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MBA students build bikes, team spirit

As part of their orientation, the 282 incoming MBA students at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School built bicycles for students at the Global Scholars Academy, a Durham K-8 charter school for children from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Global Scholars Academy student Rayne Platt wears a bicycle helmet in front of a row of bicycles.
Global Scholars Academy student Rayne Platt wears a helmet in front of bicycles assembled by MBA students from Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, who built bikes for the academy during a community- and team-building exercise. Photo by Dan Sears, Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

The morning started with a lecture by a business school professor, as most mornings will start once the latest 282 incoming full-time MBA students begin taking classes at Carolina later this month. But Tuesday’s orientation session at the Blue Zone at Kenan Stadium also included a wacky game to remember the 13 colonies, frequent shouts of “Fantastic,” assembling 30 children’s bikes and meeting the kids who will be riding them.

That last part, perhaps the best part of the day’s team-building exercises, came as a pleasant surprise for the Carolina students. “I had no idea that the kids were going to show up,” said Christine Shaner. “These kids are so polite. To fit in with 10 MBA students when you’re 4-foot-5 is amazing.”

“It was nice that they brought in the little guys,” Kevin Fletcher agreed.

The “little guys” were from the Global Scholars Academy, a Durham K-8 charter school for children from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Dressed in uniforms of navy pants or skirts, yellow shirts and navy ties, the children arrived just as the MBA students were finishing up a series of exercises.

Tuesday was the second day in a week of orientation, a morning devoted to the “Building Connections Workshop.” James H. Johnson Jr., William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center, set the tone with a lively presentation about the “browning and graying of America” and the impact of that demographic shift on K-12 education.

“The next generation is not being educated well, through no fault of their own,” he told the group. ”… Many of these children are living in food deserts. If you come to school hungry, no learning is going to happen.”

To combat this trend, he told them, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School has invested significantly in the Global Scholars Academy, which Johnson believes can be a “franchisable model for education” — and for whom the MBA students built the bikes.

After Johnson’s talk, motivational speaker Dan Eckelman of the Leader’s Institute introduced the word of the day – “Fantastic!”—and led the group through some memory exercises before splitting them into 10-member teams and sending them to their small round team tables for team-building exercises. After coming up with team names and cheers and putting puzzles together, it was time to get down to the business of bike building. The teams on one side of the room were to assemble the red and black boys bikes, while the teams on the other side put together the pink and light blue girls bikes.

Not long after the cardboard boxes containing the bicycle parts arrived at each table, Johnson announced that he had brought in 30 special guests from the Global Scholars Academy to help, one per team. The students receiving the bikes were the winners of an essay contest themed “travel the world on a bike.”

“I said I would ride my bike to the circus, to the moon and to the fair,” said Kimberly Prudencio, a pigtailed third-grader assigned to the Lucky Levin MBA team. As the MBA students struggled with the correct placement of the pink tasseled handlebars on the butterfly-decorated frame, she said, “This is cool. I never built a bike before.”

She will get another chance to do just that, though. Agatha Brown, head of school at the academy, told the group that today’s recipients will build two additional bikes that they will give to other students in need, “paying it forward just as you did today.”

As for the MBA students, Ankit Juneja said he thought the day’s activities were “an excellent team building exercise.”

He looked on as his teammates tightened the bolts on the pedals and wheels and finally secured the handlebars of Kimberly’s new bike. “The toughest part is building the bike,” he said.