Giving students the tools to run a business

Photo of a professor in a classroom working with a student When students enter Dr. Decker Hains’ analytical foundations course at the beginning of the semester, they have no idea they are about to run a business.

The management class, which covers the use the qualitative and quantitative techniques for research and decision making across a variety of business functions, runs a business via simulation during the semester. 

Teams of students participate in five simulations using the ScrimmageSIM program developed by Dr. Bret Wagner, associate professor of marketing at the college. During fall semester, students were charged with running a fictional brewery. Over the course of the five simulations, the tasks increase in complexity, going from scheduling production orders to setting prices, launching marketing campaigns , investing in new capacity and more. The student team with the highest earnings before taxes takes the top spot, and students are able to see the results of their fellow classmates, adding a competitive thread to the project.

As students progress through the simulations, they modify the spreadsheet that they use to develop their plans for production, pricing, marketing and investing, giving them more tools in the Excel program, a key goal of the course.

“Students have commented that their Excel skills are definitely enhanced during the course because they are forced to use the program for a real situation,” says Hains, master faculty specialist in management and former chair of the WMU Department of Military Science and Leadership. “The goal is to get them to apply the knowledge they learn through the simulations soon and often.”

Students agree that the simulations have been invaluable to them as they learn about the various components of running a business.

“Experiential learning is so important,” says Lauren Nowakowski, a senior studying management and sales and business marketing. “I am thankful for any classes that offer the opportunity to learn by doing. The simulation is very engaging, and the entire class got into it. No one wants their business to be in the bottom half!”

After each simulation, the student teams conduct after-action reviews to reflect on performance and analyze what happened versus what the team planned and how to apply that information to for the next simulation.

“This project helps us practice the decision making that you need to develop to be successful in a real business,” says Zach Wilds, a senior studying management. “Most businesses have similar issues to what we encountered in the simulation and learning how to approach them is extremely valuable.”

Learn more about ScrimmageSIM at