The case for business education

Apr 5 2017

Pilot project encourages high school students to test drive a future in commerce


“How do you know business is for you?”

It’s a big, complex question, and one that Assistant Professor Ali Taleb was thrilled to be asked—and to help answer—at the pilot MacEwan Business Challenge.

“That single question speaks to the heart of what this event was meant to do,” says Ali, who teaches in the Bachelor of Commerce program. “By connecting current, past and future students, along with parents, teachers and profs, we wanted to nurture high school students’ curiosity about what it means to study business. The MacEwan Business Challenge is about giving high school students an opportunity to work together and think creatively to solve real business problems—and to have fun while they’re learning.”

Held for the first time in March 2017, the event  brought together five teams of five students from two Edmonton high schools to come up with solutions to business problems themed around the triple bottom line—a corporate sustainability system that focuses on three areas of performance: profits, people and planet.

Each team worked together on three separate business challenges: solving a newly hired accountant’s ethical dilemma, helping an enterprising first-year student with a summer lawn service choose between an eco-friendly fertilizer or one with a dodgy environmental past, and coming up with a creative idea to pitch to an environmentally focused ice-cream entrepreneur.

“ Seeing high school students working at this level, thinking responsibly and coming up with solid solutions to difficult problems makes me believe the future is bright.” ALI TALEB 

The hitch? They had only 20 minutes to brainstorm and negotiate their answers, and five minutes to present their solution to a team of judges made up of a faculty member, a current student and an alum of the Bachelor of Commerce program.

“The quality of the work these students did was incredible,” says Ali. “Seeing high school students—young people who will be our future CEOs and business leaders—working at this level, thinking responsibly and coming up with solid solutions to difficult problems makes me believe the future is bright.”

Alvin Lee, who teaches finance at Ross Sheppard High School, had enough interest from his students considering careers that involve business in some way to fill three teams.

“A lot of times high school feels very far removed from real-world applications in business, but this was an opportunity to experience the direct connections and how they can be applied in real life,” he says. “Students were able to find out what they’re truly capable of doing. The case studies were definitely challenging for the students, and it was great to see them interacting and problem-solving in a university setting.”

One of the teams from Ross Sheppard snagged first place overall, but Alvin says that all of his students had a great time. Every single one in Grades 10 and 11 said they would do it again next year.

And they will be able to do just that. The MacEwan Business Challenge is set to grow in 2018, taking on more high school student teams and involving even more of the university’s current students and alumni—something fourth-year Bachelor of Commerce student Sara El-Bakkali is excited about.

“Visiting the students at their high school before the challenge, letting them know what to expect and then seeing how well they did the day of the event was such a great experience,” says Sara, who volunteered for the event. “It brought me back to how I felt in high school and made me realize how being able to do something like this back then would have made me feel more confident in my choice to study business in university.”

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