The first step is the hardest
If you have ever asked a 6-year-old what they want to be when they grow up, you know that there are few things that dissuade them from their dreams. In their mind, the possibilities are endless. However, at some point in their journey of becoming, they’re told there’s a step that has to be made, a benchmark to be accomplished, a kink in the plan. Often, higher education can feel like that. When I finish all my research, then I can genuinely make a difference… If I could get one more certification, then I can prove I’m a world-changer… Once I have my degree, I can really do something… Jim Kolari’s Finance 462 “Live Bank Case” students are already changing the world for a bank in Hondo, Texas.
Community National Bank (CNB) has found itself between a rock and a hard place. A mostly rural town, Hondo has been watching the Texas giant, San Antonio, slowly encroach on their city limits. CNB board member, Bill Freed said, “Our community is changing, and if there is anything I’m interested in seeing in the overall growth product, it’s what can help us define our community and what happens when a community changes so rapidly.” Freed likened the Hondo/San Antonio growth to that of Sugarland to Houston and McKinney to Dallas. “They were their own well-defined communities for years, then the sprawl of the metropolis comes in and not only encroaches but actually acts like a tsunami and washes over the area,” Freed explained.
For a once small-town bank like CNB, the imminent danger of large-city encroachment with big bank players like Frost and Wells Fargo could be detrimental to the local bank. CNB was started with a group of businessmen who formed a small-town community financial institution and obtained their charter in 1980. CNB Chairman of the Board, Tom Rothe, said, “The bank opened in 1981 with $1.6 million. That sounds like nothing now: you can’t get a bank off the ground without $10 or $15 million capitalization, but then that was a lot of money.”
Banking in the real world
And Kolari’s students know that. The 41 commercial banking students who took the field trip to the bank are either graduating seniors or graduate students and have taken multiple banking classes, completed internships, and are all about to enter into the real world of banking. Kolari said, “This (live bank case) is ideal for us. This portion of the program is focused on community banking. They get to get in here and find out real problems that community banks are having in the U.S. and Texas, and they’re happening all over, with small, community banks being challenged by the growth that they have in their communities, and also the survival, against bigger banks.”
This Live Bank Case is the first that Kolari has executed in his 40 years at Texas A&M, and Kolari could not have predicted the outcome. For the study, the students were broken into small groups to come up with solutions to maintaining business, while creating new customers and establishing a sustainable strategy. “I was flabbergasted,” Kolari said. “I had a front-row seat to the Aggie Spirit at work. [The students] took this project to heart – it wasn’t just a grade to them. They sought counsel from industry professionals, drew on experience from past internships and jobs, and even looked into the fine details (like finding the coordinates of the busiest intersection and calculating the cost of a billboard installation) to create actionable plans.”
Kolari mentioned, “I can tell you that 99% of schools don’t have a banking class in their college of business. We’re a very rare program; we have a little over 100 students, graduate and undergraduate.”
CNB executives saw the effort and knew that the Commercial Banking Program students would deliver, so they traveled from Hondo to College Station to hear the students’ presentations.
“We had not been able to share the presentations with all of our board members before the May board meeting, but now we have all seen the presentations and it is on our agenda to discuss at the June meeting,” Rothe explained when talking about the solutions they were presented. “[Other board members] and I have been discussing many of the ideas presented and have been scouting locations and opportunities for growing our brand using the input received.”
High impact learning yields high impact results
At Mays, it is common to hear that we are committed to providing high-impact learning experiences. That means we commit to educational experiences that deepen learning and foster student engagement. Rather than simply listening to a lecture, learning by rote, and taking an exam, Mays students are given the opportunity to actively pose and solve problems, work collaboratively in a community of peers, experience real-world applications of knowledge, and reflect on their learning processes. Through these high-impact learning experiences, Mays students change the world, a degree in hand or not.