Walton MBA Students Learn and Help During Experiential Learning Week

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The MBA class of 2015 at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas honed their skills and helped out area non-profit organizations through this year’s experiential learning week.

During the last week of October, MBA students engaged in activities that included a presentation workshop, a set of self-assessments and an in-depth collaborative project. MBA Experiential Learning Week was developed in 2013 to enable students to work on unstructured real-world business problems and develop leadership and presentation skills through selling their solutions to judges from the business community.

“The return to the students is great, as they are exposed to real social issues and their relevance, as well as having the opportunity to work with a large number of corporate executives who mentor the students in key abilities such as presentation skills,” said Vikas Anand, associate professor of management and MBA director.

Students also attended several presentations, including an MBA Distinguished Lecture Series guest speaker, Theresa Fette, a Walton graduate and entrepreneur who founded the Provident Trust Group. Fette encouraged students to continue with self-reflection, gave them advice on what getting a “dream job” really means, and encouraged them to not let fear hold them back.

Meredith McKee, assistant MBA director, said students worked on projects with 7hills Homeless Center, Magdalene Fayetteville and LifeSource International to help the non-profit organizations address issues they face.

7hills Homeless Center, which serves the homeless in Northwest Arkansas, asked for help in raising awareness in Fayetteville for the hidden issue of homeless families with children.

“I think it was really beneficial for us to get to work with these non-profits, because it was really eye-opening to what was happening in our community,” said MBA student Blaire Bauer. “Especially working with 7Hills Homeless Center, because I had no idea how big of an issue homelessness is in Northwest Arkansas. I think it was a good way for my classmates and I to get exposure to the non-profits in the area and I know some of us have decided to volunteer for [these] organizations in the future through learning more about them.”

The newly incorporated Magdalene Fayetteville, which is in the process of purchasing a residential home and developing programs for women coming out of area correctional facilities, sought the design of a social enterprise that the women could use to support themselves.

“It was a great experience all around,” said Karen McSpadden, with Magdalene Fayetteville. “I hope we will have continued involvement with students from this class as well as future opportunities with the MBA program as Magdalene Fayetteville continues to grow and develop!” Emily Bost, another representative of Magdalene, said, “This has been an incredible experience and I am so impressed with the students and with their thought processes on a tight schedule.”

LifeSource International – which provides services such as a food bank, clothing closet, children’s after school program and others – needed a marketing development plan and strategy to gain a renewed focus on its KidsLife program.

“The Experiential Week was very inspiring and I was honored to participate,” said Whitney Sutherland, senior planner for team sports at Walmart, who was on the judging panel for the final presentations. “The students brought a lot of creativity to the projects resulting in innovative ideas for each of the non-profits. They brought a unique perspective to tackle real issues for these organizations with limited funds.”

Another judge, Laura Berger, shopper marketing manager for Reckett Benckiser, said, “I enjoy meeting other members of the community as well as pushing my own thinking when it comes to strategic planning and collaboration.”

While Walton students had much to gain personally during this experience, working with socially-oriented local community organizations means the students have the potential to make a lasting difference in the lives of those who need assistance in the Northwest Arkansas community.

“The week was so much more than just developing professional skills,” said Caitlin Murphy, an MBA and master of accountancy student. “It was about working together to help local NGOs solve real problems. We were able to use the skills that we have been developing the past two semesters to put together plans to help our community grow.”

“The experiential week provided me a chance to feel more connected with my local community,” said MBA student Jillian Thompson. “To know that there are incredible individuals doing such important work right here in NWA is a real source of pride for me as a member of this community. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a small part of this, and I’m eager to see how these organizations grow and continue on their missions to help, love and nurture Northwest Arkansas.”