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Coming Full Circle: Ann Burkhart Joins MAAIS as Capstone Instructor

October 5, 2020

MAAIS was fortunate to have Ann Burkhart join as the new Applied Client Research Projects (ARCP) instructor during the 2019-20 academic year. Ann holds a BA from the Jackson School as well as an MBA from New York University. She has been a member of the MAAIS Civic Council since it was created and during her time working on ethical sourcing for Starbucks was an ARCP client twice. We asked Ann to reflect on her experience teaching the capstone for the first time and helping the students be successful when all instruction and team interaction went remote in the spring.


What attracted you to the ARCP teaching opportunity? As a JSIS alumna and a MAAIS Civic Council member, I was happy to have the opportunity to deepen my involvement with the program. Since I had been on the client side of a couple of ARCP engagements, I was excited to be on the other side, working with the student teams as a coach and mentor. Being an instructor also gave me the opportunity to stretch my wings professionally and to learn from the great staff and students in the program.

How did your personal and professional experience prepare you for guiding students through the ARCP? Although I certainly believed that my experience in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors, along with my experience as an ARCP client, would be helpful I didn’t really know going in what specifically I would draw upon. The fact that we all had to adapt to Covid-19 during Spring/Summer quarters meant I needed to pull different things from my experience than I might have. I believe the students benefited most from hearing real life examples from projects I had been involved with, particularly where I’d used consultants or been a consultant. They also appreciated the perspective of someone with years of experience working for both corporations and NGOs.  What I most enjoyed—and what Tom Cohen, the instructor who preceded me, had emphasized—was the importance of being a coach. This became especially important as students were adapting to online instruction and team interactions in addition to the multitude of stressors the pandemic and other social upheavals brought on.

 What is the value of the ARCP experience for students? Having a real world project with an actual corporate or non-profit client stretches and stimulates the students in ways that a theoretical case study never could. Situations come up that test the group as individuals and as teams – changes in scope, personality conflicts, difficulty securing interviews with stakeholders, etc. Coming out of the class every student better understood how to work well in a team, how to define a project’s scope, and how to run client engagement. In addition, all projects have an international component which allows the students to see their studies come to life and to envision how they can apply their knowledge and skills to jobs after graduate school.

What did you learn from the first year teaching the ARCP? The biggest learning for me was to lean in to my coaching role. Helping the students appreciate their unique skill sets and understand how to bring them to their projects is how I can best help them be successful as teams and individuals. This class is unique in that the actual teaching content is minimal. It is all about helping the students form and maintain strong teams, learn through doing how to conduct a good client engagement and stay on track with a tight timeline, sometimes shifting focus and multiple deliverables, and meet the challenges of gathering and sifting through the necessary data to come up with strong client recommendations.