Orolando Duffus is the 2014-2016 Diversity Resident Librarian at the UNCG Libraries. In July he joins the University of Houston Libraries as a business librarian.
For the purpose of this article, an embedded librarian is defined as a librarian who has a semester-long integrated instruction presence in an online, on-site or hybrid course. Some of the activities include delivering research instruction, creating LibGuides, tutorials, and providing in-depth research assistance to students and faculty.
Over the last two semesters, I have been exploring my new role as an embedded librarian for an MBA capstone course at UNC Greensboro. The course is entitled MBA 719: Strategic Management in Action and it is taken predominately by final semester MBA students. The course is very research intensive — mainly because students engage in professional consulting projects with local organizations. As a result, students often have to research and analyze their respective company’s industry, target market, and competitors, among other things.
I think it is important to note that students in the evening session of MBA 719 waited about 8.9 years prior to undergrad to pursue their degree while the daytime students averaged less than a year between both degrees. My experience working with those sessions have contradicted the idea that going to grad school earlier would make the transition easier and that going later would dull students’ study habits. For the remainder of this post, I will share my experience embedded with both evening and daytime MBA classes, and I will highlight some of my observations relating to students’ research skills, demand for research consultations, quality of class discussion, direction and focus, collaboration and confidence.
From an assessment of both sections, I learned that about 97% of students have received some type of research instruction from a business librarian. Therefore, they were very familiar with many of the specific tools, services and resources provided by the library for business students. However, the research skill sets were a bit difference for the two sets of students. The evening students were generally less knowledgeable about the contents of various databases but they tend to do extremely well on their own once you point them in the right direction. The daytime students on the other hand generally needed more hand holding. They often contacted me within days after an instruction session seeking step-by-step direction on how to navigate databases in search of specific content.
Demand for Research Consultation
The evening students needed few consultations to supplement my in-class research instruction. In fact, I received over ten times more consultation requests (office visits) and emails from daytime students than I received from evening students. The daytime students generally needed help finding articles and data sets, resolving teammate conflicts, developing statements of work (SoW), and retrieving almost impossible to find proprietary data.
Quality of Class Discussion
The evening students brought a lot of experience into the classroom. As a result, they engaged in more fruitful discussions and shared valuable experiences with each other. Those perspectives were very insightful for the students as they came up with recommendations for their client/sponsoring firm. The daytime students struggled a bit with crafting and articulating their final recommendations. As consultants, they were sometimes tasked with telling their clients that he/she was heading in the wrong direction or that he/she had a bad idea all together. That aspect of their engagement was very challenging for the daytime students. I suspect that maturity and lack of work experience played a role.
Direction, Focus & Collaboration
In addition to have a fulltime job, most of the evening students had a family. They often had a strict schedule and had to balance multiple tasks simultaneously. Initially, I thought those elements would adversely affect their focus and availability. But I became impressed by how well they worked together to coordinate their schedules. They were very self-directed and needed very little interference from the professor. Ironically, it was the daytime students who had the biggest issues scheduling time for group meetings and consultations. Once I had to play the role of a mediator in a consultation session after a student stated that she felt alienated by her team because of her gender. She further lamented that it was unreasonable that she was peered to work with two male students who were best friends. I brought the issue to the professor’s attention; he wasn’t aware of the conflict nor did he know that the guys were best friends when he assigned the teams.
This was somewhat of a challenging area for the daytime students. In comparison to the evening students, the daytime students had less impressive presentation skills. Their final recommendations or deliverables lacked some teeth. For instance, one group’s client wanted to create a go-to-market strategy that relied heavily on QR codes. Choosing avoidance, the group ignored the body of literature pointing to the declining usage of QR codes. In other words, the group was not confident enough to inform their client that the use of QR codes is not viable. Instead, they created a plan that would work well only if people actually used QR codes.
Overall the students were easy to work with although their projects were very challenging at times. Their projects were extremely different and covered a plethora of disciplines. The students worked with and advised companies that have dealings with insurance, healthcare, retail, computer software engineering, real estate, food processing, wineries, and more.
The diverse nature and scope of the students’ research projects prompted me to collaborate and consult with numerous subject specialist both internal and externally. On several occasions I’ve had to consult with Steve Cramer (fellow Business Librarian), Science & Health Science Librarian, and other librarians at UNC Greensboro. On one occasion I ventured beyond the confines of UNCG to consult with Michael Knee, Nanoscale Science & Engineering Librarian at the University at Albany. The University at Albany has been doing a lot of semiconductor research so naturally Michael’s insight into the Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP) industry was invaluable. I believe that collaboration and teamwork are some of the most essential elements needed to effectively support students enrolled in a MBA capstone course.