Unlocking Career Success: An Interview with Neil Collins on Denison Edge’s Dynamic Approach to Complement Liberal Arts and Industry Expertise

What is Denison Edge

Denison Edge is a dynamic and innovative program designed to complement a liberal arts education with valiable career skills. In downtown Columbus, Denison Edge offers hands-on, high-touch learning environments where students can acquire in-demand skills and knowledge through workshops, programs, and real-world experiences.

Background on Neil

Neil Collins, the President and Founder of Results Marketing Group. Previously Neil has served in marketing leadership roles for national consumer brands like Aquafresh, Renu, and Classico Italian Foods. He later served as CEO for an accredited career education business and CMO for a major independent energy supplier to millions of customers, households, and businesses. Currently, Neil serves as Leader at Innovate New Albany, a business incubator and a hub for innovators and entrepreneurs who are serious about building valuable and sustainable businesses.

Q: What is Denison Edge’s mission and how does it aim to enhance the liberal arts education students receive at Denison University?

A:  “I went to a school similar to Denison in Connecticut called Wesleyan University where I studied Economics because I was passionate about business. I chose economics because it was the closest thing to business at Wesleyan. I found myself frustrated with that because I couldn’t get even closer and get those additional skills. I’ve been wanting a Denison Edge to exist so students like myself at the time who love the liberal arts, also have the opportunity to equip themselves with those needed skills so I can compete with the competition. 30 years later, Denison Edge was created to address people like myself. Denison Edge is well-named because it gives students an edge. It gives students an edge in figuring out what things they are interested in and in interviews to stand out because of the experience Denison Edge offers.”

Q: What makes Denison Edge unique in its approach to preparing students for their careers? Are there specific programs or workshops that exemplify this?

A: “I’ll start with the instructors. They are all people who are actively employed in business. They are bringing in their experience, relevant current stories, projects they are working on, and solutions that their team came up with to solve real-world problems. Students can learn from all of this from their instructors. Secondly, the courses are catered to students’ interests and what’s relevant in the industry currently. We get insight from alumni in Columbus and all over the world by asking what skills are they looking for and what’s relevant in the particular industry. So we’ve created courses based on two things: what students and employers want.

Q:  “Denison Edge emphasizes in-demand skills and knowledge. Could you highlight a few key skills students develop through your programs?”

A: “Sure, I’ve been teaching at Denison Edge since they began offering courses which was 2021. The course I teach is called Marketing and Brand Strategy. I teach the “Four Ps” which is a common model in the world of marketing. We teach other variations and more modern marketing techniques.  We teach them an array of techniques so that they can understand how employers think and that there isn’t one shoe that fits all. So i think getting students to understand that there are different ways to do things is what we aim to accomplish. Also to give students those tools in their tool kit so they can go out and solve those real-world problems. Going back to the “Four Ps” we give students exercises so they can apply what they learned. For example, I provided my students with a case study about launching a new whitening toothpaste amidst tough competition from a big competitor. They work in teams to solve the problem using the given facts and figures. It’s interesting in that case because there is no one right answer. Often with each of these teams, they come up with totally different solutions. Part of this experience too is to get students to effectively explain their rationale. Next, I give them a second problem on the promotion side which is related to paid search or Google ads. In that case, there is one best answer but we put some ambiguity in the beginning. We add this to the problem to get students to seek the best solution. So I think those are two really great exercises that I’ve given to students. 

Another aspect I’d like to emphasize is that I provide students with opportunities to gain insights from current prominent figures in Business Strategy. This approach enables them to delve into historical perspectives and follow these leaders on platforms such as LinkedIn, fostering continuous learning from their experiences. Since we are on the topic of LinkedIn, when you take a Denison Edge course, you can earn a credential that can be on your LinkedIn profile as a badge. When the badge sits on your profile, employers can click on it and see what topics were covered on the course and how many contact hours. It might not be the same as a college course, but it is more visible. The badge is a Denison certification. Imagine a Denison student majoring in Economics who, besides fulfilling their coursework requirements, strategically opts for four supplementary courses through Denison Edge during their academic journey. This choice grants them a competitive edge over their peers. So, students can stack certifications relevant to their industry of choice.

Q:  “How does Denison Edge engage with the Columbus community?

A: “Yes great question I’m glad that you asked that! Denison Edge’s facility is right in the heart of Columbus. It’s a beautiful facility in the arena district overlooking the city. We’ve been making efforts to bring in groups of business people into the space. Several businesses rent our space to host meetings. Students get to see what the business community looks like in Columbus. While students are there, we bring in guest speakers. For instance, in my course, I brought in a former colleague who is an expert in market research and has 30+ years of experience. We’ve also worked together so we often talk about past projects we’ve accomplished. I also brought in three young professionals who Denison students can relate to. They talk about how they got started in marketing, career progression, and advice. These are local professionals who bring in their experiences and stories to Denison Students. It’s also an opportunity for Denison students to build business relationships with these professionals.

Q: “Finally, for students and alumni looking to get involved with Denison Edge, either as participants or mentors, what steps should they take?”

A: “There are a variety of ways. Firstly, the credential courses that Denison Edge offers. They are often 8 weeks and if you are interested in building experience I would recommend those. Additionally, we provide shorter-duration courses known as Accelerators. These offerings cover a diverse range of subjects, including accounting, Excel proficiency, Business Analytics, and Communications. Lastly, we offer a highly comprehensive summer initiative known as the Business Immersion Program, spanning six weeks. This program serves as an alternative to traditional internships. In this program, students are grouped into teams and assigned to a partnering business. Through collaboration with the business, students work on solving real-world problems, gaining invaluable exposure to both the specific industry and influential community leaders. Participants benefit from unlimited opportunities to present their solutions and engage in collaborative exchanges with industry experts.”

By Ethan Scott
Ethan Scott Peer Career Fellow: Technology, Data and Science