Carlson School of Management News

Honors Students Further Management Research

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alaina Buchwald Kathy Su Eric White Joshua Sletten

This year, 21 Carlson School undergrads graduated with Latin Honors from the University of Minnesota. The Honors Thesis Project is the culminating experience of the rigorous honors program. This year's participants carried out research on management issues from business ethics and women's leadership, to local food movements and NBA player contract negotiations.

Sharper volunteers, happier customers
Alaina Buchwald wasn't surprised to find a correlation between the competence of tax prep volunteers and client satisfaction in her project results. She hadn't, however, expected these volunteers to perform better, independent of their own perceived competence.

"My results showed that introducing training improvements empowers workers to do their jobs better, without them even realizing it," says the Supply Chain and Operations honors student. 

Buchwald tested her hypothesis on the Volunteer Tax Assistance Program, a campus volunteer group that provides free tax preparation for the community. She discovered that better-prepared volunteers lead to happier clients, and improved organizational performance.

Buchwald's project won the Dean's Award for Best Undergraduate Honors Thesis.

Evaluating workers by the dollars
Companies frequently use information from cost accounting methods to analyze the complexities of running a business -- these insights reveal the pros and cons of various courses of action. Although some employees receive incentives based on these important figures, most are unaware they're evaluated using cost accounting information.

Roshni Muralidharan examined whether cost accounting methods used in financial incentive structures impact employee job satisfaction. And when her initial results showed no correlation between this method and employee satisfaction, she dug deeper.

"Many workers stated they know they're evaluated by the cost accounting method, but don't know the name of the method, how it's used, or that this information isn't communicated to them. This suggests a communication breakdown between levels of the organization," she says.

Marketing local foods
Does mention of locally-sourced ingredients on a restaurant menu make the dish taste better? According to Kathy Su's findings, and to the potential dismay of marketers, consumers may not perceive food quality differently when the ingredients are local.

Su surveyed two groups of young adult consumers in a restaurant setting: one group ordered from a menu that included less detail, while another group ordered from a menu that identified where the ingredients were sourced. The recipients then rated the food quality. Although she predicted the group that knew where their food came from would rate the quality higher, this wasn't the case.

The Marketing and Supply Chain Operations student hopes to apply her findings to help local farmers and small food producers thrive.

Nonprofit funding models
One thesis project even earned a nod from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Finance major Eric White examined nonprofit funding models and their effects on donor perceptions. He studied organizations that use a "100 percent to program" model -- nonprofits which channel all donations from the public to cause-related program expenses, and fund operational expenses solely through private donors.

He found the model could enhance donor perceptions when used by high-efficiency organizations, and can hurt donor perceptions when used by low-efficiency organizations.

Global business implications
Joshua Sletten won the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) Honors Research Award for his project's contribution to an understanding of global business. Sletten's paper, "Project Finance Investment Risk and Political Business Cycles in Developing Democracies" was selected from a competitive pool.

Achieving honors
The Honors Thesis Project is student-driven research project that presents both an opportunity and a challenge that requires considerable commitment and sacrifice on the part of the student. Working under the mentorship and guidance of an invested faculty supervisor, students learn valuable skills pertaining to critical thinking, project management, and communication as they navigate the ups and downs of the research process. To graduate with honors, students must complete a thesis project, achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and conquer a challenging course load.

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