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UNC Kenan-Flagler STAR program connects students with corporate partners

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UNC Professor Karin Cochran works with STAR students at an event on Jan. 20, 2023. Photo Courtesy of Allison Adams.

UNC began a relationship with Nike when it signed an agreement to provide shoes and athletic apparel for its athletes and coaches in 1993. 

Five years later, the Kenan-Flagler Business School offered the course Economics, Ethics, and Impacts of the Global Economy: The Nike Example, which sparked debate over the apparel company, regarding concerns students were having about Nike's labor practices in overseas factories. 

By the end of that spring semester, a staff member from Nike came to view the students’ presentations alongside their recommendations for the company.

The employee turned out to be Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Soon after Knight's visit, Nike addressed the labor concerns within its factories while the University continued to renew its contracts with the company. 

This course foreshadowed the current Kenan-Flagler Business School program STAR – which connects students with corporate partners to tackle real business issues, Karin Cochran, executive director of STAR and professor in the school, said.

23 student teams are currently participating in Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Student Teams Achieving Results program, or STAR. Over the next few months, masters of business administration and undergraduate students will work together with a variety of disclosed corporate partners to solve problems for each individual company. 

“It was started to allow students to apply what they're learning in the classroom to a real business challenge for a real company," Cochran said. “In the process, we hope they will develop leadership skills, teamwork skills and problem-solving skills."

Cochran said STAR’s students will also present their data, fact and action-based recommendations to real corporate partners.

She took over the program in 2017 and said she loves giving the students the opportunity to have real consulting experience while they’re still in school. 

The STAR program was started officially in 2005, but the business school has been conducting experiential learning projects called practicum since the 1990s. The general interest in starting the STAR program was to help students by having them participate in action-based learning similar to what is taught in the school, Cochran said. 

Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra, clinical professor of marketing, is one of many faculty advisors for the STAR program. She loves the ability to work on a current problem for a company and see the marketing concepts she teaches put to action in the real world. 

Specifically, she enjoys being able to have daily communication with a small group of students over several months with the common objective of delivering recommendations to a client. 

“I don't know of another program that has that focus – of the combination of the undergraduates and the graduates together working on a team,” Kubowicz Malhotra said. 

She added that the undergraduates are able to apply their classroom and market knowledge to professional situations, while the graduate students can test their leadership, management and communication skills through the project.  

Abby Crotteau, sophomore MBA candidate and a STAR ambassador, said she is excited to see the impact the groups will have with clients. She added that she believes the STAR program is holistically one of the strongest attributes of the Kenan-Flagler business program.

Crotteu said working with STAR has been a great introduction to the consulting realm and that through the project she has learned how relationships between companies and clients really operate. 

“The amount of impact that students actually get to have is really exciting,” she said.

Peter Jackson, a senior double majoring in business and computer science and a STAR ambassador, said the program helped him have a better handle on his summer internship and allowed him to work with a diverse group of people. 

Although STAR is a business-based program, Jackson said it seeks to unite students from all backgrounds and majors to add variety to the consulting projects.

“The more diversity – the more diversity of thought in our program – the more success we can bring to our clients,” he said. 

@madisongagnon9

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