November 2022

Reprinted with permission from Concordia University, St. Paul. View the original article, which was published in the summer issue of the Concordia University, St. Paul Magazine.

Many businesses are still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including businesses close to Concordia’s St. Paul campus. Professor Renata Mayrhofer, Instructor of Business Management and Chair of the Business Administration and Management Program at Concordia, realized her students could help.

With a long history of partnering with local organizations, Concordia is well positioned to engage in mutually beneficial projects in the community. For the past few years, Professor Mayrhofer has had business students partner with businesses during their capstone course, Business Strategy and Ethics. Dr. Bruce Corrie, Professor of Economics and Associate Vice President of Government and Community Relations, has helped Mayrhofer identify businesses in the “Little Africa” area of St. Paul who would be willing to work with her students.

In fall 2021, students partnered with business owners at the AJ International Mall on Snelling Avenue to enhance their business plans. “This strategic planning project, dubbed our ‘live case study,’ gives students an opportunity to learn strategy and consulting with a client. They spend 8-10 weeks listening to the client's history, dreams, and challenges,” explains Professor Mayrhofer. “The students learn a lot from the business owners, and they learn about the industry through extensive research.”

For the project, Mayrhofer divided the class into teams based on their specific major: marketing majors worked on the branding, website, and social media marketing; finance majors put together financial statements, created budgets, and researched grant funding; and management majors developed policies that reflected the cultural values of the tenants. Leading the teams, Mayrhofer shares, were “two class leaders [who] set the main strategy and guided the class through the project.”

AJ International Mall beauty products

Students’ research and hard work culminated in a professionally written, bound strategic plan, plus a formal presentation to the business owners. This project provided real-world experience consulting with small businesses, and students saw first-hand how hard entrepreneurs work to keep their businesses afloat. Additionally, Mayrhofer says students gained “new insight into the struggles and obstacles new immigrants to our country face as they strive to make a living in the U.S.”

Ben Wadsworth, BA ’21, who is continuing as a student in the Information Technology Management master’s program, worked as one of the two class leaders on the project. He explains the magnitude of the project: “Having something local gave the project a different tone. It made all of us feel like what we were doing was that much more special. It also was nice being able to see the impact we had afterwards.”

Indeed, in addition to producing strategic plans, according to Dr. Corrie, “The research the students conducted played a role in the tenants being awarded grants by Midway United.”

Gene Gegelu is President and CEO of African Economic Development Solutions, which aims to build businesses and wealth within the African immigrant community. He sees how this project mutually benefits CSP and the African community and highlights the tremendous impact “when universities serve as anchor institutions in their communities.” Gegelu shares that he finds joy in “the openness of Concordia’s leadership to engage in the community.”

Moreover, Dr. Corrie notes that “the active engagement of faculty and students with the community helps fulfill [Concordia’s] mission to prepare students for thoughtful and informed living and the enlightened care of God's creation.”

What a joyful sight to see when the talents of Concordia students and faculty combine with those of our surrounding community in partnership.

By Dr. Colleen Arendt

(Photos by Ben Wadsworth, BA ‘21 and Cassidy Lee, BA ’21)