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Catawba Students Create Christmas Trees as Capstone Project for Business Class

December 15, 2008

Category: Academics, Business & Economics, Students


Students with ResidentThe shy smile on George McCleave's face spoke volumes about how the Brightmoor Nursing Home resident felt about the Christmas tree he was given by Catawba College students. The tree was a final project for the students' Operations Management class, a product that different teams had assembled using specialized tools and seven different raw materials, including coat hangers.

The Christmas tree project was the brainchild of Ketner School of Business Professor Pam Thompson. It was designed to allow students to actualize some of the business concepts they had learned in class, such as specialization of labor, time and motion studies, lean manufacturing, teamwork and quality control. Working in teams, the students were asked to develop a production plan with a PERT chart and quality control check points. They were then timed to see who would finish the task first with acceptable quality, earning extra points toward the final exam and bragging rights.

Two different teams took on the task. Team One was led by junior Chris Beal of Goldston, with junior Thomas Bivens of High Point, senior Rafael Marquez of China Grove, senior Michael Dolesh of Aquasco, Md., and senior Brian Ward of Sunderland, Md. Team Two was led by senior Joseph Morris of Cleveland and included junior Arthur Cromartie of Fayetteville, junior Antonio Hall of Greensboro and senior Charles McAfee of Charlotte. The winning team, Team One, practiced a great deal, according to Thompson, and was able to get the production time down to under 24 minutes. They constructed a sturdy, near perfect tree that met all quality standards.

Students with ResidentThe losing team, Team Two, tried to alter the stand to save time by using less coat hangers, but unfortunately, Thompson explained, "Their tree ended up being shaped more like a pyramid than a circular tree." This particular team also tried to attach an angel made out of pipe cleaners to the top of their tree in a last-ditch effort to gain extra points. "Unfortunately, the angel fell off during the quality check at the end," Thompson said. All was not lost however, as the tree ended up in the hands of Brightmoor's George McCleave after being sent back for rework.

Team One leader Chris Beal had this to say about the project: "I really enjoyed it because it was a fun way to learn, hands on, how the production industry functions and key factors that play a role in production such as correct inventory."

To add ambiance and create an assembly-type atmosphere, distracting holiday music was played via an Internet radio station during the timed exercise. To the dismay of the students who heard versions of "Blue Christmas" by Elvis, Judy Garland, Jon Bon Jovi and Lawrence Welk, Thompson joked that it was truly a sort of revenge of "Blue Christmas." "Different versions of this same song were played to provide distractions similar to the loud noises that actual workers might receive in a real production environment," she said. Students were not allowed to wear safety earplugs during the timed assembly of the trees.

"All in all, the students were able to apply difficult concepts from the course to a fun project that resulted in a small gift to a local nursing home," she concluded. Thompson thanked Gretchen McKivergan, Brightmoor's social services director, who worked with the Catawba teams to put their Christmas trees in the hands of residents.


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