From the ground up

Image: LegosThis fall, students at Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business will be given the tall order of building six iconic Manhattan buildings out of Legos.

J. Michael Cavanaugh, Ph.D., associate professor of management, explained the Lego project stems from a new capstone course, tentatively entitled, 'MG340: Management Theory In Vivo: An Off-Line Experience," that will offer experiential learning lessons in project management, group dynamics, and cross-disciplinary learning. "Time for seniors to put all their management courses to work," said Dr. Cavanaugh. "This is about working in a hands-on problem solving environment, and that is what 'doing' business is all about."

The structures will likely include monuments like the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, and One World Trade Center - America's tallest skyscraper. The final list is yet to be decided. Each will be erected from about 12,000 Lego blocks to stand six feet tall. They will be collaboratively designed and constructed by senior Dolan School students majoring in management.

The immediate challenge for Dr. Cavanaugh is finding the 100,000 Legos necessary to construct the towers. Since Legos are now recyclable, they are harder to find. Those interested in donating Legos are asked to comb their attics and contact Dr. Cavanaugh at or mail them to Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, Fairfield University, Dolan School of Business, Room 2104, 1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield, CT, 06824. In addition, Cavanaugh hopes that local businesses will sponsor a building. The blocks most needed are 4, 6, and 8 peg blocks in grey and black, but Legos of any color and shape would be appreciated.

As Dr. Cavanaugh wrote in his syllabus, the course is in part based on the belief that business practice "not unlike work bench science, engineering, medicine or piloting a commercial airliner, is an innately collaborative and interdisciplinary craft" where acquiring knowledge demands doing: "In this controlled transition from university to career, students will alternatively demonstrate and reflect upon their budding grasp of what managers actually do including: peer-to-peer project planning and management; real-time analysis and design; facility in interpreting, organizing, and effectively communicating information; critical thinking and problem solving and capitalizing on opportunities for emergent leadership..."

Plans call for the Lego buildings to be assembled in the Barone Campus Center beginning in November, so the campus community can track the progress. Course takeaways will include working in teams, learning from failure, and how to tackle tasks when you don't have the skill set to address them. Critical thinking skills will be put to the test too.

"A big lesson that this course will teach is improvisation - thinking on your management feet," said Dr. Cavanaugh. "It's about students engaging as active learners and using their minds and hands right on the spot to solve problems. And, believe me, there will be problems."

It will be a cross-disciplinary course. Guest lecturers from architecture, sociology, philosophy, applied ethics, sustainable practices, information systems, and group dynamics will share their acquired know how. They will include such Fairfield faculty as Grand Central Terminal historian Kurt Schlichting, Ph.D., the E. Gerald Corrigan Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences; Cheryl Tromley, Ph.D., professor of management; David Schmidt, Ph.D., associate professor of business ethics and director of the Applied Ethics Program; and Chris Huntley, Ph.D., associate professor of information systems and operations management.

Students will be asked to address some tricky components, like installing electricity and elevators within the Lego structures. Designing foundations strong enough to keep the Lego towers from collapsing also represents a major challenge.

"Along the way we might throw some curveballs in the construction of teams and buildings process," noted Cavanaugh, who found success with this assignment when he taught at the University of Massachusetts, where he earned a Ph.D. There, the Lego assignment was for students enrolled in the Professional Master's in Business Administration program for working adults, and the class was called "Group Dynamics and Interpersonal Communications." Cavanaugh noted that, "students literally camped out in the classroom. Among other things, progress was measured by the divorce rate."


Image: Sodexo, Fairfield University Dining Services hosted an "Exam Break - Lego Building Contest" in support of Dr. Cavanaugh's class. Students let out stress by building things with Legos, and the Legos were later donated to be used in MG340. Two $50 Fairfield UniversityBookstore Gift cards were awarded. Photo contributed by Rebecca Shaw, of Sodexo. Area Marketing Coordinator - Hicks District Sodexo Education.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726,

Posted on May 15, 2014

Vol. 46, No. 299

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