Grueling Senior Capstone Has GGC Students Running Companies

Victoria Johnson, who for many years mentored and taught MBA and executive MBA students, has been shepherding a class of business students at Georgia Gwinnett College for two years and is not about to give them up now as they face their most daunting challenge and prepare to graduate.

Victoria Johnson, who for many years mentored and taught MBA and executive MBA students, has been shepherding a class of business students at Georgia Gwinnett College for two years and is not about to give them up now as they face their most daunting challenge and prepare to graduate.

“This is a special class of students,” says Johnson, dean of the School of Business at GGC. I’ve been with them since they started in August 2006. Most of the students in the class are my own advisees who are graduating. I ushered them in and wanted to usher them out. I wanted to be with them for their last major experience before graduation.”

That “last major experience” is indeed a doozy. The Strategic Management Capstone is taken by all outgoing senior business students at GGC. While Johnson taught a similar offering at the graduate level at Mercer University-Atlanta, this is the course’s debut at GGC.

“After students have taken all the courses in the business core curriculum, they take the Capstone,” Johnson says. “The class is divided into teams, each of which runs a hypothetical company in the electronic sensor industry. All teams start with identical positions, and the goal is to compete and outperform the other companies in the industry market. The teams select CEOs, and vice presidents of functional areas such as marketing, human resources, and finance and determine how they want their management model to work. Each company develops a corporate vision and mission, major strategic objectives and an implementation plan. They make decisions about wages, benefits, contract negotiations, research and development, plant production and capacity, product price, placement and promotion, and the management and acquisition of financial resources.

Johnson uses Capstone Management Simulation (CapSim) software to track how the companies perform, based on the decisions the students make and the strategies they put in place. The course lasts 16 weeks, but is broken up into eight rounds—each round being considered “one year” of running the hypothetical business.

“There is an enormous amount of competition,” says Johnson. “The companies are battling for market share. They each want to have the most successful, profitable company. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the strategies and their subsequent implementation determines whether the companies are sustainable.”

In addition to a formal oral presentation to their “Boards of Directors,” the teams are responsible for delivering a professionally-bound, written 75-80 page strategic analysis about their companies, complete with future recommendations. A panel of GGC business professors reviews the papers and provides assessments.

“I loved this class,” says GGC business student Chad Miller. “It may be the hardest I’ve taken, but it was by far the one in which I learned the most. Each week we met outside of class for several hours to go through R & D decisions, finance, marketing, HR, production predictions, even whether or not to build new plants and introduce new products.”

The Capstone class is evidence that the School of Business at GGC is fulfilling its mission to prepare graduates to be “global participants in the 21st century.” The School’s faculty is comprised of business experts with Ph.D.'s who not only teach theory, but who see to it that students experience the practical side of what they’ve learned in the classroom.

“This course taught me so much,” says Miller. “I learned about the true ups and down in product demand, stock prices, and even employee wage negotiations. And Dean Johnson has the most respect and care for students and their well-being which, in my opinion, is the key to truly teaching students."

Johnson humbly turns the praise back to the students, who she said worked incredibly cohesively and diligently on the project. “They performed beautifully,” she says. “They were creative and innovative, and the quality of their final presentations and projects was excellent. The students have every reason to be proud of their performance, because their work equaled or exceeded that of many of the graduate teams with which I’ve worked.”

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