Over the past few months, I've been in touch with Becky Oliphant, a professor of marketing at Stetson University in Deland, FL, who takes a very hands-on approach to teaching her MBA students about business, much to the advantage of local companies. In the spring, for instance, Oliphant's students helped develop a marketing plan and SWOT analysis for a local business called Complete Parachute Solutions — a $33 million company that supplies government agencies with parachutes. You can read more about that in this NYT story.

And this summer, Oliphant took 27 international marketing students on two, two-week trips to Europe (Italy, Austria, and Germany) to visit companies like BMW, Swarovski, Riedel, and a small bicycle tour and rental company called Mike's Bike Tours, owned by American expat Mike Lasher. Among the students' suggestions to Lasher: add local advertising to each bicycle; begin using Google AdWords; start doing a night tour that includes a pub crawl; create and sell more branded paraphernalia. It'll be interesting to see what advice he takes to heart.

To me, this sounds like a great way to spend a summer vacation — not just for the students, but for the business owners who host them and receive the benefit of their youthful perspective. I wonder how many other colleges and universities send out teams of student consultants to both local and international companies and what kind of impact the student suggestions have had. Share your stories with me, please!

An interesting footnote: While they were touring Europe, Oliphant challenged her students to be on the lookout for the "made in China" label as they shopped. "It was not until the next to last day in the trip that someone found batteries in a grocery store that said 'Made in China,'" says Oliphant. "Most clothing and souviners were made in Germany, Austria, Italy or Switzerland. The people of these countries support their own manufacterers even if items are priced a little higher." Hmm. The last time I visited a souvenir shop near Times Square, I had an equally hard time finding items that weren't made in China. Food for thought.