Java Junction blends theory and practice
Goshen College students run a coffee shop for course credit
As published in The Marketplace Magazine Nov-Dec. 2018
GOSHEN, IND — Michelle Horning likes to see students apply their business studies to the real world of business.
So much so that she has students operate a coffee shop on the Goshen College campus, for course credit, in a class called Java Junction management.
“Reading a book about business is completely different than running a business,” says Horning, who is an accounting professor and chair of Goshen College’s business department.
Java Junction, located between two student residences, is operated by junior and sophomore business students.
The idea for the shop was suggested by the college’s Student Life team in 2002. A new facility called the Connector which would link two residences was about to be built, and the Student Life group wondered if the business department would be interested in running a coffee shop.
The venture is open from late August until the end of May each year. Students can be involved with the business for one or two terms. Two-thirds of students will do it twice, making a class presentation at the end of the semester.
The store, remembered fondly by some Goshen alumna as much for their milkshakes as their coffee or baked goods, takes in about $55,000 a year. It clears enough profit after wages and other expenses to replace worn-out blenders or freezers, Horning says.
In its first year of operation, sales totalled only $14,000. The student management team works to determine what will be popular with customers who change each semester, as some students graduate, and others arrive.
Problems with broken equipment and employees who don’t show up for their shifts are some of the issues that Java Junction’s management team may need to cope with. Management makes all decisions around accounting, marketing, purchasing, hiring, training, technology and business analysis. They purchase coffee from a local roaster, working to balance cost and quality.
Horning “hovers in the background” but largely takes a hands-off approach to the operation, which is open daily from 7:30 am until midnight, except between four and seven pm. (The shop closes for that three-hour period, when most students are busy with athletic or theatre practices, as well as band/orchestra/choir rehearsals.)
“I’m not in charge,” she says. “I’m not going to do any work.”
Several years ago, Horning began requiring all participating students to work behind the counter at least two to three hours a week throughout the term. Last year, she gave students the option of working more hours before hiring external help. About half of the team chose to work additional shifts.
Including their paid shift and a three-hour group meeting, participating students need to plan to set aside 10 to 12 hours a week for Java Junction. “Some years it will be less, other years, unfortunately it will be more.”
Experiencing the messiness that comes with waiting on customers and taking out the trash is part of the real world learning the course offers.
“When students become part of the management team, their friends become very good customers at Java Junction,” Horning says.
Laura Hochstetler graduated from Goshen College in May. She was involved with Java Junction for two years, one as an employee, the other as part of the management team.
“Being aware of all the hidden things that come along with owning your own business or being in charge of a certain area of the business” was a practical education that came from working at the coffee shop. “You have to make sure you are on top of inventory, and that you are in communication with the baristas, so everybody’s on the same page … customers like what you are selling – all of that.”
Keeping in communication with the team she was working with was the biggest lesson she learned from the experience. “I just really enjoyed the community, making people feel welcome and being friendly.”
Hochstetler, who now works as a baker at Goshen’s Electric Brew restaurant, would like to open her own bed and breakfast operation some day. “I want there to be some aspect of environmental education, or education on sustainable living. I think that’s super important. Hospitality has always been something that I’ve always enjoyed.”
Other schools have expressed interest in the Java Junction project. Culver Military Academy, a prestigious college preparatory boarding school located in Culver, Ind. whose alumni includes former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, actor Hal Holbrook and a number of politicians and professional athletes, has an entrepreneurship program. Culvert used lessons from Java Junction to open their campus coffee shop two years ago. ◆