Authored By Debbie Psihountas,
Ph.D., MBA Director
Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology introduced a new version of their largest degree program, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) in fall of 2014. While using the majority of the existing courses, this particular version of the program was geared to adult learners able to work at a particularly rapid pace to complete their 37-hour program within twelve months. To help make that more doable, the curriculum was modified in some instances to allow for creative delivery of courses, including a few targeted specialized Saturday seminar courses, hybrid courses (a combination of online and live learning), and more.
Due to the more manageable size of this particular MBA version, I decided this was a great time to try out some new learning ideas that I’d wanted to explore for some time, but which had been difficult to implement due to Webster’s huge footprint (the MBA is offered on more than 80 campuses in 8 countries, 4 continents, and fully online.) Having a program with only four cohort groups (two in St. Louis, one in Orlando, and one in Geneva, Switzerland) and 67 students allowed for creative experimentation with new learning approaches, while keeping the learning consistent between course sections and cohorts.
One of these learning approaches was the idea to make use of live cases within courses. In early fall, I reached out to a number of corporate partners to see if there was interest in partnering with our classes for purposes of solving a “real life” business problem using student teams in an Operations Management course. As part of meeting with company executives and learning about some of their real-time challenges, we were able to line up some great projects in Operations Management. That particular course was offered in spring two (mid-March through mid-May) of the academic year, and both partner organizations were happy with the student recommendations and projects.
While meeting with corporate executives to find some feasible problems for Operations Management, I came across Enterprise Bank. Enterprise had a great story, and a real-life issue they were grappling with and willing to partner with us on. Unfortunately, it was not an operations management problem, and I didn’t feel it would work within the course being targeted for the live case. But it sounded very relevant to another of the courses the students would be taking during the year (specifically, in summer term of 2015; their last term in the program). This course was introduced into the MBA program in 2012 as a required part of the curriculum. At the time, the Business Department, which is responsible for the MBA curriculum, determined that a course dealing with ethics and sustainability was an important addition to the MBA to keep it current and relevant as a degree program. The course that was designed and introduced, Corporate Responsibility and Society, is a blend of ethics, sustainability, and the strategic implications of corporate responsibility faced by business leaders.
Enterprise, like many organizations, strives to be a strong part of the communities in which they serve. Part of this is required; as lenders, they are obligated to invest in lower-income communities as part of their banking mission, but a large part of it is Enterprise wanting to lead by example and to do the right thing in the communities in which they live and operate. One of the big programs run by Enterprise for the benefit of others is their well-known and regarded Enterprise University. This segment of their business offers a huge range of free programs available to anyone in the community who signs up. They teach everything from basic financial planning for individuals and businesses, retirement planning, how to hire good employees, how to market your business, and many other useful topics relevant to small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals.
Enterprise also donates a significant amount of funding to various causes throughout the year, but their leadership and board wanted to get a better idea of how funds were being spent, in addition to some analytics regarding impact. In particular, they wanted to track the impact their donations and funds were having on the charities and organizations receiving them, a better process overall for determining when to donate, how to donate, how much to donate, and a process that would be fair and consistent to assist in determining how to allocate personnel time for individual employees to be able to serve charities and nonprofits they were interested in helping throughout the year.
The timing of our initial meeting was fortuitous; Enterprise Bank’s senior executives in charge of risk management, human resources, and diversity and inclusion were already in the process of analyzing data to come up with a recommended plan to present to their board in fall of 2015. Webster would be working with them “just in time” as they made ready for their formal recommendations to the board.
After meeting a couple of times with Enterprise, I contacted the instructors slated to teach the two St. Louis-based cohort sections for the course in summer term to determine if they would be interested and able to incorporate a live-case project into their courses while still achieving the needed learning outcomes of the course, and both were immediately interested in hearing more about the case opportunity. From there, a series of meetings with Enterprise SVP’s, the Webster professors, and me ensued, and with the great help and sharing of relevant data by Enterprise, our instructor team did a terrific job designing a course assignment around this case opportunity.
On the second night of the nine-week term, classes met at Enterprise Bank, and the executives working with us shared data with the students and allowed them to ask questions and to gather the information needed to allow them to do a thorough job with their case analyses. From there, the two classes formed their work teams, and off the students went! Student teams worked on their cases while also completing the other reading and course assignments needed to pass the MNGT 5990 course.
In week nine, the final week of classes, each of the cohort groups met at Enterprise Bank, and presented their recommendations on a corporate giving plan to Enterprise. Each class took a slightly different approach to their teams. The Wednesday cohort, taught by professor Andy Gonzalez, divided itself into two teams. Interestingly enough, they divided by gender, so we had the female team presenting first, followed by the males. It was interesting to see the differences in ideas and approaches to charitable giving management that just these two teams were able to design. The Enterprise team was impressed, and asked many follow-up questions to the student presenters, which the students did a great job addressing. After only the first two presentations, it was clear to the Enterprise team that they had a lot of great data and analysis to consider as they made their own plans for their board recommendation, but to make their job even a bit tougher, the Thursday groups were up next. Under the leadership of Dr. Dustin Smith, the Thursday cohort divided itself into 4 sub-groups, and each worked independently to come up with recommendations for Enterprise.
Of course in six presentations there will be some overlap of ideas, recommendations, and overall analysis done, but it was interesting to see some of the different and creative approaches taken by each of the six teams that ended up presenting to Enterprise.
Suffice it to say that Enterprise leadership was thrilled with what the students came up with, and it was particularly a day for celebration for the student cohorts as well, as each class was meeting that evening for their final night of class, after an incredibly action-packed, challenging year of study to complete an MBA (in nearly all cases, while employed full time) in just 12 months.
Based on the success of this project, the Corporate Responsibility instructors and I plan to continue to build on this project. There is a world of need and opportunity out there, and providing these types of real-world projects for our students strengthens them, our corporate partners, and our community.
For further detail or information on this article or on the MBA, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.