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Capstone projects are the ‘crown’ of the community

Imagine a team of seasoned professionals walking into a business to explore solutions to an issue or a problem the organization, or industry as a whole, had been grappling with. What an advantage that would be.

This is what’s possible through Capstone projects—which are well-embedded into the curriculum of graduate business programs and dependent upon the project scope and depth, even undergraduate business programs.

A Capstone project in business represents a crowning achievement as a capstone does in architecture.

The latter’s definition of capstone is a final “crowning,” a protective stone laid at the top of an exterior wall. In education, the capstone experience replicates that stone and provides a culminating experience in which learning is integrated and applied to solving real-world problems in real time.

Business is more than spreadsheets. It is understanding society, its needs and how the success of products and services fit within our larger cultural and historical fabric. Building successful partnerships between business schools and local companies provides a key strategic advantage for the business community.

Capstones are win-win situations, and the learning is significant on both sides.

The average age of an executive MBA is 38 years old, average work experience is 14 years, and students come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. Working together in a cohort-based team, they integrate everything they have learned in the classroom—leadership development skills, ethics, accounting, statistical analysis, marketing strategy, financial planning and strategic thinking—and take on a company project for several months, providing a results-driven professional product at the end.

With 24 years under our belt, Executive MBA Capstone projects at Rochester Institute of Technology have helped strengthen more than 200 businesses—locally, nationally and internationally.

Close to home is Vance Metal Fabricators in Geneva, Ontario County. The company, founded in 1880 and known for its stainless steel fermenting storage tanks, was considering whether there was customer demand for a turnkey brewhouse system. After months of research, a Capstone team determined it was a saturated market and outside the company’s core competency to be profitable. Vance marketing manager Pat Farrington said the outcome, although not what they had hoped for, saved the company “lots of missteps and pitfalls.”

Taking advice and moving to Plan B can be essential for companies to grow, survive and be sustainable. Very often, there are serious problems that companies can’t solve themselves.

In my outreach, I have found the Rochester business community to be full of opportunities. While we don’t have the solutions to everything, we do have the resources to make a difference. Capstones are a way to access sharp minds that can be beneficial to any company or organization—whether they are big, small, entrepreneurial startups, for profit or not-for-profit.

It goes without saying the completion of the Capstone project allows graduates to grow in terms of their analysis and problem-solving skills, confidence, thought process and approaches to challenging situations.

I’ve heard students describe their Capstones as the crowning achievement of their educational experience—and it’s also a wonderful reward for companies that invest in their expertise.

Jacqueline R. Mozrall, Ph.D., is dean of Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.

4/14/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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