Learning by Doing at Gustavson School of Business

MIISThe first week of a new school year is an opportunity to bring students together to meet and learn from each other. It is also an opportunity to send strong messages to students about the school’s approach to business education – in this case sustainability issues in business education. At University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business in Canada, they have combined these opportunities to create an innovative one-day programme called MIIISsion Impossible, which engages and empowers students to build a social responsible business idea in teams.

I had the chance to speak with Sheryl Karras, the Director of Administration of the Bachelor of Commerce Programme about MIIISsion Impossible.

Briefly describe the Gustavson School of Business’s approach to sustainability and responsible management

At Gustavson, we have four pillars that support everything we do. But the term “pillar” is a bit misleading, because the pillars – Integrative, Innovative, International, and Sustainable/Socially Responsible (IIIS) – are not separate entities. Really, they’re woven together like a terrific web.

What is MIIISsion Impossible?

MIIISsion Impossible is an example of the way that Gustavson integrates sustainability into education with cultural considerations, community involvement, and team building. We devote one day of our week-long orientation in which our Bachelor of Commerce students are assigned to teams of four or five, with at least one international or exchange student, to the programme. The teams have a morning to brainstorm and hone an innovative sustainable or socially responsible business idea or concept that would be a good fit in the country of the international team member. After a whirlwind four hours, they create a display board to explain their idea. Finally they pitch their concepts to academic, community, and business judges. The judges assess the presentations and ideas based on specific criteria, fill out score sheets, and then the top scorers move on to a final round of pitches in front of everyone.

How did it come about?

We wanted to give our students an opportunity, right from the start of the programme, to learn by doing and more specifically to experience our core concepts of IIIS. It was natural to create an activity that would focus on sustainability fostering creative ideas, and provide an opportunity for students to work in teams. As well, we have an extensive exchange programme and a significant number of international students. We wanted to highlight the international nature of our programme, which we accomplish by putting our international students in a lead role for this activity.

When we connected those dots with our core Business and Sustainability course and a very strong school-wide practice of experiential learning, it made sense to create an opportunity that achieve these multiple goals at once.

The students meet each other, and immediately they have to cooperate and draw on the strengths and experiences of each team member. They have the freedom to be creative and design a business concept that could work in the international sphere. The outcomes always impress the faculty and community judges because the students get so excited about their ideas and present them with great passion.

What are some examples of the projects?

One great idea came from a team with a member from China. They decided to do something about the 45 billion wooden chopsticks that go to landfill every year in that country. They figured the wood could be upcycled into fibreboard that could be used to create furniture. Some of the original team members were so excited about the idea that they didn’t stop when they won MIIISsion Impossible (where their prizes included books and chocolate bars). They continued to develop their concept, and by February they’d been whisked to Toronto to present to six of Canada’s top CEOs in the finals of the Walmart Green Student Challenge. Their second-place prize included that invaluable face-time plus $15,000!

Another exciting MIIISsion Impossible concept was electric taxiing motors in aircraft wheels that would save 2,400 litres of fuel per flight plus allow planes access to remote airfields with less-than-immaculate landing strips.

That team also liked their idea so much that they kept working together and eventually beat 500 teams from around the globe to go to the second round of Airbus’s Fly Your Ideas contest.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

This is a great activity to bring students, faculty, and community together to generate excitement and enthusiasm, and immediately put into action who we are as a school. We have chosen to tie this activity closely to our orientation, which has served us well, as it relies on a key group to undertake the event and provides an opportunity for students to very quickly get immersed in the philosophy/pillars of our school. The concept is quite straight-forward, but it is a big event that requires a lot of support from many people – inside and outside of the programme. It is important to keep the event focused, and to ensure that all of the support is in place to guarantee its success.

What are the next steps?

In 2014, our BCom programme is expanding from four cohorts of 60 students each to five cohorts of 60 students. Logistically, that means finding a bigger venue for MIIISsion Impossible – we’ve already outgrown the biggest space on campus.

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