Business class makes real-world impact on local charities


Khanh Nguyen

Darren Adwell speaks during the business class Building Effective Work Teams, taught by Brian Rawson.

Barton School of Business Professor Brian Rawson didn’t intend to create a small army of philanthropic do-gooders out of his students when he redesigned the class curriculum ten years ago.

He didn’t design the Building Effective Work Teams course to serve the community and assist local nonprofits. He wanted to teach his students the fundamental business skills he used everyday in his career — the kind that can’t be taught theoretically.

Together, the class members have raised thousands of dollars for charity, gathered over 500 coats for the needy, taught students how to recycle, solicited donations for their causes from over a dozen local businesses.

Team building, long-term planning, and accountability were some of the values Rawson hoped to infuse in his students. But how do you teach people practical, real-world business skills from Clinton Hall?

Rawson decided to make his students work on group projects all term that would directly affect nonprofits and local businesses in a meaningful way. When he took over teaching this class nine years ago he restructured it immediately.

“Traditionally, I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of teaching students how to work effectively in teams,” Rawson said.

Because collaboration is key in the business world, it was important to get students working together regularly, but doing it effectively posed a challenge.

“For the most part, at Wichita State, I don’t think people like projects,” Rawson said. “One of the reasons why is that the team is only as strong as its most committed member, and if you’re really committed, then you have to carry the team.”

Rawson said he wanted to create a format for grading a group-focused course that wouldn’t penalize someone for their teammates’ lack of effort.

“Everything you do in the class is as a team,” Rawson said. “You take quizzes as a team. You take tests as a team and you’re graded based on the overall effectiveness of that team.”

Students provide evaluations to Rawson about their group members four times over the course of the semester and Rawson gives the teams one luxury that most students doing group work would love — they can fire team members who don’t pull their weight. If fired, a student is still expected to complete a service project and its various components on their own.

All students pitch their project idea to their peers on the first and second day of class before the teams are formed.

Kellen Marshall and his team partnered with the Wichita Children’s Home (WCH).

“I was like, you know what, I’m going to do it because I know my dad — he does a lot of things with the Children’s Home every year,” Marhsall said of his father, WSU Men’s Basketball Head Coach Gregg Marshall said. “I know it’s important to him. And my grandmother was actually in an orphanage until she was 13, so I chose it.”

The team’s goals were to raise awareness for the home through social media campaigning, gather donations for the kids at Christmas, and fundraising as much as possible.

Their first stop was WCH itself, where they wanted to learn as much about the organization as possible so the planning and promotion could begin.

“I kind of got excited about it when we went to the Children’s home and saw everything that they’re doing, that was pretty cool,” Sonja Bogado said. “They are doing a lot.”

On a daily basis, WCH takes care of between 135 to 141 kids ranging in age from newborn to 21.

“Without the generosity of the community rallying around and hosting their own fundraisers for us as well, we wouldn’t be able to do as much for our children,” said Natalie Olmsted, WCH resource development manager.

“At Christmas, it’s incredibly beneficial to have a community that’s generous — especially for the kids”

Other teams partnered with The Salvation Army, Victory in The Valley, Operation Holiday, ICT S.O.S, the Wichita Recycling Center, and The Lao Buddhist Temple.

Jacob Leuszler organized free events on campus with the help of fellow teammate Khamphou Milayome, a Buddhist monk at the Lao Buddhist Associates Temple.

They offered guided meditation and yoga events on campus that were taught by real monks. That team also raised more than $5,000 for The Lao Buddhist Associates of Kansas and worked with The Lao Buddhist Temple to set up a fundraising event, which over 600 people attended.

Another team wanted to help ICT S.O.S., a non-profit for minors who are victims of human trafficking. They did fundraising and hosted an awareness-building seminar and panel discussion on campus that included the WSU Police Department, the Wichita Police Department, and a trafficking survivor who told her story.

The class briefly discussed how they felt about the time commitments and organization of the team projects last week.

Mohammed Hamad said that the team dynamics were stressful. His group almost fired a member.

“Well, the original leader actually stepped down and I volunteered to be the leader,” Hamad said. “I liked the idea of firing someone because it kept everyone alert and we almost had to fire someone from our group.”

Marshall said he now appreciates the fact that fundraising is not only incredibly difficult, but a continual effort for organizations such as WCH. Only about 30 percent of their revenue comes from grants. Donors can be fickle.

“It’s hard to get people to act,” Marshall said. “Doing actual, tangible work on this kind of schedule, to try and bring in as much money as we can for the Children’s Home by the end of class — that’s a lot.

“I understand why it’s so common for people to go after one big donor — someone who can write a check that covers everything. It’s serious work. It was great to experience but that was our biggest challenge.”

Rawson said grades are based more on inputs than outcomes.

“A lot of times, they learn a tremendous amount by, well, frankly by doing poorly,” Lawson said.

Leuszler had high praise for Rawson’s class.

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve probably learned more in this class than any other class I’ve taken in college,” Leuszler said. “I’ve had more fun but I’ve also work harder in here than any other course.”