Students share value of TU MBA capstone course

tu mba curriculum
Team members Haley Lucero, Duncan Smith, Bradi Hinch and Patric Holderfield with Professor Brice Collier

TU MBA students developed a 10-year business plan for Cherokee Heritage Center, the premier cultural center for Cherokee tribal history, culture and the arts, during the 2016 fall semester. Team members Patric Holderfield, Bradi Hinch, Haley Lucero and Duncan Smith partnered with Cherokee National Historical Society, which manages the Cherokee Heritage Center, as part of their curriculum in the full-time MBA program. Following a recent ceremony during which CNHS honored the students for their work in developing the plan, team members shared the value of participating in the projects course and their insights into the process, included below.

Patric Holderfield (MBA ’17)
In meetings with the Cherokee Heritage Center board and current employees, it became apparent that constraints on resources and staffing were the main impediments to advancing their mission to “Preserve, Promote, and Teach Cherokee History.” With that in mind, we met with the outreach coordinator and focused on ways to use assets and personnel more efficiently to allow the Heritage Center to visit as many schools and teach as many students as possible. We reached out to local schools, and most were eager to schedule additional events with the CHC. We also looked at the organization’s website and made recommendations for updates that would make scheduling events, donating, buying membership and finding information easier, while making the page more visually appealing. Based on these recommendations and the CHC’s resource constraints, we found a local web designer who was willing to assist nonprofits within their means.

Working with the Cherokee Heritage Center and Cherokee National Historical Society was a great experience for me. I learned a lot about the challenges that nonprofits face and how they operate relative to a for-profit business. For a typical business, doing things for the community and pursuing a social good can just be a means to an end to bring in more money. For places like the Cherokee Heritage Center, it is reversed: The social good is the end they’re pursuing and that made it a real joy to work on this project.

Haley Lucero (BSBA ’15, MSF ’17)
The Cherokee National Historical Society was extremely transparent when it came to their current operations. After meeting with their financial director, it was discovered the CNHS had three endowments, but little information was known about these assets. We took it upon ourselves to dig deeper and uncover further opportunities and recommend investment strategies to align with CNHS revenue needs. We later incorporated the endowment opportunities into our 10-year business plan where we projected potential cash flows from each of our proposed projects. Several of the projects added value by growing the CNHS’s revenue streams, museum attendance, memberships and overall awareness of their mission. It was an eye-opening activity to unveil CNHS’s true potential given all their assets and potential growth opportunities.

The entire experience was mutually beneficial. CNHS was receptive to our ideas and were eager to implement specific suggestions. This process was not only insightful for the CNHS, but also gave us a chance to get creative and resourceful for our client.

Bradi Hinch (MBA ’16)
When we began this project, two qualities stood out to our group. The first was the extremely unique position of stewardship that the Cherokee National Historical Society had with its invaluable assets of Cherokee history. The Historical Society protected and perpetuated a collection of history deeply important to the Cherokee people, and this nation. We felt honored to help, in some small way, to further their mission. The second was the overwhelming passion that those involved with the Cherokee National Historical Society felt for their mission. It was a privilege to work on a project with so much passion behind it. With these two qualities in mind, we set out to complete a project that would honor and uphold both. The “wide lens” vision was to create a realizable path from the past to the future of the Historical Society. It involved structural, operational, logistical and economical facets, to name a few. However, our goal remained the same — to meet the client’s goal to see the actualized longevity of the Cherokee National Historical Society. We hoped that by this project, the client would not only witness a thriving Historical Society in 10 years, but also see an established path to long-term sustainability via a realization of optimal asset usage and inventive asset creation. We are grateful for not only the knowledge we gained from this project, but also the overall experience in helping the client to realize their passion.

Duncan Smith (MBA ’17)
The opportunity to do the capstone project with the Cherokee National Historical Society was very rewarding. Being from Scotland, I was not privy to much history of Native Americans and the various tribes within Oklahoma. For me, the chance to work with a Native American tribe is something that I would never have the opportunity to do anywhere else, and for that I am thankful. What struck me the most was the passion that all the workers had to preserve their culture and teach others the Cherokee way. If every worker in the world shared the same passion as the Cherokee Heritage Center, the world would be a much more efficient place. I think for them, it was important to have an external assessment of how the Heritage Center could improve without being financially dependent on the Cherokee Nation. By having our MBA team come in and not have an emotional attachment to the extent the workers did, we were able to provide suggestions that we believed would benefit the Cherokee National Historical Society as a whole.

I was charged with trying to generate revenue with minimal expenditure. What I noticed about the Heritage Center is that it has beautiful, stunning grounds called Diligwa (an ancient retreat). The grounds are used for tours, but I felt that the tour was not interactive enough. Demonstrators showed bows and arrows, chunkey and various Cherokee culture activities. An idea I created was to have a corporate retreat within the grounds. Visitors would be exposed to a number of team-building activities whilst also learning about the Cherokee culture — a win-win for the Cherokee Heritage Center. The grounds are unique, and there are few places in the U.S. that share as much history as Diligwa. I feel that Diligwa could be a real unearthed gem for the Cherokee Heritage Center in years to come.