Local Shelter Gets Much-Needed Support from Business Students

Posted by on June 20, 2014

Written by Michael Zdychnec, health care management program chair and Nicole Rasmussen, community manager

Students in Michael Zdychnec’s Small Business Management class recently had an opportunity to put their knowledge to the test during Spring quarter. They were able to work with Great River Family Promise(GRFP), an organization that has partnered with Minnesota School of Business-Elk River in a variety of ways for over a year.

When asked why he chose to partner with GRFP, Zdychnec explains, “I first heard of Great River Family Promise when Jess [Hartfiel, Executive Director] spoke at graduation. I was intrigued by her story and more than impressed with the mission and goal of her organization. You don’t think of homelessness being an issue up here. Jess’s story told me otherwise.”

Small Business Management students present business plan to Jess Hartfiel and the Great River Family Promise board members

As he was thinking about the applied learning component associated with the Small Business Management class and the Learner Outcome Assessment that requires the student to create a business plan, GRFP came to mind. He decided that it would be a great experience for the students to create a business plan for them.

He called to ask Hartfiel if she would be interested, and she explained that she thought there was some “divine intervention” going on. She told Zdychnec that her board had just told her they wanted her to create a business plan for their organization, and she had no idea how to go about it. She welcomed the opportunity.

Zdychnec works with a lot of employers who consistently tell him that they not only want employees who know the technical stuff but also want employees who can communicate well, work in groups, collaborate, lead or participate in projects, and who think not only linearly but critically. This project brought all of these skills into play.

To execute the project, the class was divided into two groups, and they competed to see who could develop the “best” business plan for GRFP. The students developed a project charter to guide the project. They met twice with Hartfiel to gather information and ask questions which is just as a consulting organization would perform.

They looked at all aspects of the business from the marketing strategy, to the financials, to the operations, and to the management structure they were utilizing. They came up with several recommendations that they felt would improve the overall performance of the organization.

Board members received important feedback from students during presentation

Hartfiel wanted others besides herself to see the results, so she invited other board members to attend. Four other board members attended along with the regional representative of GRFP who happened to be in the community on the date of the presentations. In addition, Zdychnec is meeting with the full board to again review the class findings and recommendations.

While the class was very direct in their recommendations, Hartfiel told me that this was exactly what she and the board needed to hear. She expressed, “While the organization has survived, it needs to use some different strategic approaches to survive and fill its mission. The organizations is going through the typical growing-pains of a small nonprofit and must adjust its strategy when necessary.”

Zdychnec shared, “The class took this seriously. They appreciated the real-world application, and they also learned that it’s not only what you say but how you say it that makes a difference.”

MSB-Elk River plans on continuing to work with GRFP to provide internships and other support to help them get off the ground. The students did a nice job with this project, and one they can use and discuss as they pursue their own career opportunities in the future.

For more information about GRFP, visit their website.

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