Capstone project brings reality into the classroom
(Feb. 1, 2013) Students pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree at University of North Georgia analyze and give consultations to real companies for their capstone project, an opportunity not typically available in MBA programs.
The capstone leadership project is an integrative project that is the culmination of the cohort-based MBA program at UNG. During the first semester of the program, the cohort is broken into smaller teams so they may begin developing team skills. During the beginning of the fall semester of the second year, the groups each select a company from among those lined up by the MBA program to perform a consulting project for that company.
“We try to begin this process as early as possible,” MBA Director Kelli Crickey said. “Faculty mentors and practitioner mentors are there every step of the way to help guide these students as they take on the task of designing and executing these consulting projects for real businesses.”
Crickey added that this process is different from other MBA capstones in that these students teams work with organizations beyond the case studies found in textbooks.
“Our program partners with living organizations that have their own schedules, challenges, and issues that they are dealing with,” Crickey said. “It’s a real experience, but it’s also a controlled experience, and our teams greatly benefit by working through these issues with their chosen companies.”
Typically there are three to five teams throughout the UNG program, and though they spend a great deal of time working within their own teams, they also take time to critique and support the other teams in the program.
“One very important event we have is the Team Development Seminar,” said Dr. Mark Jordan, professor of management and quantitative analysis. “During this seminar we foster a very frank atmosphere where teams can share with other teams about what their peers are doing well and what they need to work on. It has been a fantastic tool and really helps students further develop the team concepts and skills that they will take with them back to their organizations.”
Rick Rider, a current MBA student on track to graduate this spring, said the capstone project has been tremendously insightful, and that the consulting process has given him and his team the tools required to innovate and create a sustainable business model.
“We are all learning how to provide more value to our organizations by understanding the long-term implications of a business decision and through anticipating the market's response,” Rider said. “The capstone project has forced us into leadership positions where judgment, data-driven decisions, and emotional intelligence are crucial.”
The Capstone Leadership Project was conceived as a critical component of the MBA program. The project is administered by the MBA Capstone Committee, including Jordan, Dr. Ruben Boling, and William Banks, who line up the mentors and companies that work with the students.
“During the final presentations to their client, the teams really tie together what they have learned from their coursework with their experiences in working with the organization,” Jordan said. “That presentation integrates all the knowledge they have gained. There have even been several cases where the clients were so impressed they offered jobs to some of the students.”
In one of last year’s projects, a team paired with Avon Atlanta analyzed the company’s distribution process and recommended several changes that the company accepted, saving Avon Atlanta from $10,000 to $15,000 per year. In one current project for New Frequency Inc., the team is developing a marketing research analysis to help the company break into the European market, an effort that involves looking at myriad factors such as demographics, political issues, market potential, infrastructure, and culture.
“These projects are more than a chance for the students to examine what they have learned,” Jordan said. “They give the students the opportunity to meet several objectives, build strong teamwork skills, and network with the business world while helping to improve their chosen company.”