From marshmallows to three-piece suits, classes explore real life challenges

Sometimes, taking care of business means improvisation amid unforeseen circumstances. That’s exactly what happened in the Seward County Community College business program during spring semester 2023. 

“We had an unexpected sudden vacancy in our instructor roster, and that meant we had to come up with a solution for our students,” said Flax. “And that meant team teaching.”

In addition to her duties as division chair and computer information systems instructor, Flax took charge of Business Technical Communications, relying on HR Director Charlotte Peterson to assist in filling gaps where- and whenever they might appear. Meanwhile, HR payroll specialist Elizabeth Dominguez taught Business Management as planned. Peterson was already signed up to teach Human Resource Management. 

Perhaps it was the addition of HR personnel to the faculty roster that plunged students into the real world. As finals week approached, members of human resource and business technical communications classes got professional in multiple ways. The assignment involved digging deep and dressing up. 

“In both those classes, we wanted to prepare students for the workforce,” said division chair Deedee Flax. “That involves much more than taking classes and learning material from a textbook — they also need to understand how to create a resume, craft a cover letter, and adjust both of those things for specific jobs they might apply for, as well as prepare for interviews and the follow-up from interviews.” 

What better way to acquire all those skills than to role play? 

“I assigned them to find an actual job posting on Indeed, one that they would want to be hired for,“ said Peterson. “They had to research the job, tailor their resume to match, and then really sell themselves in the cover letter.” 

The subsequent mock interviews and hiring meetings put the class members on both sides of the table to evaluate candidates and make final decisions. Peterson said the exercise helped them focus on aspects of the job search that sometimes vanish in the heat of the moment. 

“For their final step, they had to submit a one-page summary of what they learned through the entire process,” she said. 

Peterson noted that her class “will always prepare students for the workforce, help them understand how to be a good worker, why there are always forms to fill out, and how to get a job,” she said. “That’s the baseline, although there is so much more they can absorb about how to manage people, and how to lead. I tell them this at the beginning of the semester, and by the end of the class, they get it.”

Dominguez, meanwhile, turned to kitchen supplies to illustrate principles of business management. The course, she said, “is a lot of fun. I had the students do a lot of group projects to put into practice the principles of working as a team, and to explore their leadership styles.” 

As the semester wrapped up, Dominguez introduced the Marshmallow Tower Challenge. The goals was to create a teamwork experience that could then be debriefed along various angles, such as roles in a team, or what it takes to innovate.

Teams were instructed build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow, in 18 minutes. The marshmallow had to be on top.

“They began by saying, ‘no, we can’t,’ but then it turned out they actually could,” Dominguez said. “There’s a TED Talk that goes along with it called: ‘Build a tower, build a team,’ and that is what they experienced.”

The same might be said for the business division as a whole, which is wrapping up an eventful semester with all the emotions involved in higher education: relief, pride, fatigue, and a touch of sadness. 

“I love working with the students,” said Peterson. “I love my job, too, but getting to the classroom with the students … there’s nothing like it.” 

Flax said she too relishes the experience of educating, even amid the unexpected. 

“I’m so proud of this division, the instructors, and the students,” she said. “This year has been a big one, with the opening of the SaintsUP pantry, expansions in agriculture and the grain elevator project, the adjustments to curriculum and certificates and faculty. At the end of it all, it’s been a huge win for the students.” 

Not unlike an improvised structure … with a marshmallow on top. 

Categories: Academic Affairs, Agriculture, Business & Personal Services Division

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