Capstone Projects Turn MBA Students into Business Consultants

January 22, 2021

For students in the MBA program at St. John Fisher College, a defining experience is the Capstone Project. Teams of students serve as consultants, working with businesses in the region to deliver high quality, innovative, and appropriate recommendations to address an issue or opportunity identified by the client.

MBA students present their business plan to clients.

“The course is a consulting experience in a team format. Unlike a typical course, it does not concentrate on a particular business function or a component in a business, it uniquely cuts across the entire spectrum of an enterprise,” said Derek Vanderline, visiting assistant professor of practice in the School of Business, who teaches the capstone class. “The goal is for our students to craft well-conceived diagnostics and solutions, as well as an implementation plan for a wide range of practical problems.”

In early December, students in the course delivered presentations to the semester’s clients, which included Venture Jobs, VoicePro, and Episcopal Senior Life Communities.

Students Sergio Chavez, Joe Gottermeier, Palath Thonchar, Bibi Sulaiman, and Christopher Keyes served as the consultant team for VoicePro, a communication and speech coaching firm that specializes in training management and executive level staff to communicate confidently, authentically, and create an emotional connection with their audience. The team was tasked with creating a low/no cost marketing strategy that will increase viewers and ideally increase sales of the company’s online modules.

Sulaiman, who is in the Pharm.D./MBA joint degree program, said the capstone project introduced her to business strategy and operational considerations. Keyes ’10 agreed, calling the capstone a “full submersion project” that required a full-group effort. An added benefit, he said, was access to mentors who helped the team refine their presentation before delivering it to the client.

“That really allowed us to gain some confidence in our report but have more sets of eyes on our work to find any mistakes or errors,” he said.

Chavez added that he learned the importance of asking the right questions of the client, and that keeping lines of communication open among team members, Professor Vanderline, and the client was critical to transform challenges into opportunities.

“Throughout my entire MBA, I not only learned about business, leadership, and finance. I also learned about the importance and value of people and friends; a quality so needed in the business world,” said Sergio Chavez. “Teamwork, trust, the art of listening, and problem-solving are skills that I refined during my Capstone experience with VoicePro. I feel I can extrapolate these skills to any dimension of human endeavor.”