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Students take real-world lessons from class competition

Nikolas Alfonso and teammates Nikolas Alfonso and teammates

When Donna Davis joined USF as an associate professor this fall, she decided to bring a favorite teaching tool with her: a global competition that would help her students develop real-life business skills in the classroom.

At the beginning of the course, Bulls Business Network students in Davis's basic marketing class learned they would be participating in a semester-long 2013 Marketplace Live Global Competition, a business simulation that would be a major portion of their grades. They formed four- or five-person teams and managed a simulated start-up company in the personal computer industry.

By the end of the course, out of seven USF teams, six took the top spots in their games. They competed against students from seven other universities worldwide, including Loyola University, Tennessee State University, Winona State University, the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, Brno University in the Czech Republic, Caucasus University in Caucasus, Georgia, and the Universidad Externado de Colombia in Colombia.

Each student took on a role as a member of the firm's executive team – CMO, COO, CFO, CIO – and then also rotated to serve a few weeks as president of the company. To be successful, the teams had to learn how to apply marketing fundamentals to create and deliver customer value in a fast-changing global marketplace. The class, made up of BBN students who were admitted to the College of Business as high-potential freshmen, also had to learn how to work together.

"These are high-performing students, and they're accustomed to doing things themselves," Davis said. "The simulation forced them to rely on their teammates, so they learn valuable team skills such as how to communicate effectively and build trust."

Nikolas Alfonso, a junior finance student, said he had no idea what to expect coming into basic marketing.

"I was thinking, three tests, maybe a project, that will be it," Alfonso said. "Then I came to class, and I hear that we're going to be doing this online simulation. I heard how much work we'd be expected to put into it, and I thought, 'Maybe I'm in the wrong class.' It turned out to be one of the best classes I've ever taken."

Each USF team competed in a global marketplace against four teams from other universities. The teams received weekly feedback on performance in a balanced scorecard that provides multiple metrics in the areas of finance, marketing, human resources, manufacturing, and investment in the future. Winners were determined by their rank on the cumulative total performance on the balanced scorecard -- and Davis said the team Alfonso was on had the highest total score of any team she has ever seen.
Davis noted that while students were skeptical of the simulation in the beginning of the semester, after the course they reported they had developed valuable skills, such as business negotiating or data-driven decision making.

In addition to their work inside the Marketplace Live Global simulation, each team wrote a 25-30 page marketing plan that they executed in the final four quarters of the simulation. They also presented weekly executive briefs to Davis -- a quick 10-minute presentation where they received feedback on their plans before they had to lock in their decisions for the quarter. Davis told her students these presentations were like the real business world, where they would only have a few minutes to brief an executive on their progress and to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

Tara Weingardt, a marketing major and student in the class, said even though she was skeptical of the simulation in the beginning, it turned out to be a great experience.

"The fact that it was hands on gave you that real world skill," she said. "You weren't learning from a textbook. Dr. Davis allowed you to make those mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes."