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MBA students help Michigan nonprofits tackle business challenges

Executive MBA students at Michigan State University have turned an expert eye toward issues surrounding homelessness, hunger, and sustainable energy in the comeback state. By pairing up with local nonprofits like the Greater Lansing Food Bank, Homeless Action Network of Detroit, and Michigan Energy Options, student teams are bringing years of business experience and their Executive MBA education to bear on business problems these nonprofits face but would often require expensive outside consultants to help examine and solve.

Ken Whisse, II of the Berrien County Housing Resources Network (middle) engages MBA students, Saturday, November 15, 2014, during the MBA showcase featuring Broad College of Business MBA student's social impact projects at the Henry Center for Executive Development.
Ken Whisse, II of the Berrien County Housing Resources Network (middle) engages MBA students on Saturday, November 15, 2014, during the showcase featuring Broad College of Business MBA students’ social impact projects at the Henry Center for Executive Development.

“There are multiple ways to help these nonprofits help those in need. Giving a can of soup to a food bank is always a great idea, but from our perspective as business professionals, we can effect more change if we can help that food bank become a more efficient business,” said Glenn Omura, acting associate dean for MBA and professional master’s programs at the Eli Broad College of Business.

Student teams elected to apply their expertise to business challenges across the state, consulting on business issues in Lansing, Detroit, and Benton Harbor.

“The response and the results have been overwhelming. Although we knew there was a great need, we didn’t realize how many of our working professionals would elect to take on this additional work—and we didn’t realize how substantially they would be impacting the organizations. It’s been remarkable,” said Cheri DeClercq, acting MBA division director.

Executive MBA student Tom Yaroch and his team worked with the Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB) to perform a comprehensive study and make recommendations related to facility planning and management. The major challenge the team tackled was how GLFB could efficiently serve seven counties with the same office and warehouse space it has used to serve three. The team identified facility and operational improvements in terms of design, space, capacity, and flow.

“The experience gave me an even deeper appreciation for all of the work that nonprofits do to help others. It was an honor to participate in the project and take part in Michigan State University’s tradition of outreach and community engagement,” Yaroch said.

Another MBA team, led by Diane Soulliere, helped the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) conduct surveys to improve reporting within the agency.

“The team helped us a lot,” said Joe Walsh, president of HAND. “We were pleased to have this feedback, it will be affecting how we deliver training, and this information will have the potential to be carried over into other areas of the work we do,” he said.

Soulliere said the work she and her team did with HAND was eye opening. “I was aware of the homelessness issue in Detroit, but I really didn’t understand the overall impact to the city. We also didn’t realize how many organizations were banded together to try and put a permanent end to homelessness,” she said.

Even though the project is over, Soulliere said she plans to continue to work with HAND in the efforts they started in the project.

“We will assist with creating a roadmap for the data that we have gathered and create a plan for the incoming class of 2016. I have offered to mentor the new team coming in and will continue to support the HAND organization,” Soulliere said.

Other MBA teams worked with Out-Wayne County Homeless Services Coalition, Michigan Energy Options, and the Housing Resources Network of Berrien County, all three focusing on business issues that could help improve the services these groups offer.

Encouraging giving back is a key reason the social impact projects were started, said Sanjay Gupta, acting dean of the Eli Broad College of Business. “Giving is central to our mission at the Broad College and at Michigan State University,” he said.

“I have long believed that being able to acquire a meaningful graduate-level education in business is truly a privilege, so it seems only appropriate that we consider how we can apply our business knowledge to tackle social problems and give back to the society and community we are a part of,” Gupta said.

This project was also covered by the Detroit Free Press.


Eli Broad College of Business

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