By Jenny Mead 

Approximately 40 Darden School second year MBA students went back to middle school recently. Sixth grade, to be exact.

In a scenario of MBA student-turned instructor, the business students used the Darden case study method Tuesday to address the day’s agenda for a group of Henley Middle School students: cupcakes and thorny business dilemmas.

Prof. Parmar addresses Henley Middle School Students

In an experiential learning experience led by Institute-affiliated Professor Bobby Parmar, MBA students currently enrolled in Parmar’s “Collaboration Lab” visited the Crozet middle school to help a 6th grade class of advanced math students navigate their way through a case study entitled, “Sweet Success at the Cupcakery.”

Within the case, founder and owner Anna Frosting has to make a decision about how to spend $250,000 in the coming year. Should she give her employees raises? Invest in a new high-tech mixer? Increase advertising? Or donate some funds to Habitat for Humanity, creating good will and possibly increased sales?

Darden MBA students advise Henley Middle School students

Having read the case study prior to the session, each group of four or five Henley students were tasked with weighing the pros and cons of Frosting’s various options. At each table was a Darden student who at first just observed the discussions and then, later in the exercise, offered some guidance about how and what the Henley students might think about as they made their decision.

Through this exercise, the middle school students were able to practice math skills such as reading charts and graphs, and apply that knowledge to a practical problem. They also learned about the impact that a business has on all of its various stakeholder groups and society-at-large, as well as the complexities of ethical decision-making for business leaders.

“These decisions aren’t always so easy, are they?” Parmar asked the sixth graders, in a question that was answered with shaking heads.

Prof. Parmar consults with Darden MBA student instructors

The Darden MBA students had a chance to observe and coach the middle school students, as well as practice their skills in diagnosing and fostering collaboration.

The Henley students seemed delighted by the experience and the chance to put some problem-solving skills to the test. Reflecting on the afternoon, some students identified highlights of the exercise as “working with others” and “having the Darden people help us.”

However, everyone agreed that the afternoon’s best moment was – of course – eating the Sweethaus cupcakes that Darden provided at the end!