MBA Students Serve Community with Capstone Project
During the final days of the fall term, four graduating MBA students from Sacred Heart University’s John F. Welch College of Business met with leadership of the Fairfield Museum and History Center to present their capstone project: a proposal to improve the facilities and a marketing plan for the town’s Burr Mansion.
While this project came as a referral from another non-profit, most projects come from the University’s Center for Not-for-Profit Organizations, says Valerie Christian, assistant professor of management at SHU who taught the capstone course. “Students in the course worked with three other non-profits this term—Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, Make-A-Wish CT and Kids in Crisis.”
In a two-hour meeting at the museum, students Melissa Rossi, Lindsay Michaels, Anna Zawadzki and John Hoey presented the plan they had worked on during the semester. The presentation included research findings in areas of marketing and finance, with suggestions for alterations to the facility’s rate schedule, amenities and website.
“The presentation was excellent and gave an effective overview of how modest investment in improving the Burr Mansion’s facilities could yield improved revenue,” says Michael A. Jehle, executive director of the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Located in the Old Post Road historic district, the Burr Mansion has hosted prominent historical figures such as George Washington, Samuel Adams, John Adams and Aaron Burr and, in 1775, John Hancock was married there. The homestead was burned during the British occupation of the area, then rebuilt in 1790. The mansion has long been a cultural and social center of the town and is available for gatherings and events.
“The hands-on, active learning approach to this course was invaluable. Through working with Michael Jehle and the Fairfield Museum team, we demonstrated our broad understanding of the business disciplines and the interdisciplinary nature of business, specifically as it related to the Burr,” says Rossi. “I truly enjoyed the opportunity to work with my talented cross-functional team to achieve our goals and bring forth the most effective and relevant business development plan for the museum. While we each had expertise in particular disciplines, our broad understanding of each discipline helped us to work together effectively and support one another.”
Christian says that working on a live project benefits the students in many ways, including the chance to apply competencies in a real-world setting, learning to deal with an unstructured and multifaceted consulting assignment, enhancing teamwork skills in a tight-deadline situation, dealing with subject areas outside of their comfort zone and assisting in the good work of not-for-profit organizations.
The latter benefit, Christian explains, is tied to what it means to be a student at SHU. “The university’s mission is deeply rooted in helping others and assisting the communities in its midst,” she says. “For business students who are likely to take on corporate as opposed to governmental or not-for-profit careers, projects like these model the critical importance of being a good corporate citizen.”
That aspect of the partnership is also obvious to Jehle, though he adds that the benefits are mutual. “The value of working with SHU students is that it brings experienced and smart business minds to a project that has multiple benefits for the community,” he says. “It allows non-profits like the Fairfield Museum—that could not otherwise afford business consultants—to benefit from the students’ broad skillset and entrepreneurial insight.”
Jehle says the museum leadership will next meet with the town to discuss the proposal, including investment opportunities, sources of funding, architectural plans and cost estimates.
“It has been a great experience to work on a ‘real’ assignment,” says Zawadzki, who works as accounting manager for Shelton-based OEM Controls Inc. “Knowing that the Burr’s management team and the Town of Fairfield would actually listen to and consider our proposal made it more motivating and rewarding. This was not just about a grade for another course—it was real. The Burr Mansion, with its potential and location, can be transformed into an amazing venue not only for weddings but for other private and corporate events as well.”