FRANKLIN, Tenn. — On this day, they weren’t students; they were consultants. They weren’t classmates; they were competitors.
Two student teams in MTSU professor Jackie Gilbert’s Principles of Management-Experiential Learning class squared off this semester — not in an MTSU classroom, but in the very real-world environment of the Nissan Americas headquarters in Franklin, Tenn.
Gilbert, who teaches management in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business, connected with Nissan executives to secure an opportunity for her students to present competing proposals for a corporate civility policy, an area closely connected with Gilbert’s ongoing efforts to combat bullying in the workplace.
Last year, students in her class made presentations at an area high school on identifying bullying in schools.
“This year I wanted to shift the focus from ‘What is bullying?’ to ‘What can we do about it?’” said Gilbert, whose teaching and research focus for the past two years has been on workplace bullying. “So we’re focusing on civility. How can a company craft a civility policy? How can they implement it? And what are the benefits for that particular corporation.”
This year’s class assignment was sparked by a Society in Human Resource Management article published last fall, in which HR experts recommended that companies develop workplace bullying policies, even though they aren’t legally required to do so.
Gilbert’s students spent the spring semester researching and creating their own workplace “civility” policies, as well as practicing presentations that were made April 17 before more than two-dozen Nissan associates, including human resource executives.
Among the Nissan group were four “judges” who evaluated the presentations before picking a winner, with Nissan making a donation to MTSU on behalf of the winning team. Nissan hopes to use some of the concepts outlined by the students in crafting its own civility policy.
Gilbert said this “incredible opportunity” for students came last fall when she approached Gina Baio, Nissan human resources senior manager and an MTSU alumna. Robert Wilson, director for diversity and inclusion for Nissan, coordinated the event.
“We’re happy to participate in this,” Wilson told his Nissan colleagues before the students presented. “They’re going to give us some ideas and suggestions around workplace bullying. This is something that I think certainly is growing within the HR and legal arena.”
Started at MTSU in 2006, Experiential Learning or EXL courses are intended to provide students with opportunities for hands-on experience in their fields of study, valuable networking with professionals, and an opportunity to explore career paths through real-world activities.
In the 2012-13 academic year, the EXL program included 27 departments, 191 faculty members, 470 course sections and 7,263 participating students.
As part of their civility policy assignment, Gilbert’s student teams actually formed “consulting companies” and spent the semester working on their team projects as well as dedicating hours each week for several weeks polishing their pitch, which included detailed PowerPoint presentations layered with audiovisual components, live role-playing exercises — and of course, business attire.
“I think during the course of this semester, they’ve transcended the role of student,” Gilbert told the Nissan officials. “They’re consultants. We have two distinct consulting groups here to present to you on the topic of civility.”
The first team was Corporate Conduct Solutions and included the following students:
• Nick Barnett, 22, of Murfreesboro, majoring in concrete industry management with minors in business administration and science; Meagan Davenport, 24, of Murfreesboro, majoring in entrepreneurship; Nathan Kanjanabout, 21, of Murfreesboro, majoring in business administration with a minor in accounting; Christopher McClure, 47, of Las Vegas, majoring in aerospace; and Julie Vandel, 21, of Fayetteville, majoring in organizational communication. (Student Casey Whittenberg was not available for the presentation.)
“This has been an unprecedented opportunity for us,” an excited, but nervous Vandel said prior to her team’s presentation. “We’ve put a lot of hours of hard work into our presentation and our civility policy. We’re really excited to see where this can take us.”
Barnett noted the teamwork that was needed to get to this point.
“As with any group, in the beginning we had some rough patches,” Barnett said. “But we laid out the civility policy for our group, about how we were going to act and direct ourselves. So that helped guide and fix any problems we had along the way. Toward the end we were flowing perfectly.”
Vandel said the experience already has her thinking about life beyond the classroom.
“This has actually got me thinking about a career in consulting. I’m minoring in Japanese, so I would really love a career with Nissan also,” Vandel added, referring to Nissan’s roots as a Japan-based company.
The second MTSU team was Hagar & Co. Management Consulting and included:
• Micah Hull, 20, of Murfreesboro, majoring in business finance; Marlyn Botros, 20, of Nashville, majoring in business management; Jordan Hager, 20, of Nashville, majoring in business administration; Travis Brewer, 21, of Los Alamos, N.M., majoring in concrete industry management; and Francisco Melgar, 23, of Los Angeles, majoring in marketing. (Student Megan Reese was not available for the presentation.)
“It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be. It’s definitely helped me understand what it takes to be out in the business world,” Hull said of the preparation required. “It’s helped me grow in a group aspect, helped me to branch out to not only teach myself something, but to learn from others as well.”
Among the judges were Baio, Patrick J. Kamka, senior manager-human resources, Dave Oberstaedt, senior manager for talent management, and Olivia Vieceli, senior manager for talent acquisition.
Following the presentations, the judges huddled outside the presentation room to discuss what they’d seen and hear and to pick a winner. Before announcing the top team, the judges took time to critique the presentations, highlighting the positives and negatives of both teams.
For example, Oberstaedt reminded both teams that making sure the hard copies of their proposals were grammatically correct and consistent factually is a critical component of the evaluation process.
“Credibility becomes a key issue when you’re putting together presentations for corporations, so please keep that in mind,” he said.
In the end, Hagar & Co. was announced as the winner, followed by a collective sigh of relief from both teams, handshakes and hugs all around and even tears of joy from student Jordan Hager.
Said her teammate Hull: “It just shows hard work pays off in the end.”
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)