Aug. 21, 2019Print | PDF
Placing Assistant Professor Karin Schnarr in an “early career” category could be considered a little misleading.
For the past five years, Schnarr has used lessons she learned during nearly 15 years working in public policy, government relations and strategic planning to provide Wilfrid Laurier University students a deeper understanding of the potential opportunities – and real-world challenges – that await them after graduation.
Schnarr’s success in leading students through rigorous and relevant business case studies was recognized earlier this year with a Donald F. Morgenson Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence in the early career category.
“Finding teaching later in life has been a blessing,” says Schnarr. “It is wonderful to be part of a culture that so strongly supports excellence in the classroom, giving me the opportunity to teach the next generation of knowledgeable, compassionate and ethical business leaders.”
Teaching undergraduate and master’s students studying in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics has sparked a passion within Schnarr that some students find contagious.
“Business Policy I was the most valuable undergraduate lecture course I’ve taken,” says Matthew Donovan, who is pursuing Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of Mathematics degrees.
Students in Business Policy I: Strategic Management – a required senior course centred around experiential case-based teaching and learning – step into the role of corporate decision maker as part of business case studies selected and facilitated by Schnarr.
“Every lecture was fast-paced and filled with additional context drawn from her extensive range of experience to help us relate to and apply theory to real-life scenarios,” says Donovan. “It felt like we were learning for a larger purpose.”
Case studies are teaching tools that recount real-life business challenges to help reinforce theoretical course concepts and simulate the same kind of analysis and discussion that happen in professional environments. Soon after Schnarr introduces a theory or framework in class, students immerse themselves in a case study to put the theory into practice.
In-class discussion is “where the learning takes place,” says Schnarr, as students debate their interpretations of the presented case and propose solutions. Students are asked to consider alternatives and decide how to best implement a chosen strategy with an eye to possible positive and undesirable outcomes.
“In both private and public sectors, employers want team members that know how and when to raise issues for deeper discussion,” says Schnarr. “Case studies prepare students to handle situations where colleagues don’t always agree with their ideas and teaches them how to interact with people in a professional and respectful way to produce strategic solutions.”
By refreshing case studies on an annual basis to feature challenges faced by companies including Tesla, Disney and Apple, Schnarr selects case studies that are both exciting for students and reflective of current business practices.
“She knows that some academic theories are only abstractions until they’ve been experienced,” says Sarah Wilner, associate professor in the Lazaridis School’s Department of Marketing. “She translates ‘big ideas’ into concrete exercises that allow students to learn by doing.”
Schnarr’s contributions to case-based learning at Laurier extend outside of the classroom.
For four years, Schnarr served as the faculty case lead for the Integrated Case Exercise (ICE). A 40-year long tradition at Laurier, ICE requires third-year BBA students to compete to present strategic solutions to top business executives.
As part of ICE, a company presents a real problem it is trying to solve. Each team of students is given one week to conduct company, industry and market research, apply what team members have learned in class and propose a viable solution. After multiple rounds of judging, the top four teams present their solution to industry executives.
During her time as case lead, Schnarr collaborated with corporate partners to develop new case studies for ICE competitions, which are held twice each year and feature 80 to 100 student teams. Recent ICE corporate partners have included the Canadian Tire Corporation, Molson Coors Canada and Communitech.
“More and more, employers are relying on case-based interviews to determine the critical thinking skills of potential undergraduate hires,” says Schnarr. “Engaging in case studies helps students build professional skills and personal confidence.”
Learn more about teaching excellence at Laurier and other teaching and learning initiatives.
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