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Partnership with local business challenges students to go 'beyond A+'
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Shahzad Manzoor
Partnership with local business challenges students to go 'beyond A+'

An applied and practical business education is one of the hallmarks of the Merrick School of Business. Our faculty bring the real-world into our classrooms—here's one example: During the spring 2015 semester, Eusebio Scornavacca, the John and Margaret Thompson Professor of Management Information Systems, partnered with one of Baltimore's oldest family-owned businesses, P. Flanigan and Sons, to bring a real-life case study in management information systems to his students.

Prof. Scornavacca has applied this learning technique a number of times, but in this instance, "real life" took on new meaning: The class is having a lasting impact on his students, and is even helping one, Shahzad Manzoor, open the door to his chosen career.

Manzoor, an accounting major, took Prof. Scornavacca's class as a requirement. When he enrolled, he didn’t know that the case study would reverberate so strongly as he entered the job market.

"Recently I landed a position as an intern and staff auditor at an accounting firm," Manzoor said. "I interviewed with several firms and the recruiters had many common questions. But I think when it came to their questions about working in a group, I felt like my experience working on the Flanigan case was an ideal example."

His story begins with the real-life case presented by Pierce J. Flanigan IV, MBA '08, president of P. Flanigan and Sons, a fifth-generation, family-owned construction company based in Baltimore. Flanigan was keen to provide an opportunity to enhance students’ learning experiences and, at the same time, solve a company-wide communication problem with his field operations.

Prof. Scornavacca, who is known for capitalizing on the learning potential of these kinds of problems, worked with Flanigan to come up with a case that the students could help solve. As an added incentive, the team with the best solution, as judged by Flanigan and Prof. Scornavacca, would earn a financial award of $1,000.

For Manzoor and his fellow group members (Judith AlexanderGeorgia ValaisLinda McKinley and Lisa Concon), it took some time and effort to achieve a consensus on how to tackle the assignment and collaborate towards a shared goal—win the Flanigan real-life case study competition.

"It certainly prepared me for the workplace, in that we had to look past our differences and unite ideas to achieve our goal," Manzoor said. "Our common goal was to win the prize, but our ways to do it were very different. All five of us brought diverse ideas and experiences to the assignment. After all, we were of different backgrounds, we offered different talents, we had different work experiences, we were of different ages—we even had a grandmother on our team. Once we were on the same page, it was much easier to plan, research, write and present to Mr. Flanigan and Prof. Scornavacca."

During the award reception held last May, Flanigan reinforced the notion that the case was an important simulation of what students will face when they are working in their chosen field.

"I hope this was an experience that you can carry with you in your careers," Flanigan said. "Everything you are learning as a business student will be applicable to you and your employer in the future."

For Flanigan, the real-world case competition also was a great exercise for him and his employees.

"I was really excited about the opportunity to come back and talk about my business with the students," he said. "The exercise was beneficial to me and my employees to help us tackle some of our communications and IT issues. The effort the students put forth to give us a plausible solution was remarkable. I found the whole process very gratifying."

Scornavacca agrees, noting that it's the real-world nature of the case work that makes it so gratifying for the students and the business owner.

"The real-life case competition provides a unique learning opportunity for applying the concepts they learn in the course into a real business problems and, most importantly, developing marketable skills," he said. "As one of my students put it, 'there was no ceiling for this assignment, it challenged us to go beyond the A+ grade.' You could reach for the sky, and when there are no boundaries to learning, great things happen."

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