A new collaboration between the Gabelli School of Business and BMW is highlighting an untapped source of expertise for businesses seeking sustainable solutions: college students.

Through the partnership, students in a new academic course and a complementary practicum—both focused on sustainability and funded by BMW—will work in teams to enhance features of BMW’s new fleet of electric vehicles, the i3 and i8 series. The students will then have the opportunity to share their ideas with BMW representatives.

“Students have a natural understanding about products [like BMW-i]. We don’t need to explain to them what an electric vehicle is and why it’s needed—they all get it,” said Tadhg O’Connor, BMW-i area manager for the Eastern region, during a visit to the Rose Hill campus.

“They’ve grown up consuming these products and they’re used to thinking about how to integrate them into our cities. Their intuition is very valuable to us.”

Carey Weiss, sustainability initiatives coordinator and the instructor for the Social Innovation Practicum, said that the students’ inherent awareness of sustainability is apparent even in these early weeks of the practicum, which is open to both undergraduate and graduate students on all Fordham campuses.

Photo by Dana Maxson BMW
Photo by Dana Maxson

Regarding urban mobility, “Our younger students have brought up the fact that they may never own their own car and have instead talked about ideas like group shares of cars—entirely different models for ownership,” Weiss said.

“These are issues that other generations might not see, but to these 20-year-olds they’re front and center.”

The fact that this generation of college students is immersed in an increasingly urban and sustainably minded society makes partnering with a university ideal, O’Connor said. Fordham is an especially good partner in these efforts, he added—in addition to being designated an AshokaU Changemaker Campus, Fordham has an established a history of operating sustainably, such as prioritizing energy efficiency and powering the Ram Van fleet with bio diesel fuel.

In addition to the practicum, the partnership with BMW underwrites a new academic course, Sustainable Business Foundations, which provides students with a panoptic view of the efforts to make businesses and communities beneficial for “planet, people, and profit” alike.

“The course gives students a perspective on the current challenges related to sustainability, things like urban mobility, infrastructure, food, and public policy,” said course instructor Michael Pirson, PhD, an associate professor of management systems.

“It also helps them gain a keener awareness of the environment—natural as well as social and political—which they’ll need to respond to in whatever career they choose.”

For their midterm projects, students in the class will work in teams to identify a real-life problem for either BMW or the city of New Rochelle, New York, and design a sustainable solution. So far, students have floated ideas about making charging stations for electric vehicles more common and developing smartphone technology that allows drivers to remotely check how much further they can travel before needing a charge.

“We’re trying to change the way we educate not only through academic rigor, but also through applications—providing real-life challenges that we need to figure out and that the students can work on,” Pirson said.


Joanna Klimaski Mercuri is a staff writer in the News & Media Relations Bureau. She can be reached at (212) 636-7175 or [email protected]