Program is Win-Win for Businesses and Students

Professor Josh Shuart, right, discusses real business problems with his students.

News Story: March 24, 2014

The Sacred Heart University (SHU) Problem-Based Learning Lab (PBL) – launched in January through the John F. Welch College of Business – is now working with regional clients and is  seeking corporate and community partners to submit potential projects for fall 2014 and beyond.

Announced in fall 2013, the interdisciplinary, experiential learning program has been designed to expose students to real business problems. The program targets community organizations and businesses looking to address growth and marketing opportunities, enhance or influence public perception, develop new business modelsand implement innovative action plans.

According to Kwamie Dunbar, assistant dean and assistant professor of Finance, student work typically includes market studies, examining current business models and recommending new strategies for product development and future direction. The PBL teams function like an internal consulting group and are already working with several organizations focused on various challenges and audiences.

Their inaugural project for the City of Bridgeport involves an economic-impact study of City facilities and events on the local economy. Dunbar says this will allow the City to have metrics on job creation and to examine tourism revenues and local business activities that will be used in its marketing campaigns and as economic updates to local news outlets. Later this spring, the PBL also will work on two projects with a major telecomm provider involving market studies and creating business models for new business opportunities, and a product launch opportunity with a Kodak subsidiary. Another project examining the viability of an indoor cycling facility will be completed later this spring.  For fall 2014, there will be a project from TranSigma Partners, a risk-management company. This long-term project, Dunbar says, includes the potential for students to work on international projects with TranSigma’s global teams in Europe.

The lab’s process model, Dunbar explains, involves organizing internal teams for each assignment, conducting client-directed research and meetings, reviewing options, formulating strategic potential solutions and then working with the client to communicate plans. Student candidates interested in participating are screened and interviewed in a competitive process to determine qualifications and interest, and then are assigned to teams. As projects are identified, the PBL team seeks out subject matter experts from corporations in the area, SHU’s alumni and WCOB networks.

Dunbar stresses that this program has been well received in the university and business communities, and that these practical, hands-on learning opportunities are reengineering the way students tackle problems and seek solutions.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring real-world practice into the classroom and to connect the theoretical and practical through guided, interactive, hands-on learning,” he says. “This effort mutually benefits our students and the local business community by providing high-quality business solutions to some of today’s complex business problems.”

Scott Gaffney and Maggie McCabe are two SHU students participating on PBL teams. Both believe the practical experience and opportunity to work with real companies outside the classroom has proven invaluable.

“This has taught me to actually speak with customers and how a consulting team works together to solve unique problems,” McCabe explains. “In the real world, there are tough deadlines to meet and projects that don’t necessarily come with clear instructions or a syllabus. You have to put yourself in your client’s mindset, understand what he or she is looking for and work with that information to find creative solutions that meet his or her needs.”

Gaffney has been working on a client assignment that involves marketing to students, and has found his experience gratifying – and eye opening.  “One of my roles has involved researching trends in credit card usage, data on credit markets and specifically how college students understand their finances in terms of security, payment methods and future products,” he says. “The PBL demonstrates efforts to apply theoretical knowledge to real-life situations. These skills will help students work in high-demanding marketing, finance and accounting jobs and are reinforcing the image of SHU and the Welch College of Business as a top-tier university.”

SHU has posted a link to the PBL which highlights some of the potential benefits for corporate and community partners and details how interested parties can get involved. It can be found at