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Dec. 11, 2003

Sycamore Business Advisors demanding,
but rewarding, students say

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. They say it is one of the toughest classes they’ve had. But Indiana State University business students also say it has been one of the most meaningful, because it has given them a glimpse into what having a full-time job will be like.

The class, Business 401 or more recently named Sycamore Business Advisors (SyBA), is a capstone course taught by Assistant Professor of Management Art Sherwood. The class is actually a strategic planning consulting business through which businesses and not-for-profits can "hire " ISU business students to solve their problems in marketing, organization, production — anything they might want help with.

"We are considered employees and not students in a class," said Courtney Boggs, a senior insurance and risk management major from Corydon who will graduate Dec. 20. "We really put in the hours like employees would. It’s not just a class by any means."

The main goal of the class is "to provide a pedagogically sound, meaningful experiential learning class that would serve as the students’ capstone experience," Sherwood said. "We wanted several groups to benefit: students, business community, community organizations, the school of business and ISU. We also wanted it to be student driven and the success of the business to truly be in the hands of the student leadership.

"We hope that the students are able to take from the learning that they have gained in prior ISU classes and experiences, and to put them together in a comprehensive, long lasting, team oriented project. This takes staying power above what they are likely accustomed to and should be challenging for the students."

The approach is problem-driven, Sherwood said, and is based upon Problem Based Learning Theory and Practice. Students encounter problems and solve them through pulling from past learning or new learning.

"This is very similar to what they will do as alumni (both at work and at home!) and is, therefore, a great bridge from the university to post-university life," Sherwood said.

The class of about 50 students is divided into groups and each group works with a client. This semester the clients are ISU’s own Center for Public Service and Community Engagement; Billie Creek Village; Wabash Valley Community Foundation and Kids Wagon & Kreative Korner. Ninety percent of students’ time is spent working outside of the classroom, Boggs said, meeting with clients, fellow employees/students and putting together recommendations.

SyBA has an employee handbook that evolves with each semester of new employees/students. Jon Moore, a senior business administration major from Brazil, who is also graduating Dec. 20, serves as the manager of the business, overseeing each of the project teams. Brandye Lawson, a senior accounting major from Terre Haute, works on the functional side of the business, updating the employee handbook, training employees and dealing with issues such as turnover.

"Absolutely the biggest challenge with SyBA is that this is a senior capstone class and every semester all the employees leave," Boggs said.

Sherwood agreed that turnover is a major challenge. "We take three steps forward and then two back each s emester (so far)," he said. "If the students don’t solve this problem in a more effective way, then it will continue to happen. I have confidence that this semester’s team will take care of this situation and the new class coming in will have a real jump start."

Boggs and her team of 11 students worked with the Center for Public Service and Community Engagement including Lou Jensen, executive director; Allen Varner, director of continuing education; Linda Crossett, director of community and professional programs; Nancy Brattain Rogers, administrative fellow; and Debbie Miller, administrative assistant II.

"Stating some of our activities to a different group helped us to articulate what we’re doing as far as our vision and mission," Varner said. "It helped us to clarify the direction we’re going.

"Probably the thing that impressed me most was their professionalism as to the way they approached the situation," Varner continued. "They asked questions and requested clarification or more information where they needed it."

The mission of the center is to be the "front door" of the university, linking campus resources to the community and vice versa. Those resources and activities include service learning, internships, speakers, arts and humanities activities, etc.

While the center will not receive the final report from SyBA until Dec. 15, the group would recommend SyBA’s services.

"I would highly recommend the process to anyone, without hesitation," Varner said. "The process has been beneficial. One of the most rewarding parts was to help us clarify our mission and our vision. It has been beneficial from A to Z and I’m sure the results of the report will be worth it."

For Sherwood the business/class has developed and grown beyond his hopes since SyBA began the summer of 2002.

"I have found that if I truly give the responsibility to the students, there is a core that will step up and drive things forward and go beyond expectations," Sherwood said. "Additionally if opportunity to step up is provided, almost all the students take advantage of that chance. I have been impressed with their performance."

SyBA looks for new clients each semester. If you own or know of a business or not-for-profit that could use SyBA’s help, contact Sherwood at (812) 237-2094.

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Contact and Writer:
Jennifer Kearns, ISU Public Affairs, (812) 237-8037 or devkearn@isugw.indstate.edu

ISU Public Affairs:
(812) 237-3773 or http://isunews.indstate.edu