Stephen Skripak is a Professor of Practice in Management at Virginia Tech. A senior executive with 25 years of business leadership experience, including positions as General Manager and Chief Financial Officer with divisions of Fortune 500 companies. For eight years, he was the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at Pamplin College of Business of Virginia Tech. He now utilizes his experiences to serve the students of Virginia Tech with experiential learning in his Management Foundations of Business course through the Food Cart assignment.
Below, you will find a Q&A with Stephen:
What does experiential learning mean to you?
Experiential learning gives students a chance to apply the theories that they learn in their courses. It is the closest thing to a real world experience that we can provide them in an academic setting and truly prepares them for the challenges of the professional world.
Why is experiential learning a priority for you?
Students want a hands-on sense of what they are going to be doing in their career fields after graduation. Reading and listening to lectures alone can’t do that for them, and that is where experiential learning comes in.
Can you give us an example of a successful experiential learning engagement that you’ve coordinated/delivered?
In the freshman course “Foundations of Business,” in addition to traditional textbook teaching and assignments, students complete the Food Cart assignment. During this assignment, each student team develops a business plan and then launches a simple pop-up business with the objective of raising at least $100 for a charity chosen from a pre-selected list.The clients are not limited to college students, and the pop-up stores are hosted in surrounding shops outside of campus. The students have to go through the same processes that real entrepreneurs do, albeit on a small scale, and in doing so are exposed to more advanced topics, such as variance analysis, financial forecasts, the 4 P’s of marketing, impulse items, product innovation, and trademarks/intellectual property.
Examples of successful businesses were laptop stickers offered through an online store, gift jars with a Virginia Tech theme, and an UberEats-inspired delivery service. Each group approaches the challenge differently, and the results continue to amaze us.This semester, the students raised over $22,000 for charity, and throughout the 5-year life of this exercise, over $60,000 has been raised. This assignment has grown to become a foundational element of the course for all business students.
How do your students benefit from experiential learning?
Again, it is the closest thing to the real world that we can create in an academic setting. It gets students working in teams, which is an important skill to have in any business environment. Even students who don’t enjoy the experience benefit from it, as it gives them an early sense that maybe another major would be better suited for them.
What’s the most challenging part of being an #ExperientialEducator? (coordinating/delivering an experiential learning curriculum to students)
In our environment, students work in teams. Since almost no one knows each other at the start of the semester, teams are assigned randomly. Having students who are super-motivated on the same teams as those who just want to get by or worse yet want others to do all the work always presents challenges in managing the exercise.
What skills do your students use when engaged in experiential learning?
Teamwork – really the whole range of interpersonal skills, visioning, planning, thinking through a process and potential pitfalls. A major part of the Food Cart project involves assuming a client-facing role and using strong negotiation skills, as students often communicate with local retailers to partner and even host their businesses within their shops.
What advice do you have for faculty and institutions considering experiential learning?
It is absolutely worth the headaches involved. Years later when I speak to students I had as freshmen, it is one of the things they talk about most with respect to the course. From one educator to another, I would recommend trying something and learning from it, keep evolving and iterating until you land on a experiential learning model that works in your classroom. Good or bad, these are the experiences graduating students remember the most and find helpful in their future professional endeavors. Also, while some educators might disagree with the benefits of experiential education, I believe that students can only solve some of the problems of tomorrow by solving the problems of today. And in order to solve the problems of today, students must go into the real world and experiment through experience.