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Corban University’s Capstone Gets Out of the Classroom and Into the Community

The community-driven project gives Hoff School of Business students valuable, real-world experience before graduation.
 
 

Sponsored by Corban University

Students in business attire crowd the aisles of the Hoff School of Business auditorium, standing with that nervous confidence that precedes a well-prepared presentation. Some sit, hunched over phones and notes, mentally preparing for a long day ahead, others take out laptops for last minute edits. At the front of the room, beneath the stage, long tables are set for a panel of judges. The auditorium of Corban University is buzzing in anticipation of The Corban Consulting Partners (CCP) presentations.

CCP is a unique aspect of the programs offered by Corban University’s Hoff School of Business, which not only gives students the opportunity to create business plans for actual organizations, but engages dozens of local business leaders who volunteer to serve as clients, mentors and judges. As the senior capstone project for business majors, CCP sends each graduate into their career with invaluable real-world experience, but it’s so much more than a capstone project.

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Students are placed in teams of three or four, and partnered with eleven different firms from the mid-Willamette Valley who have recently encountered a business problem—whether it was targeting consumers, increasing revenue, or launching a new product. Each team of students spends a semester working with their organization to analyze the problem or goal, consider their client’s resources, and develop a comprehensive business plan.

Student teams are also paired with mentors from the community. These mentors, from businesses and organizations such as Salem Health, Citizen Bank, and Courthouse Fitness, volunteer their time to meet with students and guide them through building their business plan, challenging them to think critically and anticipate problems. This year, forty different businesses and community organizations were involved in the projects, whether as clients, mentors or judges.

Real-World Experience

No two CCP projects are the same, challenging each group of students to think critically and creatively about the unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges they encounter.

For the CCP presentations this past May, one group of students worked with Pierce Footwear, a relatively young company releasing a new specialized athletic shoe. The students were given a general idea of the product’s target audience (Baby Boomers), and were tasked with creating a comprehensive business plan for launching the new shoe.

Another group of students worked with Birch Community Services, an organization that provides financial literacy classes to working and middle class families. These students were tasked with examining the feasibility and effectiveness of an annual seminar put on by the organization.

While giving a poised, articulate presentation of a detailed business plan in twenty minutes is challenging, the question-and-answer session that follows is more challenging still. Students have time to field three or four questions from the panel of judges who press them to defend their calculations of success rates, or the extent to which they’ve successfully identified their customer base. The amount of work the students have invested in these projects is evident as they think on their feet to address these questions.

Benefits of Community Engagement

A legacy of the Hoff School of Business is the relationship it has developed with the Salem community, as it involves hundreds of local businesses in CCP projects every year. This unique relationship between Corban and the business community not only holds immediate mutual benefits for students and businesses, but provides valuable networking opportunities for all. The Salem community’s awareness of and respect for Corban graduates has led to many a job offer post-graduation.

The communication, decision-making and leadership skills cultivated through the CCP projects are the same skills fostered by the Hoff School of Business, whether in traditional undergraduates studying on campus, MBA students benefiting from an entirely online program, or adults who have come back to school to finish their business degrees online.

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Nikita, who graduated from Corban with a degree in Business Administration this past May, looks back on his experience with Corban Consulting Partners as invaluable preparation for his future. He says, “I had the privilege to work with a financial advisor who was very skilled at his trade. Over the course of the CCP project, I found out that I enjoyed the idea of stock, investment strategies and the responsibility of managing finances. Currently, I am pursuing a career in financial management, which, in large part, was due to my project experience.” Nikita is now in the MBA program at Corban, and sees CCP as an important stepping-stone to becoming an effective business leader.

Austin, who graduated with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing, also reflects on his project experience, and notes what a privilege it was “being able to learn how to work, speak and perform under pressure.” Because of his interactions with business leaders in the community, Austin explains he now feels more prepared for job interviews and networking with business professionals.

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“This is a unique opportunity,” says Griff Lindell, Dean of the Hoff School of Business, about the CCP project. “These are real businesses, saving real money. Our students walk away with real-world experience that they couldn’t have received otherwise.”

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