Long known for being socially progressive and active, Ben & Jerry’s is now offering its associates an opportunity to cultivate their own passions through two online classes.
The Vermont-based brand partnered with Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, and the Story of Stuff Project to launch the Core Academy, comprised of two four-week courses. Last fall its first cohort of Ben & Jerry’s employees enrolled and subsequently completed the course, earning a joint certificate from Ben & Jerry’s and Champlain College.
“We wanted to create something where someone doesn’t just feel like they just scooped ice cream for a summer,” says Colette Hittinger, project manager of Core Academy. “One of the founding principles for the Core Academy is that if someone says they work for Ben & Jerry’s and just sell ice cream, we have failed.”
The momentum behind these courses had been building for the last few years. Hittinger says a survey revealed that 88 percent of scoops shops employees were high school or college students and for many, it was their first job.
“It made us take a step back and say, wow, we have literally hundreds of high school and students,” Hittinger says. “We kind of felt like we have a real opportunity and responsibility to these young adults.”
The two courses currently offered are “Beyond the Job” and “Activism Academy.” The former helps employees build their emotional intelligence (EQ), which is increasingly touted to be as or more important than IQ. The Activism Academy encourages students to reflect on the issues they are passionate about and then chart a course to become a champion of that cause.
Hittinger says the most daunting assignment for many students required them to create a two-minute video about their chosen passion project and then share it with the class.
“They’ve been so nervous about doing these videos, but they have been absolutely some of the most inspirational things,” Hittinger says. “When you hear people talk about concern for the next generation, I’ve got to say after seeing these videos, I’m so inspired by them. … They’re certainly up to the task.”
Within the Core Academy, students are divided into smaller groups, each led by a Ben & Jerry’s manager or leader. A group of Champlain College professors initially worked with the brand to craft the curriculum and then teach them how to run the courses. Ben & Jerry’s also involved the Story of Stuff Project, which was founded by board member Annie Leonard. Although the Story of Stuff Project focused on a single cause—the understanding and reduction of waste—its online curriculum taught skills similar to the ones Ben & Jerry’s wanted to instill.
The second cohort of Core Academy students will begin their studies this winter, and Hittinger says the brand plans to add another course in Q3 of this year, although it’s not ready to announce the details. She would also like to eventually see Core Academy grow beyond Ben & Jerry’s.
“Our goal is for this not to be a Ben & Jerry’s program forever. We would love to open it up to other organizations, other companies. This is really about the bigger picture,” Hittinger says.
By Nicole Duncan