MBAs hone skills, help businesses

Zack Petry (MGT ’06) is the locations manager of Bike and Roll
MBA students worked with Zach Petry (MGT ’06), locations manager, Bike and Roll

For more than 10 years, students in Pamplin’s National Capital Region MBA program have spent a semester working with businesses in Alexandria, Va. The partnership was initiated by Barbara Hoopes, associate professor of business information technology, and Bill Reagan, executive director of Alexandria Small Business Development Center, both to help the students hone their skills through real-life experience and to provide business owners with an opportunity to improve management operations and customer service.

“This partnership is practical and a winner for everyone involved — individual businesses, our MBA students, and the university. It is a great way for Virginia Tech to reach out to the community and put its motto, ‘that I may serve,’ into action,” said Hoopes.

“The graduate students function as consultants,” explained Reagan. “And Alexandria business owners really like the idea of having them on board to offer a new, fresh perspective to their business operations.”

At each participating business, a team of 2-4 students tackle business issues that may include general operations strategy and competitiveness, quality concepts, product and service design, process planning and technology, facility location and layout, forecasting, capacity planning, inventory management, or project management.

Hoopes said that working directly with a business owner offers her students the advantage of being able to access all the information they need to make useful recommendations. “They also learn a very valuable lesson — how to collaborate with others to find solutions,” said Hoopes.

Student Matthew Vetting, of Arlington, Va., concurred. He said that his experience “gave me insight into some of the challenges that a small business owner faces in growing a business and the challenges a consultant faces with having to work with a customer to learn enough about his or her industry and operations to suggest ideas for improvement.”

In all, about 25 Alexandria-based businesses have participated in the program since its inception. These include restaurants, retailers, schools, and professional, technical, and educational services firms. Each partnership lasts 10-12 weeks and partially fulfills the requirements for an MBA course for the students.

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