Students at Brigham Young University-Idaho can work directly with companies and governments across the country or even the world without leaving Rexburg.
The nonprofit Research & Business Development Center in Rexburg lines up projects with large companies and small, local governments, even foreign governments for students to typically do research projects during the course of a 14-week semester.
BYU-Idaho students Daniella Jordan and Leah Wetzel worked on a project for the African country of Ghana over the summer.
“We came up with a self-awareness questionnaire that community leaders can use to assess the health of the community,” Jordan said.
The Ghana project broadened their knowledge as well.
“It creates awareness for us,” Wetzel said. ”There are a whole lot of other problems in Ghana that I wasn’t aware of.”
Many of the RBDC projects satisfy internship requirements at BYU-Idaho, said David Merrill, RBDC’s executive director.
“We are like AA farm league for internships,” Merrill said. “Beyond the internship requirements, graduates get a rich background of related work projects. We find the companies. We work with alumni associations, REDI (Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho), chambers of commerce. We have friends of friends.”
Merrill said RBDC is always looking for more Idaho businesses or governments with projects for students.
A dozen years ago, BYU-Idaho spurred the creation of an entity for experiential learning, what today is the off-campus RBDC, housed in 4,000 square feet at Rexburg City Hall.
“We serve the function of a university office of sponsored projects,” Merrill said.
RBDC, a 2014 merger of the Eastern Idaho Entrepreneurial Center and the Southeast Idaho Research Institute, has served 3,000 to 5,000 students since the two organizations were established in 2006 and 2010, respectively. This academic year Merrill expects to have 800 students working on 220 projects with a new rotation of students three times a year.
Thirty percent of the students signed up at RBDC aren’t even in Rexburg. They are among the roughly 12,000 online students at BYU-Idaho, which has about 20,000 students on campus.
RBDC has projects with Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, the Coast Guard, Panasonic, insurance companies, hospital systems and many eastern Idaho companies.
Tyler Price, an Idaho Falls cosmetology and nail technician school owner, has used RBDC students for an app he is creating to help working cosmetologists better manage their businesses.
“I’ve used the center for ideas I have to help with market research,” said Price, owner and CEO of Austin Kade Academy. “A lot of times you don’t know what you don’t know. The student workers really want to find what you’re looking for, and they put a better spin on it from a millennial view.”
RBDC is mostly digital research-oriented, but the organization also leases a field for students to test new fungicides and fertilizers on one-acre test plots. RBDC has harvest equipment and drones for crop research, Merrill said.
About one-third of the programs are with governments: economic analyses, wage and benefit analyses for cities and counties, said Will Jenson, RBDC’s business research director.
“We do a lot of market analysis, and we do supply chain related projects, social media related projects,” Jenson said. “We did the feasibility study for College of Eastern Idaho that led to the taxing district (for the creation of the college, which opened in 2017). We did economic leakage studies for Rexburg. We do merger and acquisition research for larger businesses. We’ve done survey work.”
RBDC works closely with top company leaders.
“We are dealing with key decision makers and high-level executives,” Jenson said. “A student can end up having a CEO write a letter of recommendation.”