Project management is a typical skill covered in most MBA curriculums. But instead of exploring the topic with lectures and third-party case studies, DePaul University MBA students learned through real-world application this summer. Students planned, hosted and executed fundraising events for nonprofits as part of Lori Cook’s project management course.

Cook, an associate professor of management, said the field project is designed to teach MBA candidates important business lessons, including strategy, planning, risk management and implementation. She also wants students to learn by doing, not just by reading about what they should do.

"When I started teaching this class in 2012 I really thought about what would be a value-added experience for students," Cook says. "Textbook and reality are two different things, and I knew an experiential project would help them learn better. Even my students who were active project managers said they learned something because project managers work in teams and sometimes are not exposed to all aspects of a project from beginning until the end. This gave students an opporunity to experience all facets of the program."

Cook challenged six student teams in her class to conceive and plan an event that would generate revenue (direct or in-kind) for a worthy cause.  Their fundraising activities included a comedy show, music event, garage sale, car wash and local restaurant gathering. In total, the teams raised $17,000 for various charities.

One of the student teams, the Blue Demons, developed a fundraising event for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a non-profit that trains dogs to assist people with disabilities. 

The “Rock ‘n Roll for the Walk ‘n Roll,” was a three-hour event at Chicago Party Animals, a pet-friendly venue in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood. The fundraiser featured a demonstration by members of CCI of a trained dog and two puppies in training, as well as food and beverages, a live band and silent auction. MBA students Jeff Gettis, Michele McDermott, Fareed Mohammed, Nikita Postovalov, Robert Ramsdell, Mike Rose and Brian Rost teamed up to organize the event, which raised more than $4,000 for the local chapter of the charity that is headquartered in San Francisco (see a video of the event at http://youtu.be/hDEX1KA0i1s).

Members of the Blue Demons said the course was rewarding, both personally and professionally.

"The most crucial aspect of this project for me was the fact that we actually had to do it," says Nikita Postovalov, a DePaul MBA candidate.  "By actively participating in the project, not only were we were able to practice the theory, but (also we could) make mistakes and see the outcomes of those mistakes. It is one thing to talk about something that is important and (another to) actually experience how important it could really become.​"

In addition to real-world learning, students said the course served as great reminder about why they chose to attend DePaul. 

"Though it allowed me to apply the knowledge I gained in these courses, more importantly, it reminded me that one of the cornerstones of DePaul's mission is public service," says Brian Rost, a DePaul MBA candidate.  "Often, while in our studies, we can lose sight of why we chose to attend DePaul or why we are ultimately seeking a higher education. This project reminds us of what we are all about."

The one-day event was just the beginning. Members of the Blue Demons project team also will participate in DogFest, a one-mile pet-friendly fundraising walk that benefits CCI. DogFest is Oct. 18. If you want to donate to the Blue Demons team check out their CCI fundraising page or contact them through the team's blog​.

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