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New MBA initiative tackles business challenges in Kansas

Monday, October 8, 2012

LAWRENCE — This year's incoming class of Master of Business Administration students will apply their business acumen and professional skills to tackle real problems affecting Kansas organizations in the newly created Kansas Issues Project.

The program, known as KIP, pairs Kansas businesses and nonprofit organizations with teams of first-year MBA students. The core objective of the program is to provide students with team-based consulting experience while benefiting Kansas organizations, and each team will work toward developing business solutions for their client.

"With KIP we wanted to create an educational experience for our students that married service to the state with business skills," said Cathy Shenoy, MBA program director. "We wanted organizations in Kansas to benefit from the expertise of our MBA students and at the same time provide our students an important opportunity in which to practice their business skills."

Students will be challenged to hone their leadership and communication skills while applying the knowledge they gain in the classroom to real challenges facing Kansas organizations. Each team will determine project milestones, facilitate onsite meetings and research, and maintain ongoing communication with their clients while completing in-class KIP assignments.

"The Kansas Issues Project was born to reflect issues unique or common to our state and region," said Dee Steinle, administrative director of MBA programs. "Contributing fresh business expertise and acumen to issues occurring in nonprofit arenas is good for both clients and students."

KIP is divided into five project teams, which are supervised by second-year MBA students. Clients are listed below.

Ashland Health Center in Ashland. CEO Benjamin Anderson is working with MBA students in creating solutions for recruiting and retaining quality nursing talent for long-term care in the center's western Kansas facility.
Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence: Pat Roach Smith and Janice Storey, of the center, will mentor MBA students in understanding and alleviating "no-show" rates at the mental health center. Students will identify and quantify the issues that contribute to this rate and devise a strategy for improving the health center's bottom line.
Douglas County Food Policy Council: Eileen Horn, sustainability coordinator for Lawrence and Douglas County, has tasked MBA students with assessing the economic impact of the local food economy. Students will create a multiyear tracking survey tool and provide analysis to the council on local food purchases. The Douglas County Food Policy Council will use the results from KIP to communicate with local elected officials about the current impact of local purchases, and the potential for bolstering the community's food economy.
The Merc Community Market and Deli: Rita York, general manager, will work with MBA students to analyze the feasibility of creating a "food hub" in northeast Kansas, which would provide small and mid-sized farming operations access to the warehousing and distribution infrastructure they need to penetrate the wholesale market. Students will research existing models, such as Good Natured Family Farms in Kansas City, along with cooperative models in New York City, New Mexico and Minnesota.
Central Exchange, a 32-year-old Kansas City organization founded to support women in their career development, under the guidance of Heidi Stigers, will work with MBA students to analyze the organization's business model to identify new revenue streams.

"The MBA students are bringing business expertise to the table that we wouldn't otherwise have access to," said Horn. "We're able to work with students to gain important data while staying within our budget. The students are helping us come up with a sustainable model to report local food purchases in the years to come, and we're excited to connect MBA students with the local community."

MBA teams will develop their business solutions over the academic year and present their findings at a special event in April 2013. The initiative was developed in conjunction with the full-time MBA program's curriculum redesign, which will take effect in fall 2013. The program is coordinated by Christie Garton, 2001 KU School of Business alumna.

If you're interested in participating in future KIP challenges or learning more about the program, contact Shenoy by email or at 785-864-7519.

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