UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


STAR: Students help businesses shine


STAR program - UNC Kenan-FlaglerThat a lot of great learning occurs in the classrooms at a top business school like UNC Kenan-Flagler is no surprise.

But the kind of experiential learning that happens outside the classroom, through programs like Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR), sets UNC Kenan-Flagler apart.

STAR teams of MBA and Undergraduate Business students act as consultants for global and regional companies – such as MillerCoors and General Electric – not-for-profits and government organizations like YES! (Youth Empowered Solutions) and the N.C. State Government.

Each team builds comprehensive and actionable strategies. An MBA student serves as the project leader of each team, which is guided by a faculty adviser with significant business consulting/corporate experience. Project clients are typically senior executives from the sponsoring organization.

“This real-life learning experience provides an invaluable testing ground for the skills that students learn in class,” said Michael Schinelli, CMO for UNC Kenan-Flagler and STAR adviser. “It’s a tremendous example of the DNA of the School.”

“Being Project Leader gives me real-world experience leading a team that will help me prepare for future managerial roles,” said Ana Lopez (MBA ’15), who heads the team for the MillerCoors project. “I have learned that proactive communication and organization are critical in terms of leadership and client interaction.”

This is the second STAR project for MillerCoors, which is looking at inroads into the Hispanic market for its Blue Moon brand.

“We chose to participate in the STAR project again because we value our relationship with the University of North Carolina and were extremely impressed with our first STAR project,” said Jeff Koopmeiners, MillerCoors client contact and manager of commercial strategy and projects for Tenth and Blake Beer Company. “Success for the STAR project is either validation of our initial approach to the project or to raise awareness that we were inhaling our own exhaust and stop to review our current strategy.”

Gaining real, consequential consulting experience with a client appealed to Kaki Kleisch (BSBA ’15), a team member for the 2014 MillerCoors project. “I hope to learn how to effectively work with a client, how to communicate with a small, diverse team, and how to present my ideas logically and confidently in a client meeting.”

STAR, which launched in 2005, is a semester-long project. This spring, a record number of students applied to do projects for the largest client pool ever, which speaks to the demand and value for both students and the organizations. There are 25 project teams at work this year.

“Our STAR Program has attracted national attention and we have been asked by the AACSB to lead curriculum development programs for the past three years,” said Paul Friga, STAR director and a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship. “We take experiential to a new level by designing thought and people leadership opportunities for our students as they strive to achieve significant impact for multinationals, North Carolina firms and not-for-profit organizations.”

STAR uses a hypothesis-driven approach. A hypothesis is created early in the project and then proven, refined or disproven in the findings and recommendations. A project is divided into four phases.

  • Framing and organizing what needs to be done for the business
  • Collecting research
  • Making sense of the data and presenting initial recommendations
  • Synthesizing and laying out the next steps for the client

Project leaders practice and demonstrate leadership among their peers. All team members gain experience at putting teamwork into action.

Just as importantly, companies get significant results that they can implement.

“Caesars & Harrah’s Cherokee enthusiastically opted to participate in the STAR program given the quality and reputation of the program framework, high-profile lead faculty and impressive diversity of the student team,” said client contact R. Scott Barber, regional president, mid-South operations at Caesars Entertainment.

“We anticipate that the STAR program will provide business case and customer segmentation validation for an expansion project currently in development at Harrah’s Cherokee,” Barber said. “The timing was perfect to formally engage with the STAR team to make this a worthwhile project with meaningful strategic and tactical output, which we anticipate will be immediately applied and put into practice.”