Making an impact: Capstone project partners MBA students with local organizations
Every year, Midland University’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program partners with local companies to solve real-life business problems as part of their capstone experience.
Todd Conkright, dean of the Dunklau School of Business, says the capstone is intended to be a culminating experience that brings together all of the student’s learning from their MBA.
“We know it’s a lot of work, but students always say it was the highlight of their MBA experience,” Conkright said. “Not only do our students put in a great deal of work in a short amount of time, they always deliver something that the client can put to use.”
This year, five teams of MBA students were given the opportunity to work alongside their mentors and host companies at Boston Mutual, LifeLoop, Plastilite, PayPal and the State of Nebraska’s North Omaha Economic Development field office.
On average, each team invests roughly 200 hours over the course of eight weeks to explore solutions, prioritize deliverables and understand the industry as a whole. The projects covered topics spanning from diversity and inclusion to market expansion.
Conkright says the capstone project allows students to provide real, tangible value to their capstone partners.
“A consulting capstone is like a live test,” Conkright said. “While there is value in writing a research paper or going through a case study, the consulting capstone is an actual project that involves working with peers on a team, helping a client communicate their priorities, working towards a deadline and presenting a tangible deliverable in a short amount of time.”
At the end of the project, students prove their ability to quickly analyze a situation, provide relevant research, and present their findings to an informed audience.
For MBA students like Elijah Shaul, a project coordinator at Mosaic, and Mark Meelhuysen, an automation manager at James Skinner Baking Company, the experience has allowed them to apply their knowledge towards their project.
“Every topic we covered in classes was applicable to the capstone,” Meelhuysen said. “The whole team pulled from what we learned and synergized what we practiced over the last two years to achieve what we did.”
Shaul and Meelhuysen, along with their teams, used marketing research to explore what segments the organization could assess as a target market and business models to successfully bring their product to different spaces.
“To solve the problem for our organizational partner, my team had to quickly become experts,” Shaul said. “I learned that I can quickly adapt, acquire, and analyze information. Then, use that information to make an informed recommendation.”
Meelhuysen says the greatest takeaway from the capstone experience was building trust with his team members.
“The degree of trust required for a team to take on a project of this scope and succeed is crucial,” Meelhuysen said. “None of us could’ve done even one person’s portion of this project on our own. Trust was what held us together, allowed us to point out our unique perspectives, disagree, follow the team’s decision, hold each other accountable, and produce outstanding results.”
The most valuable part of the capstone experience for Shaul was knowing that their project could have an immediate impact on their partner organization’s investments, strategy, and ultimately, the direction of the organization.
“A case study has value in learning from what others did, but in a capstone you are driving the project,” Shaul said. “I grew up as a wrestler and you can practice all you want and prepare for your opponents, but when it comes to match time, your preparation only takes you so far. This experience is just like a real-world problem where you can plan effectively, but you must be able to adapt to new variables.”
Andrew Sherwood, director of Midland University’s MBA program and instructor for the MBA’s capstone experience, says the capstone project is beneficial for both the students and partners.
“Our partners are looking for high-quality work and they’re going to challenge students to provide that,” Sherwood said. “It is truly a great opportunity for students to challenge themselves and see what they can do.”
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about Midland University’s MBA program and partnership opportunities.