Business capstone students consult with clients virtually

At the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, virtual consulting is being explored for the first time by students in a client-based capstone course — MBA 790: Strategic Management-Live Case Seminar.

Taught by Dr. Shahriar Mostashari with help from Dr. Mike Seibert, the course recently won Seibert and Mostashari the Faculty Development Summer Grant. Their statistical analysis of 120 students’ test results before and after the course found that the live case methodology featured within the Campbell Business MBA capstone experience promotes statistically significant learning transfer of critical skills valued and sought by employers.

This summer term, 31 MBA students were split into eight teams to learn fundamental aspects of business consulting alongside client companies in the Fayetteville, Pembroke and Raleigh regions. Their eight-week long assignment was to establish a collaborative relationship with their client in order to analyze and understand the firm’s market potential, and identify opportunities that improve competitiveness and profitability. The seventh and eighth cohorts to undertake this task had an added challenge thanks to COVID-era guidelines— working with clients and mentors virtually. 

“Project Based Learning has proven to be a tremendous benefit to the clients, and we hope, to the students” said Beth Wilkerson.  “The students provide a fresh perspective which is utilized going forward with the clients.  We are so grateful for the direction the faculty lends to this effort and look forward to continuing this relationship.”

To do so, they conducted primary and secondary research, including owner interviews, a look at employee culture, database searches and financial and industry analyses. Business librarian Dan Maynard assisted by providing students with online resources such as the IBISWorld Industry Report to aid their research, and Dr. Charlotte Cox and Allan Winter of Academic Computing & Information Technology Services provided help with any technological difficulties the students encountered.

“The MBA 790 Live Case Study has benefitted my clients tremendously,” said Elizabeth Fake.  “The students bring a fresh outlook on the client’s situation and are often able to use different perspectives based on their education/experience to conduct a thorough SWOT analysis that we are able to take and use going forward with the client and other student teams to work on specific areas.”

With support from a faculty liaison grant from the Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC), Dr. Mostashari collaborates with Beth Wilkerson, Ron Duffer, Elizabeth Fake, Michael Mollohan and Katie Champagne to match students with client-companies for the service-learning course.

“Interacting with a real business exposes students to all the competing forces that go into day-to-day business management and shows them that rarely are situations as black-and-white as business analysis tools might suggest,” said Katie Champagne. “Participating students not only learn and use important technical skills, they also get the chance to hone their soft skills, like emotional intelligence and professional communication.” 

While client company feedback has not yet been collected for these cohorts, it has been overwhelmingly positive following past summer’s presentations. Post-course evaluations showed that business owners gave their MBA student team’s an average score of 95/100 on their consulting work. 

“The program is truly a win for everyone,” said Ron Duffer. “It provides our clients with detailed information equating to hundreds of hours worth of work which we would have to do ourselves if this opportunity was not available.   The students get hands-on experience in what it’s like in running a business,  businesses get new ideas and perspectives, and it’s all free, saving the clients thousands.”