History, Biology, Shakespeare, “Why do we have to learn this stuff?” Apparently, it’s a question that students continue to whine their way through, but CEO Steve Wolk of Zoomnia in Danbury, Connecticut hopes to help answer their cry with an outreach program called Classroom to Community.
Arriving at a solution to a business problem requires an analysis and study that is somewhat similar to understanding and synthesizing the information in their chemistry textbook. From that, the good student or the competent consultant should ask questions, brainstorm with others and draw educated conclusions. “There’s a whole methodology,” said Mr. Wolk that is taken by those who are successful in business and in life.
And that’s exactly what students from ten schools in Westchester have had the chance to learn since they began this program on February 4th. It will culminate, as all potential solutions do, with a presentation of findings that theoretically alters the business model Zoomnia actually occupies. “It’s almost like you might get at a Harvard MBA program,” said Mr. Wolk but with a much more cost effective admission – free of charge.
On hand, in addition to school mentors to help the junior executives will be consultants volunteering their time from ZS Associates. “These consultants teach them to get through the business case,” he said, and how to really think about things critically without jumping to erroneous conclusions.
Putting all this into practice at Fox Lane High School is government and economics teacher George Groeger, but he has incorporated it right into the curriculum rather than subverting it to an after school activity. “I’m taking this opportunity to really bring home how business works,” he said.
The students, with the supervision of Mr. Groeger, put together a focus group to evaluate where Zoomnia stands as a Westchester based search engine that connects consumers to local businesses. “We’ve analyzed where Zoomnia is now, what their assets and liabilities are and what they are going to need to do to go forward to be a success,” he said.
Part of the process also meant developing a questionnaire for students to take to the community in order to determine what those potential customers are looking for in a business search engine of this type. “They really surprised me with the depth and complexity of the questioners,” he said. From the feedback, they will set to analysis again and get ready for the presentation part of the competition on June 17th.
The numbers and analysis aside, an important aspect of formulating a credible report that yields results involves working as a team and matching the strength of each team member to a task. Mostly arrived through self-selection, he said of the delegation of duty, “If someone feels they have a strength in the formulation of the questionnaire we let them run with that. If someone is better at analyzing the state of Zoomnia as it is now, we let them.”
At this preliminary stage, he also measures results by enthusiasm. Despite spring break destinations such as Europe and the Caribbean, he knows his students have turned these excursions into the working vacations that their parents are already familiar with.
He himself is enticed to the forum for the same reason that Sherlock Holmes’ novels appeal to him. “We have a case that’s been given to us, there are facts, and now we’re working on trying to track down what the clues are to Zoomnia’s future,” he said.
And it sure beats taking a test (even if this predominantly remains the criteria which students are measured by). “What I want to bring to the kids is that learning, and real world economics can be fun,” he concluded.
Rich Monetti interview of Steve Wolk and George Groeger