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The Business Classroom

Chelsea Hulina is no ordinary undergraduate business student. While most business majors are simply focused on getting through their classes, Hulina, as owner and operator of Flagstaff-based Steel City Deli and Grill, has added a whole different dimension to her university experience. Though it can be a difficult balance, Hulina says the combination of real-world and classroom experience has taken her professional skills to a whole new level.

"The classroom experience definitely improves my business skills," she says. "My writing classes have improved my professional e-mail communication, my accounting classes have enabled me to create spreadsheets that better organize my financial statements, and my management class taught me how to use creative charts and waiting line analyses, and to forecast sales accurately."

Connecting the classroom to her business

For Hulina, this kind of hands-on, classroom interactivity represented a welcome change. In 2006, then an 18-year-old Pittsburgh native, she started her first year of college while operating a convenience store with her business partner, Frank Kline. Her professors were not particularly supportive of her business efforts, she says, so Hulina headed west after a vacation to Flagstaff. It was, she says, just the right fit.

"I just fell in love with Flagstaff, and the fact that it is so supportive of small business," she says. "I also explored NAU's College of Business and I recognized that the faculty were very talented at teaching in a way that really gets across to their students. My professors always call me out in the middle of class, and say, 'Chelsea, how would this work in your business, can you give us an example?' They do it all the time and I love it. It connects the classroom to my business."

After relocating in Flagstaff, Hulina says that the only thing she missed from back East was the food. So she decided to do something about it. On December 22, 2009, Hulina opened her first restaurant, East Coast Deli and Grill. Hulina eventually sold East Coast Deli and Grill and began operating the dining facility Steel City Deli and Grill at Coconino Community College. She also provides drop-off catering and wholesale items to local convenience stores.

"I'm the face of the deli," she says. "I promote the business and advertise and talk to our customers. We already have a lot of regulars."

Making a sacrifice to succeed

She is willing to make the sacrifice to succeed, she says, and is also grateful that there are so many people at the university who help her to do so.

"There have been several professors I've connected with," Hulina says. "Dr. Kathryn Savage really inspired me to keep working hard toward my dreams. Associate Dean Eric Yordy is also an awesome professor. I always go to him to chat about my business or get legal advice."

Her professors have helped in other ways, as well. Hulina was approached by a professor from an upper division marketing class with a proposal to have her deli become the focus of a marketing business plan: she collaborated with eleven other marketing students over the course of a semester to come up with a marketing plan for East Coast Deli. According to Hulina, the class project helped her spur ideas for franchising her deli.

Hulina will continue her studies in Flagstaff as a graduate student in the university's master of business administration program. She is confident that the win-win situation she has established thus far will continue.

"The university has provided such a great experience as far as being in business and having my professors use my knowledge in the classroom," she says. "I think I can be beneficial in classroom conversation because I can talk about what's outside the textbook."