with Drexel University President John Fry and Saxbys founder and CEO Nick Bayer about the Saxbys Experiential Learning Platform–a network of cafés entirely designed for and run by college students. The cafés provide undergraduates with real-world experience and tangible lessons in entrepreneurship that complement their classroom learning.

Though still in its infancy, the project has employed 500 students and paid almost $2M in salaries to date, all while enabling students to acquire valuable job skills and course credits.



0:00:06.7 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today we take a look at a unique partnership that launched a coffee shop on the campus of Drexel University circa 2015, and has since grown to more than 20 new cafes on or adjacent to college campuses across America. Each one is managed and operated by students who get paid for their efforts, obviously, but who also receive college credit as they gain real world business and leadership skills. Give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:48.4 Paul Gunther: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Paul Gunther and I’m a managing director in Strategic Advisory Services. One of the best parts of my job is being able to speak with leaders from colleges and universities across the country to learn about the challenges and about the ways that they continue to innovate and to adapt to all kinds of changes. I’m excited to be joined today by two truly innovative leaders, one from the world of higher education and the other from the private sector who are working together to give students better opportunities to gain real world experience as part of their college coursework. First, let me introduce the president of Drexel University, Mr. John Fry. John, welcome to Office Hours.

0:01:28.0 John Fry: Good morning, Paul. Thanks for having me today.

0:01:31.1 PG: Also, joining us today is the founder and CEO of Saxbys, an education company disguised as a coffee company that delivers career launching outcomes for students and higher education partner. In 2015, Saxbys pioneered experiential learning platform, a network of cafes entirely designed for and run by college students. Today, Saxbys operates 19 ELP cafes across six states. It is a pleasure to welcome the CEO of Saxbys, Mr. Nick Bayer. Welcome to Office Hours, Nick.

0:02:00.4 Nick Bayer: Thanks, Paul. It’s wonderful to be here with you and John.

0:02:04.0 PG: Well, gentlemen, before we dig into the work that your organizations are doing together, I’d like to set some context around the importance of providing college students with better opportunities to gain practical applied skills, which many would argue are just as important as any other facet of the college experience. John, let’s start with you. How good of a job do you think colleges are doing generally in terms of helping students land internships and other work study experiences that will help them launch successful careers when they graduate?

0:02:30.7 JF: Thanks, Paul. I think I would give the industry at best a C, and I think while there may be a lot of effort, I think much of that effort is sort of done off the side of the desk. It’s not a sort of missional thing. And so when I think about the places that do this really well, including my own institution, which has been doing it well since 1919, I think there’s sort of three things. The first is in fact a sort of deep mission commitment to experiential learning like. This is part of what you do when you come to this institution. It’s not an extra that we arrange for you over the summer if we have a little bit of time to do so. The second is that we have real experiential learning infrastructure.

0:03:15.6 JF: We actually have teams of people who are obsessing over the kind of, in our case, co-op experiences that our students are gonna have, but equally as important, the kind of experiences that our employer partners are gonna have. And that would lead to the the third thing, which is that, you have to have well-established partnerships and relationships with employers from all sectors, not just the for-profit sector, but also the not-for-profit and the governmental sectors, in places that really value the students that they’re going to employ. And look, if you look at the universities that do this well, in addition to Drexel, MIT, Georgia Tech, Northeastern, Cincinnati, Purdue, they all have well run programs. They all have track records of placing the students in either co-ops or internships. And, they’re all committed to giving these students a leg up in their careers. And that is part of the mission of the institution.

0:04:14.8 PG: It’s interesting that point that this is central to who they are. It’s not a side of desk job. I love that comment. Nick, what about you? What’s your view on whether colleges are striking the right balance in terms of giving students a proper grounding in traditional academic principles while also equipping them with the kinds of practical skills you’re looking for as an employer?

0:04:33.4 NB: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks Paul. I can tell you that based on my experience, there isn’t a single institution that isn’t looking to provide many more work-based learning opportunities for their students. So we speak to dozens, probably a little over a 100 different institutions right now, and they’re all A, very interested in doing this, and B, looking for a lot more opportunities for their students to do it. To illustrate this a little bit, so a colleague recently, a colleague I should say recently provided me a stat that came out of NACE, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

0:05:05.6 NB: That’s the organization that essentially studies the employment and job trends for the college educated and for decades. NACE, I think it has, been around since the 1960s when they’re asked, when employers are asked how important grade point averages are to employers, the number has consistently sat around 75%, meaning that 75% of employers felt a grade point average, which is obviously the score that’s given to students based on how well they’ve learned topics in the classroom was a really important factor in determining what students to interview and eventually hire by employers.

0:05:35.9 NB: Fast forward to 2022, and I’m sure the number will probably be consistent in 2023, that number has plummeted to only 45% of employers finding GPA important. Now, there’s obviously many reasons why there’s probably been that fall in confidence, but certainly a part of it is that employers are looking for and valuing skills that simply cannot be taught or graded in the classroom. It’s actually as we call those things, power skills, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, cultural agility, resilience. And so I think as it relates to your question, Paul, whether institutions are striking the proper balance, providing this, really holistic insight and outside the classroom learning experience, it’s really difficult for institutions to do that because it would be really unfair and likely impossible for institutions to be able to do that strictly on their own. As John taught me many, many years ago, that’s precisely why institutions, and more importantly, students need employers to partner with institutions to be able to provide students that holistic learning experience they need in today’s economy. So in my experience, I think everybody is looking to do a lot more of it.

0:06:39.1 PG: Yeah, it’s interesting to hear that what came out of the partnership originally and how that’s kind of fed your view on things. I wanna keep going with that a little bit more. Nick, your experiential learning platform provides undergraduates with these entrepreneurial real world experience that compliments that classroom learning, like you were just talking about. Would you mind telling our listeners how your team came up with it originally as a coffee company and how you then typically partner with universities?

0:07:04.1 NB: Yeah, so as you mentioned briefly in the intro, Paul, we described Saxbys today as an education company that’s disguised as a coffee company, and we’re on a mission to make life better by supporting the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs through experiential learning. Yeah, I’m a living example of the power of education, yeah, I was a… We didn’t use this terminology back then, but I’m a first generation college student. The attainment of my college degree not only gave me like the credentials and the network to pursue my professional passions, but gave me the self-confidence to be able to do so as well. It gave me the confidence that I could keep up in the educated world, that I could contribute in the educated world. And so I wanted to be ultimately an entrepreneur, but really a social entrepreneur, again, a term that wasn’t really used when I was first creating Saxbys. But I really wanted to build a business that could truly and measurably do well by doing good.

0:07:55.6 NB: And so what better industry for someone like me to pursue, other than the one that changed my life and countless other lives than education. So as it relates to the creation of our experiential learning platform, that’s part of the reason why this podcast is so special to me to be on it with John, who is a friend and a mentor to me. It’s a little bit of being in the right place at the right time, I’m based in Philadelphia like John, and this is really a large college now. Around 2010 as we were starting to really try to build Saxbys, College and University started to really embrace entrepreneurship for the first time, unlike when I was in school and we’re not be… Not just beginnings as teach classes on entrepreneurship, but they were asking for entrepreneurs to come into the classroom and share their experiences. How hard is it? What mistakes did you make? What would you do better and differently if you could start all over again? And I was fortunate to become an entrepreneur in residence at my alma mater around this time, and an adjunct professor in Drexel’s Close School of Entrepreneurship not long after.

0:08:49.9 NB: And it was amazing to not just see universities were embracing entrepreneurship, but I was hearing that all the great leaders like John were talking about experiential learning. How do we take the theory of the classroom and give students the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in a real consequence rich environment. And as a mission driven entrepreneurial business, growing in a obviously a very competitive industry coffee, I thought that Saxbys would be the perfect company to begin filling this void. And so, they say it’s better to be lucky than good, I am a living testament to that, John is right here in our backyard. I weaseled my way in front of a friend who knew John, and I asked for an introduction and I presented this, at the time probably pretty half-baked idea, right? But I was really passionate about education, I believe deeply in the great universities like Drexel and the classroom learning experience they give, but I know that if students could get a company like Saxbys to meet them halfway and allow them to take that theory and put it into practice, it would create the great leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

0:09:49.9 NB: And so for me to be able to present that to John for him to become our first partner is something I’m eternally grateful for.

0:09:56.4 PG: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. And you mentioned kind of John’s mentorship as part of that. John, when I think about it, developing partnerships with outside organizations and businesses has been a huge focus of your work since you were named Drexel’s President nearly 15 years ago. I think about the community partnerships within the Dornsife Center, creative partnerships with the Academy of Scientists, Spark Therapeutics, right? Saxbys is one of those, what do you look for and what advice were you kind of giving to Nick in those early days? Well, what do you look for when you’re vetting these kinds of partnerships and how have you engaged campus stakeholders to help develop that vision?

0:10:32.6 JF: Actually, Paul, before I get to that, Nick reminded me that he’s a first generation college student and in this class that will be seated in September at Drexel, 31% of those students will be the first in their families to go to college. And so underline everything we talk about today, it’s access and it’s opportunity, whether it be to an educational institution like Drexel or a great company like Saxbys, we have to make sure there’s always access and opportunity in our systems. So to your question, we’re really sort of blessed here because running through our history and our current strategic plan, is the notion that we barely do anything by ourselves, we are a completely partnership driven institution from the very beginning. Because when Drexel chose to create an institution that would train in the industrial revolution, the workers for the needs of society then and for the future, he did that knowing that it’s not gonna work unless you have partnerships with companies that are willing to hire those students. So from the very beginning, we haven’t had to make the partnership argument, we’ve had to sort of live it out.

0:11:47.3 JF: So talk about missional commitment to partnerships, but look no two partnerships are the same and we’re always looking for three things in our partnerships. The first actually, Nick put on full display, we’re looking for a great leader, who’s the sponsor, who’s the person on the other end, who can meet us all the way in terms of our aspirations? And by the way, who, in this case, he himself is an amazing leader, I want my students to see what amazing leaders look like, Nick is an amazing leader. And so any conversation we had about Saxbys, which we’ll go into, was an easy one for me, it took me three seconds to make that decision. Because it was basically Nick, and I knew that if it was Nick then my students were gonna get the benefit of not only a great company, but also a great leader who is also a great role model. So, but those companies, I think also take seriously two other things, they’re really good at nurturing and mentoring and empowering young people and…

0:12:48.8 JF: Giving these students real agency and room to tackle a challenge, understanding that inevitably they’ll make mistakes because they’re 19, they’re 20, they’re 21. You’re supposed to make mistakes. And so the fact that they’re committed to these students and helping them with their learning curve is terrific. And also really important to me personally and to Drexel institutionally, is that these companies are civically-minded and community-focused. And if you just see what a Saxbys looks like on our campus, yeah, there’s a ton of students and employees. There’s also a ton of neighbors. They feel invited onto our campus because of the presence of, in this case, two Saxbys. And that’s really important, that all are welcome at Saxbys. Not just the people who have the benefit of being enrolled at the institution or working for the institution, but anyone who’s in West Philly and wants to come by for a cup of coffee or something to eat is welcomed into a Saxbys. That kind of ethos, especially in our society today, is huge. And that’s the kind of mission-driven institution that Nick has built. So when Nick pitched this idea, honestly, it was like one of the easiest decisions ever. I didn’t even have to think about it because I knew he would have it and we would go from there.

0:14:04.6 JF: The other thing I want to emphasize, which I think is critically important to this venture that we’ve formed and Nick has extended to so many other institutions, it’s not just about an experiential sort of learning opportunity. It’s also about an entrepreneurship opportunity. So I actually interviewed Nick, one of the CEOs, of the 39 CEOs who ran the two campus Saxbys. Her name is Cass. And I took some notes. So here’s what she said. “Students regard their co-op rotations at Saxbys as invaluable. Student CEOs… ” And notice how she phrases that, “Student CEOs learn how to address unexpected situations every day that occur in fast-paced business environments. This is one of the only co-ops that offer students the complete leadership and decision-making control and responsibility for the cafe.” So this job has structure to it, but also you’re in charge. If someone barges into the store and is causing disruption, you’re the CEO, you have to figure this out. You gotta think on your feet. You have to deal with all sorts of unexpected situations. You really are running your own company at that point. And I think that’s what separates the normal co-op or internship experience with the Saxbys venture that we’ve incubated here at Drexel.

0:15:34.7 PG: It’s an incredible… Really is incredible what you all have built together. And what I hear is that affinity for each other as well really made this a no-brainer, right? You immediately, you had that rapport that allowed you to kind of build this unique partnership pretty quickly. John, you talked a little bit. I wonder if you can expand just a little bit on how this partnership has impacted Drexel? And when you think about the types of partners that you look for today how has this experience and this very student-first collaboration with Saxbys? How has that impacted that?

0:16:05.6 JF: Well, I think it’s prompted us to say, “Look, the standard co-op, which is a very rich and deep experience, can actually get even better if we think differently about what the partners needs are.” In this case, I think Nick made it very clear that, “Look, we’re an education company as well as a coffee company. And we really place a premium on the cultivation of leadership.” I think that’s sort of frankly brought my head up a little bit higher to think about, “Okay. This is not work experience. This is leadership experience. It’s startup experience, it’s life experience.” And if we can give our students the gift of this kind of co-op at Saxbys, what about in all the other settings that we practice in? And so I think it’s been, for me, it’s made me more aspirational for what we do here.

0:16:57.2 PG: It’s incredible to think about how that for, Drexel, this has been such a part of your DNA, right? This is part of your mission. And so what a high compliment that this is something that elevates that even further. Nick, I wonder if I can turn it to you for a second and talk a little bit more about what you were looking for in terms of finding the right fit with the university. As you mentioned, 80 institutions of higher education in the greater Philadelphia area. How did you kind of think about working with John and Drexel? And how did that ultimately then kind of inform your thinking on building these type of student-first collaborative partnerships within higher Ed?

0:17:32.8 NB: Well, Paul, and today I’m gonna be totally honest. I think my headstone one day will say, “Ignorance is bliss.” I think that’s probably the perfect motto for my life. So I wish I could say that I was smart enough or strategic enough to say, “John Fry and Drexel University are going to be the perfect first partner,” but sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. And I had this deep passion through those experiences as an entrepreneur in residence and adjunct professor that I believe that we could be additive to the education world, right? Like Drexel is a world-class university because you just can’t learn in the classroom any better than you learn there. And they give their students these co-op experiences.

0:18:11.7 NB: But we are a private sector business, right? Like we are working and living in this competitive world every single day. And I think that there are experiences that we can bring to students to help them not just get the skills necessarily to compete in the real world, but figure out what it is that they wanna do, right? We all remember what it’s like to be 18 to 22. You pick a major early in your career, rarely is it the right major for you. And the best way to figure that out is to be able to get these experiences, right? And so I was fortunate to be able to bring this to John because he understood the capability of this better than I did at the time, right?

0:18:42.9 NB: We opened that first cafe, 34th in Lancaster, John allowed us to take two 2-bedroom apartments in the middle of his campus, have Drexel engineering and architecture students design it. Most of the furniture that’s in that cafe is actually out of University City High School, which is funny to think, John, like when we drive that area now, they think that University City High School used to be there. But I walked through that building with a hard hat with a bunch of Drexel students. We reclaimed all this furniture. They essentially built that cafe and designed it. That’s why it’s the coolest cafe that exists ’cause I didn’t design it. They designed it for themselves.

0:19:14.2 NB: And we opened up this cafe. And most people, when I would tell people, “We’re opening this cafe in April 13th, 2015, it’s a partnership with Drexel. It’s one of its kind. It’s gonna be exclusively run by students, like Nick, amazing idea. There’s no way the students are gonna be able to do that, right?” Like, they’re not gonna wake up every single day and manage each other and serve guests in a competitive environment, right? Like John can’t shut down the neighborhood and say, “Everyone who wants anything to eat or drink, go to this Saxbys and put us in a bubble.” That’s what’s beautiful about this. There’s no bubble there. We’re in a competitive environment and students don’t even have…

0:19:44.1 NB: Not just have to show up, they have to be great. They’re gonna make mistakes and they have to pick themselves up on it. And so we opened up that cafe. It’s a tremendous fanfare. Right? The place filled up immediately, John and I walked outside onto the patio that we had built right along 34th Street. And I remember him having a big smile on his face and pointing behind him saying, Nick, this is the future of education. Our students are demanding this experience, and this is the kind of skill set and experience students need to be great leaders of tomorrow. And so it just speaks to John’s leadership. We created something special that looked like it was going to be successful. A lot of leaders would say, “let’s keep this here to ourselves.” This is really special. The only place that has this is Drexel.

0:20:20.3 NB: John did the complete opposite. He said, “you need to work on scaling this to the education world” because at that time we were a coffee company with a passion and a purpose, like we were in the business to make life better. But John’s the one who really pushed me to understand that there was something much bigger here. There was an opportunity for us to be able to support the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, because yeah we’re running a coffee shop, we’re running a coffee shop that serves hundreds and hundreds of guests every single day. However, we’re not teaching people to be coffee entrepreneurs or food and beverage entrepreneurs. You’ll be a really good one if you go into that career from here. These are the skills that you can’t learn in the classroom. They’re gonna benefit you agnostic of industries. So when we look at what our student leaders, our former student CEOs and their team leads have done after this experience, it is the absolute pinnacle of my career To see young people take this experience and go and be great at things that they love to do. There’s no better way to make a career. And so I’m really grateful for the opportunity that we’ve created together at Drexel.

0:21:20.7 PG: I wanna go a little bit further on that and talk about the… John, I’m sorry. It looks like you had a comment as well.

0:21:25.4 JF: That’s okay. Just listening to Nick. I mean, listen to the agency that he gives my students, everything from, building it out, “you guys got this, we’re gonna hire you. You’ll figure it out, you’ll get it done, you’ll get it done quickly and well, you’ll reclaim furniture, you’ll figure it out” to running it and delegating the, not only the responsibility, but the authority to do so. And I think that, again, in a world like ours right now, the more agency we give young people, the more opportunity we give them, the better off the world is gonna be in the future.

0:21:58.1 PG: John, this is exactly where I want to go with it. You both have talked about the importance of some of the personal relationships there. You both have talked about the importance of mentorship especially with the student CEOs. Nick, I wonder if you can take that a little bit further. When I’ve heard you talk about this in the past, you’ve really emphasized even still the personal involvement with those student CEOs, that’s one of those things that builds that agency. Can you talk a little bit more about what it looks like to have that experience as student CEO at Saxbys?

0:22:29.0 NB: Yeah, I mean, so John talked about interviewing Cass. So Cass is the most recent student CEO, what we call Drexel OG, which is our very first ones we’re blessed to have two Saxbys experiential learning cafes on Drexel’s campus there at OG 34th Lancaster, and then also in the PISB building at 33rd and in Chestnut. And so I have been able to interview and know every single student CEO we’ve ever had, which is about 200 of them now, the current class. And today’s an interesting day because this afternoon is graduation day. So our last two cohorts are graduating their students CEO experience, and it’s a special day. Because they come from all different universities, historically, black colleges, community colleges, internationally renowned universities like Drexel and everywhere in between, and they all go through the same experience. We don’t make it easier for anyone.

0:23:11.8 NB: They all go through the same experience with the same standards. We use terms like consequence rich at Saxbys, we use terms and celebrate things like failure because this is meant to be a training ground for what they do next in life. If practice can be harder than the game, if the game is life and practice is sort of this formulative time, there’s no better training ground for that than this. So it’s the best part of my job is that I get to spend so much time. And I also understand that we’re at this interesting intersection as a business where it’s not just running successful cafes. Like we have a responsibility to run a successful cafe on Drexel’s campus and all these other places that we are. But in doing so, we’re trying to teach the skills so that when these young people, 95% of them move on from Saxbys, they go into other careers, how do we help ensure that they’re the next leaders that this world really needs, that they’re compassionate, they’re empathetic, they’re driven, they’re motivated, they’re passionate.

0:24:06.1 NB: How do we do those kinds of things? And so if companies like mine and organizations like Johns, if we say that the, the most important thing of our organization is people, how dare I not be involved in the people decision and the people process of this. It’s the most important part of my job. And so I do that because I try to walk the talk. ‘Cause I want them to see that I am willing to put in the work and be there with them. I know all of our students CEOs when, Jeff Selingo from a great writer in higher Ed wanted to do a piece on Saxbys, he reached out to John about it, and Cass was actually part of that, who John was referring to. We involve our students in absolutely everything because Nick Bayer is unimportant at Drexel, but Cass and her peers and her students who were running that cafe are really, really… They’re the CEOs. That’s why they have the title of being CEO. So it is something that is really important to me because in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for mentors, if it was wasn’t for coaches and teachers early in my life. If it wasn’t for John, if it wasn’t for people like that. And I am just trying to do the same for the next generation. And they’re gonna be even better than I am as a result of the little bit that they’ve been able to learn from me.

0:25:12.5 PG: Well, thanks for sharing your perspective on that. I wanna kind of skip to the bottom line here. And Nick, you started to allude to it. John it came up early in your comments with Cass. But how are each of you measuring success on the collaboration? What metrics can you point to the demonstrate that it’s working for students, for the university, for Saxbys? John, let’s start with you.

0:25:35.1 JF: I’d say scale. So we didn’t stop at one. We did a second. And honestly, if you know our geography, these are two very, very different places on our campus. 34th and Lancaster back in 2015 was a pretty rough edge of our campus. And so that was a kind of a startup in a neighborhood that continues to evolve. Right in the student district, sort of very sort of transit rich, really interesting part of the campus. 30-32nd-33rd, And Chestnut is like 50 yard line of the academic campus. It’s actually in an academic building. Different kind of clientele, different vibe. And the fact that we said, okay, we did this one. Let’s do a second and let’s not copy it, let’s put it in a different place and do a different thing with it in a different type of setting. And then beyond that, the fact that Nick has taken this thing and then done the kind of scaling that he has is great.

0:27:13.8 JF: That so many campuses now are enjoying the amazing experience that we’ve had and I hope hundreds of more do in the future. So that’s, sort of one metric I would look at. And the second is the 39 student CEOs. I mean, that’s incredible that the 39 Drexel graduates and there’ll be many more in the future, have been CEOs by the time, we give them their Diploma. And, this is a real thing. I mean, this is a really hard and difficult job as Cass and others would tell you. And so that to me is, an amazing metric to be able to celebrate as well, is to have that kind of scale of, participation.

0:27:16.3 PG: Thank you. Nick, what about you? What, outcomes, what metrics are you tracking for, to kinda measure the success here?

0:27:22.6 NB: Yeah, I’m sorry. I think you framed that perfectly, Paul. So, all great partnerships, are rooted in the belief that all parties win. And all parties benefit. And so in this, essentially you’re talking about Drexel University, the students of Drexel and Saxbys as is a company. Sort of taking it in that order. So for Drexel, and obviously John articulated that perfectly for the numbers and the things, the metrics that we sort of track on our end. Obviously these are very meaningful and results-based learning, experiential learning opportunities for almost 40 former student CEOs. And I’ll talk about what they’ve done post this experience in a second. I think, there’s also a dynamic attractive real estate asset and a real brand, a certified B Corp that’s on campus. Since we’ve opened way back in, 2015, we’ve employed, I’m trying to look at my numbers here to make sure I get this right.

0:28:11.4 NB: We’ve employed 500 students, we’ve paid almost $2 million in wages, and we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of academic credits applied through our experiential learning platform. Because those students, CEOs are not just getting this great experience and getting paid well. They’re getting a full semester of credit as well. And their team leads, their secondary layer of leadership are oftentimes getting on-campus credited internships in addition to the experience they’re getting. So that’s how innovative Drexel is. They’re applying credit through this experience, not just the wages and the overall experience they’re getting. And we have served almost 900,000 guests out of our two cafes. Like 900,000 people have gone in there and just gotten a favor cup of cold brew or a grilled cheese or just gotten out of the rain. It’s become a central part of sort of the Drexel experience. It’s on campus. So much so that John’s team chose early on.

0:28:58.5 NB: We didn’t ask for it. I didn’t even know who to ask for it, honestly. But every single prospective store, tour stops at the OG Drexel Saxbys Cafe. So when mom, dad, students come to visit Drexel and say, is this where I wanna go? We’ve become such a meaningful part of that experience that they stop and talk about this innovative partnership. And I love, so Cassidy, she finished in March, her successor young man, John who is the student CEO at Drexel OG currently. He tells the story way better than I can, but I’ll try. He was a brand ambassador doing campus tours on his very first tour. He’s standing in front of Drexel OG talking about the Saxbys partnership. And he is like, “when I got done with the tour, I called my mom and I said, why am I not applying to be that student CEO?”

0:29:42.5 NB: Six months later he’s the student CEO of that cafe, which is a special thing. It talks about the caliber of students that are at Drexel, but also just how important that is, for the students. Obviously they’re getting the credit, they have access to five different micro-credentials and things such as Supply Chain, Human Resource Sustainability, things that are really desirable in the real world. So it doesn’t matter if you’re studying Nursing, you can go get a micro-credential on Sustainability of Saxbys. Which is really beneficial. And we pay the students for that. They don’t pay us for it. We pay them to be able to sort of broaden their learning experience. We have a 100% graduation rate of everyone who’s ever worked at those cafes and an exit surveys upon completion of their experience as student CEO graduation. Then we work with them annually post-graduation.

0:30:24.4 NB: They point to this experience as being one of the most formulative experiences in their entire career. ‘Cause when you look at, according to the Harvard Business Review, the average college graduate gets their first leadership position seven years after graduation. As everyone on this call, this podcast knows managing people might be the hardest thing to do as a leader. It’s hard. It takes time after you graduate college to be able to get the opportunity to be able to do that. Our former student CEOs get thrown there on average 12 months after graduation, seven times faster than their peers because they just have a level of experience. That’s actually Drexel Cafe. It serves so many guests on an annualized basis. It does a million dollars in revenue. It employs 45 team members who as a student CEO Cassidy, John, all of their peers, they’re leading a million dollar business managing 45 of their peers before they’re 22 years old.

0:31:12.4 NB: And they’re doing it compassionately. They’re doing it effectively. They’re making mistakes and learning from those things. It truly is an unbelievable learning experience for them. And so add all of that up, I think it’s a pretty good experience for Drexel and certainly for the students. It’s a great thing for Saxbys, We don’t grade ourselves upon a typical businesses grading scale, meaning most companies grade themselves on we’re shareholder based businesses. How much money do we make? That’s the only way we grade success and failure. We’re a certified B Corp. We do well by doing good. And so we are more of a stakeholder based business.

0:31:44.9 NB: Yes, it’s very important that we generate a return for our, shareholders, but we believe that we do that better and at a higher level by taking care of our stakeholders. When Drexel is happy and the students are getting an amazing experience, this opportunity grows. This was a one-off idea that I was so grateful to be able to do this one time. And John said, Nick, this is not a one-off idea. We need this everywhere in the education world. And so we’re at 19 institutions and we’re growing really, really rapidly. And again, we’re at all kinds of different schools. The student CEO group that we’re graduating later today, they are 47% first gen. So these are students who desperately need this, not just the education that they’re getting the Diploma, but to be able to get this level of experience because it’s gonna benefit them the rest of their lives. Sorry, it’s a long-winded answer, but I’m very, very passionate about, the fact that this is a, as we call it, Saxbys is a win win win. That this is a, three-sided marketplace that’s working for everybody.

0:32:42.3 PG: It’s really incredible, and I know we’re running out of time and I know we’ve only just started to scratch the surface. A couple of takeaways for me today was, John, your comments at the very beginning, the intentionality. Drexel has an infrastructure built around these types of partnerships. It’s not a side of desk job. It is core to the mission and it’s resourced that way. Nick, hearing from you, that kind of student first approach, it’s not just about the work experience. These students could go work in any cafe. It’s the intentionality that you all have put around the experiential learning, the being innovative with finding ways to offer credit and some of those micro-credentials as well is a huge component of that, and not something that’s always kind of easy to work out at the beginning. So from both of you, I hear that this is central to your mission, central to who you are. As I said, we just have a couple of minutes left. Any closing thoughts from either of you? John, let me start with you.

0:33:37.7 JF: Just maybe three thoughts. The first, and maybe I’ll frame this in terms of advice to others who are sort of thinking about this option at another institutions that haven’t done this yet. Never doubt that experience is the best teacher and that the most effective and transformative college education experiences integrate great classroom learning with real world experience. It just works. And it makes that classroom learning become so much more vivid when you can apply it. The second is that it’s really important to know in real detail what kind of skills are in demand by prospective employers across all the professions and all the industries. And then to align institutional programs and your career development infrastructure around those skills. Talk to your employers in your city, in your region, wherever you are, understand what they need and work your way backwards. And then last, I’d be open to any opportunity, all sorts of things, even serendipitous ones like Nick and I, just having a chat about this one day. You never know what’s gonna happen and never let an opportunity go by without exploring it.

0:34:50.9 PG: Thank you so much. Nick, what about you? Final thoughts, advice that you would give?

0:34:55.5 NB: Yeah, I think from like the private enterprise, perspective, people do reach out to us a lot now saying, hey, we’d love to get more involved in the higher ED space. So what advice, what lessons learned do you have? I think the first, and I’ll sort of try to align these to John’s a little bit. The first is you have to find places that not just talk the talk, but walk the talk. And so you can’t find an institution right now that’s not talking about experiential learning and innovation and education. But John gave me this advice early on, and I think it took me a while to really understand it, which is like, “you gotta find the places that are willing to walk, not just talk.”

0:35:29.1 NB: So you’ve gotta find the leaders like John. You hear John say that at the end, he’s like,” we’re open for business. We want, if you have something interesting that can benefit our students, come see us.” And they do that. His entire organization does that from John all the way down. That is the culture of Drexel University. So find institutions like that. The second is, don’t believe the hype that higher education is broken. There’s so many people that are talking about higher education is broken. People don’t need their college degree anymore. It is completely wrong. And therefore, I think a lot of employers go to higher institutions saying, “I’ll be your saviour. Let me teach you how to really prepare people for the real world.”

0:36:05.2 NB: You’re wrong if you believe that. Be quintessentially who you are. John took the time to understand what my personal motivations were, what Saxbys’s mission to make life better was. He understood the culture of Saxbys’s and said, “I want our students to have exposure.” So be true to who your organization is. ‘Cause that’s what the great leaders like John are looking for, but be tremendously respectful and synergistic in building partnerships because that’s how the students are really gonna learn. Whether or not their classroom is great, your job is to help them take that classroom experience and put it into practice and whatever your industry is. So that would be my recommendation to people that are looking to partner in higher education.

0:36:39.1 NB: And this is the rebirth of higher education right now. We’ve all gone through COVID, we have the advent of Artificial Intelligence and all these things. You can either sit from the sidelines or get involved. And I think this is a perfect time to be able to get involved because you will benefit students tremendously for the rest of your career if you can do it now.

0:37:00.8 PG: Gentlemen, thank you both so much. It’s been great talking with both of you. I have to say, as a fellow Philadelphian, I am proud that this innovative partnership has been pioneered here. And to see the impact that it’s had on the community and how it integrates Drexel even further into the community around it. So thank you for taking the time to be with us today on office hours with EAB.

0:37:19.8 JF: Thank you Paul. And Nick, thanks for your partnership and your friendship.

0:37:22.9 NB: Right back at you, John. Thank you, Paul.


0:37:32.3 S1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week when we unpack findings from a new survey of graduate enrollment leaders. Until then, thank you for your time.

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