Students Assist Non profits Through DISC Coursework

Published on September 30, 2009

Bauer Students Learn Best through “Constructivist Learning,” Professors Say

MIS major Grace Milstein-Torres took a service learning approach to her studies by redesigning businesses’ websites and promoting their presence on major search engines.

MIS major Grace Milstein-Torres took a service learning approach to her studies by redesigning businesses’ websites and promoting their presence on major search engines.

Each fall, the influx of students at the University of Houston has an impact beyond the surge in campus activity.

In the past 10 years alone, hundreds of C. T. Bauer College of Business students have worked for non-profit organizations and small businesses as part of their senior coursework in the Department of Decision & Information Sciences.

Working with charitable organizations dealing with issues such as Alzheimer’s, autism, homelessness, learning disabilities, poverty, educational challenges and multiculturalism, the students provide the technical know-how for expanding and improving databases and/or Web sites.

That can mean significant gains in visibility and number of clients served for non-profits, or a boost in business for a young startup company. Clinical Assistant Professor Carl Scott initiated the service learning classes, partnering with Executive Service Corps of Houston, a group that provides retired senior executives as mentors for students, and the Small Business Development Center. Associate Professor Jaana Porra alternates oversight of the classes from one semester to the next.

This type of “constructivist learning,” is one of the ways students learn best, Scott said. “Hopefully they’ve taken everything in that they need to know, get to apply it, and it all really comes together in a way that benefits the organization, the student and the community.”

Grace Milstein-Torres, who earned an Entrepreneurship Certificate from Bauer and is majoring in Management Information Systems, worked for three businesses this past summer in MIS 4379. Milstein-Torres redesigned Web sites and promoted their presence on major search engines.

“It is a good feeling to accomplish what I like to do and to know that the achievement helped the community,” she said.

Because the cost of some consultations can be considerable, they’re often not in the budget of a non-profit or fledgling business, Porra said.

For students, the experience is a distillation of all they’ve learned, but with the assistance of an experienced mentor.
“It pulls everything together that they have learned,” Porra added. “How to manage their time, how to plan a budget, how to program and design a database, how to interact with a client and manage their expectations. The implementation of these systems can be significant and may impact how many people these organizations can serve.”

By Julie Bonnin