Understanding the impact of in-module student engagement with business professionals

Management and Organisations

Emily Crosbie is the Business School’s Engagement Manager in the management department. She manages the department’s Leaders in Residence network and Advisory Board. Her research interests focus on student engagement with Leaders in Residence.

Two members of the Leaders in Residence network talking to each other, sat at a table

As part of Leeds University Business School’s management degree programmes, students have the chance to learn from the School’s Leaders in Residence. The Leaders in Residence are a network of more than 100 experienced business professionals, brought together by the management department at the Business School.

Our Leaders in Residence volunteer their time to share their business expertise and insights with our students, through mentoring discussions, networking sessions and business challenge events. This connects the theory we teach with real-world practice and helps our students to prepare for their future careers.

The programme is now in its 10th year, and has involved hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions between business professionals and management students. We wanted to understand more clearly how these interactions benefit our students – what skills and experiences specifically do they gain from meeting with the Leaders in Residence within modules? And what can we learn from the programme that might help others who are keen to bring the input of business professionals into their teaching?

Here are the aims, key findings and next steps for my one-year research project, funded and supported by the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence.

Project aims

  • To understand the impact on the students of the Leaders in Residence programme 
  • To identify any areas where we could enhance the programme’s impact 
  • To identify what is working particularly well and why, so that good practice can be shared.

The project focussed on the impact of two events held earlier this year. In the first, our first-year undergraduate BA Business Management students had a series of round-table discussions with Leaders in Residence on topics relating to their personal and professional development. In the second event, our MSc Management students tackled a business challenge in small groups, with the Leaders in Residence supporting each group by sharing their insights and giving feedback on the students’ work.

We collected data from a survey and focus groups of student attendees, a survey of the Leaders in Residence, and a focus group with the relevant module leaders.

Key findings

This research has given us a better understanding of the impact that engaging with external professionals within modules has on our students. In particular, it has crystallised the benefits that students gain from interacting with our Leaders in Residence. We are now confident that there is a strong correlation between how we want the students to benefit (as outlined in the relevant module’s aims) and what they actually do gain. 

The three main benefits for students who attended the Leaders in Residence events were:

  • Skills development during the event. From team working and problem solving to developing self-confidence and career planning, students were able to develop employability-related skills during the course of the event they attended.
  • Gaining real-world insights and advice. Through their conversations with the Leaders in Residence, students gained insights into real-world practice. They were exposed to a variety of external perspectives. They gained career advice and a better understanding of what employers are looking for.
  • Connecting and networking. The events allowed the students to practise their networking skills, but also to develop their network of contacts – both with Leaders in Residence and among their peers

These three benefits all support the students to prepare for their future beyond university. The benefits also align closely with the aims of the modules within which those events sit. 

Importantly, it was clear from student feedback that the impact of the events reached beyond the events themselves - students felt inspired to take action afterwards. 

For example, 98% of first-year students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “the Leaders in Residence event motivated me to take part in other co-curricular or extracurricular activities to enhance my employability”. 

I identified two enabling factors which helped the students to gain the three benefits outlined above:

  • The format of the events. The events were highly interactive. They gave students the opportunity to meet with several Leaders in a single session. And they were fully embedded within a module (rather than being a standalone or extra-curricular event). These factors positively influenced the benefits that the students gained.
  • The characteristics of the Leaders in Residence. The Leaders in Residence who interacted with the students were described as honest, open, inspiring, and knowledgeable. As a group, they provided exposure to a very broad range of perspectives. These attributes supported the students’ ability to develop their skills, learn business insights, and build their networks.

Next steps

The next step for this work is to develop recommendations to share with colleagues who are interested in involving – or enhancing the involvement of - external professionals within taught modules.  

The recommendations will relate to the positive impact that external input has on the student experience, and the ways in which we can maximise this impact.

To find out more about the Leaders in Residence programme, please contact Emily Crosbie, Engagement Manager, at e.crosbie@leeds.ac.uk.

Related content

In-module student engagement with business professionals | Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.