Holly Gruhlke, associate professor of business and chair of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Dickinson State University, was awarded the Mountain-Plains Senior College or University Business Teacher of the Year award.
The association recognizes people who have made significant contributions to business education in their region.
"One of the big things that I feel like I've contributed to, the understanding —through my research — of the preparedness of college students for the workforce," Gruhlke said. "I work with students who are looking to intern, and I work with employers in the area to set up some internships for students. They're able to apply, practice skills right from the classroom into the workforce. I've helped to expand the number of internship credits that are being offered towards completion of degrees."
She has her students apply their skills not just in internships, but in the classroom, as well.
"I use case studies. We have a lot of lively discussion and debate in the classroom, and they're actually putting themselves in the role of the decision-maker or the CEO," Gruhlke said.
These case studies are based on actual problems businesses have faced recently. One of the cases they discussed involved Lululemon, an athletic apparel retailer that came under fire in 2013 when its leggings were accused of being see-through and pilling. The company's response, particularly that of its former CEO, put the issue in the headlines.
Gruhlke's class discussed the brand's strategy of niche marketing, as the company said after the complaints that its target market includes women sizes 2-12.
"We talked about even though niche marketing is really popular, are you segregating yourself even more, because they're an upper-echelon company. They sell their yoga pants ... between $50-$100, so if you say only 'Ok. Only size 12 and smaller' and they're in that price range, are you marketing yourself out of the industry, especially when you have big competitions like Under-Armour ... and Nike," she said.
Making matters worse for the brand, former CEO Chip Wilson, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV, "They don't work for some women's bodies."
Gruhlke's class discussed the fallout from those comments and how the company should move forward.
"There's huge movements with women supporting other women and body positivity, so is it smart for the CEO to say things like that? Could he lose business? Absolutely, he's going to lose business because of what he said, so now what do you do? ... What decisions do you make to correct this?" Gruhlke said.
By giving them these hands-on experiences, Gruhlke hopes to help prepare her students to make good decisions in the workforce.
"I hope they leave my classroom feeling prepared to go out and make decisions and to be innovative thinkers and to make a difference in their organizations. We talk a lot about being good employees and making smart decisions and falling back on different decision-making matrix so that when they're in a stressful situation, they make not only the best decision but the most ethical decision," she said.
To be chosen for the profession organization's award, a teacher must have been a part of the association for at least three years, and they must be nominated for it by another member.