When Stephen Skripak revealed how much money the Fall 2018 Foundations of Business course had raised for the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC), he remarked that the $17,000 brought in “was a course record that would never be broken.”

Over one year later, Skripak is done making predictions. That’s because the course’s Fall 2019 cohort raised the bar even higher – netting nearly $23,000. The amount brought in continued the trend of each semester’s course raising more money than the one before. “On the part of the more driven students, there is definitely an element of competition,” explained Skripak, a professor of practice in the Department of Management who has administered the project for five years. “Determined students are committed to excelling.”

Over 100 teams, each comprised of seven to eight students, participated in the “Food Cart Project,” which offers first-year students a unique experiential learning opportunity. The project tasks teams to start a business of their choosing, with all profits going to a CVC-eligible charity. The title of the project comes from the default business model, a food cart, which is assigned to teams that choose not to launch a business of their own.

“There is no better way for a business major to learn about business than by doing business,” says Skripak.

In the time that Skripak has managed MGT 1104, the project has raised over $65,000 for the CVC. Among the charities benefiting from the project were the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Micah’s Backpack, Virginia Tech Volunteer Rescue Squad, and Disabled American Veterans.

“If you know the four P’s of marketing,” explained Skripak, “any one of them can be the key to success in the project.” According to Skripak, at least one of each of the four P’s of marketing – product, price, place, and promotion – has determined the winning team each semester. “In last year’s competition, it was all about place,” he said. “Prior to that it was product. This year, the winning team focused on promotion.”

The success of the Foundations of Business course has begun to garner national recognition. The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, an organization dedicated to improvements in the first-year experience and all postsecondary student transitions, awarded the course and Skripak an honorable mention in the category of Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars.

“This course is Steve’s legacy,” said Ron Poff, an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Management. Poff will take over the administration of the project when Skripak retires after the Spring 2020 semester. Poff believes that the project will continue to build upon its prior successes, no matter who is in charge, due in part to the course’s relevance to the first-year experience of the students.

“The first-year experience is not an easy one,” Poff explained. “The topics discussed in the course and experienced in the project are relevant to the students’ lives. Decision making, fiscal responsibility, getting to know the Blacksburg community, getting to experience the New River Valley. These are all things the students are going through in their lives as well as in the course.”

Poff continued, “The assignment helps to create a supportive and student-centered environment where students have the opportunity to form relationships with faculty and peers through collaborative group work using creativity and thought-provoking business planning and execution. Students come into this course and are motivated because they enjoy learning by doing.

“They want to do well because this is their first taste of running a business.”

- Written by Jeremy Norman