Management final gives ‘A’ for real-world experience

Pushkala Raman’s Small Business Management class

Dr. Pushkala Raman's Small Business Management class breathes a sigh of relief after giving its five group presentations to local business leaders.

12/7/15

Final exams in Pushkala Raman’s Small Business Management class can push students right out of their comfort zone, but the exams always lead students right to Texas Woman’s University’s motto: We learn to do by doing.

Student groups this semester partnered with five organizations, three of which fall under the United Way of Denton County umbrella, to look at ways to maximize each organization’s efficiency and reach. For the final, each group had to present its findings and recommendations to organizational representatives, giving students a taste of what it really means to have a say in a business.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to teach small business management out of a textbook,” Raman said. Here are all these students who have acquired knowledge from classes like Principles of Marketing, Principles of Management, etc.

“Here is a chance for them to apply the knowledge in this class. I think of this class as if I was the head of a consulting firm and my students help me run it. Even though students have theoretical training, they need more specific experience.”

Five student groups presented recommendations for the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the Denton Benefit League, the Denton Dance Conservatory, Bank On/Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Denton County Works. Throughout the semester, the students prepared case studies of similar organizations, conducted analyses of current business performance and ultimately made their case for improving operations. It all culminated in what was the first boardroom-style experience for the university’s business leaders of tomorrow.

Students often put the consulting experience in Raman’s class right on their resume, and she recommends it. Working with small businesses and nonprofits like United Way of Denton County is a win-win for both the students and the organizations, whose challenges often include staffing short falls and tight budgets.

But before the mock-boardroom presentations, students get a crash course in techniques for working successfully in a group.

“Sometimes, that is actually the bigger task, managing group conflict and coming together to form a cohesive team all moving in the same direction,” Raman said.

Once the group dynamic is in place, Raman has traditionally found that students, when given ownership of their learning outcomes, get more out of the end product after the semester. For Raman and her students over the past four years, that empowerment in the educational process has brought students out of their shell and into the professional world.

Students’ are accountable to their assigned organization, to real people conducting real business in and around Denton, and when that’s the case, Raman sees an uptick in her students’ focus and preparation for that ultimate deliverable, the final exam group presentation.

“The accountability when it was said and done was to our client, so we really had to be at our best,” said fashion merchandising and business management senior Leah Strange. “It wasn’t just to get the grade we wanted; it was how we wanted to represent ourselves to the client.”

Raman added, “There is a certain point in the semester when I feel confident in letting them work primarily on their own. When they take ownership, it’s just fantastic. They become so much more creative. They become so much more responsible. They do far more things with these projects than I even ask them to.”

Small Business Management students this semester came to realize they will be coming into the business world in the age of big data, so keeping databases and conducting surveys on the back end of business transactions were two key recommendations that highlighted multiple presentations.

When it was all over, the class collectively exhaled a sigh of relief and got some much-deserved applause from their partner organizations.

“The folks we’re trying to help via Bank On and VITA have complex financial needs, not just banking, not just income tax preparation,” said Gary Henderson, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Denton County. “It’s one thing to help them today find a bank or with their tax return. It’s quite another to help move them closer to that achievement of self-sufficiency, and that’s what these presentations have pointed to.”

Raman isn’t sure this model is applicable to every class, every subject matter or every professor.

“Because even as I give them greater and greater autonomy with their progress and with their learning, the class becomes more and more time consuming for me,” Raman said. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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