A Block Party at Fairfield University’s Barone Campus Center


The Dolan School of Business’s Dr. Michael Cavanaugh has given management majors a tall order this semester: work in teams to design and build structures that can self-destruct.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. - Watch where you walk!

The building of precarious architectural structures made of toy blocks will soon get underway in the lower level of Fairfield University’s Barone Campus Center.

The construction site stems from a Dolan School of Business capstone course testing students’ team building and project management skills. The goal is also to foster High Performance Learning Teams (HPLTs) - the platform for successful business management.

Four student teams in ‘MG340: Management Theory In Vivo: An Off-Line Experience’ have been given the task of designing cascading structures and using 4,500 KEVA Planks – a type of wooden building brick – to build them. Every plank measures about a quarter of an inch thick, three fourths of an inch wide, by four and a half inches long. Structures can be built with KEVAs by simply stacking the planks, which can appear like a house of cards but isn’t necessarily so. No glue or bolts allowed. Everyone from preschoolers to architects uses them.

“This course has students putting all their management courses to work,” said J. Michael Cavanaugh, Ph.D., associate professor of management, who developed and teaches the class. “It’s about working in a hands-on problem solving environment, and that is what ‘doing’ business is all about. It’s also about students engaging as active learners.”

The undergraduates taking part are mostly senior management majors, but also enrolled in the class are accounting and finance majors along with students from the College of Arts & Sciences. The course, also known as “Critical Issues in Management,” conveys experiential learning lessons in group dynamics. As Dr. Cavanaugh wrote in his syllabus, “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 capitalizing on opportunities for emergent leadership…”

Joseph Wik ’15 took the course in the fall of 2014, the first time it was offered. “I was drawn to this course because of the innovative teaching style. It’s about learning through doing, making mistakes, and revising.”

Course takeaways will include learning from failure, and how to tackle tasks when you don’t have the skill set to address them.

It has drawn the attention of media. In an article in the Financial Times, “Business schools try to broaden their horizons,” it was observed that the class exemplifies a business school’s emphasis on creativity in the classroom and “cross-disciplinary learning.”

Last semester, guest lecturers from architecture, sociology, philosophy, sustainable practices, group dynamics and the DiMenna-Nyselius Library shared their acquired know how. They included Kurt Schlichting, Ph.D., the E. Gerald Corrigan Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences; Cheryl Tromley, Ph.D., professor of management; Cathy Giapponi, Ph.D., associate professor of management; Jacalyn Kremer, Head of Library Academic Partnerships and Assessment; and Tyler L. McClain, associate director, Leadership & Professional Development, Career Planning Center. Also among the guest lecturers were Ken Scheel, founder and CEO of KEVA Planks Inc., and Adam Siemiginowski of Procter & Gamble, who conducted a class on project management.

Serving as course consultants were 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.

Dr. Cavanaugh said the course is in part based on his 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.

Wik, a management and finance double major, spoke about the unique course during an interview with a top insurance and financial firm in Manhattan and was offered the position. “I walked into my interview and, along with my resume and portfolio, put down a few KEVA blocks. The first question I got was ‘what’s with the blocks?’” said Wik, “It really broke the ice and enabled me to talk about our experiences in building and leading a high-performing team.

“That class was just another great example of something you can’t get anywhere but at Dolan,” Wik added.

And because what goes up eventually has to come down: Students are building KEVA structures designed to self-destruct. Demo day is scheduled for late April.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 8, 2015

Vol. 47, No. 232

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