“Doug, I don’t know if we will stay alive.”
Three years into the creation of Barton International Group, Kate Kung-Mcintyre walked into the dean’s office and said these distressed words about her unprecedented organization, with growing concern on her face.
“It’s an interesting story,” Kate prefaced when I inquired about the origins of Barton International Group. She paused before explaining how in 2008, she had met with the previous dean and current associate dean of the business college in order to discuss a way for undergraduate business students to gain real world business experiences. Douglas Hensler, the dean at the time, supported Kate’s far-fetched idea of setting up an undergraduate consulting company. In the early stages of the organization’s development, Kate recalled feeling “like a soldier fighting a battle with no one to back [her] up.” “People thought I had lost my mind,” she said, “that it would never work for undergraduate students.” Among all this negative sentiment, however, Kate still had the dean’s support; and the two decided that the initial sales pitch of the organization would be to emphasize the students’ “fresh set of eyes” – both their youthful paradigm and their broad perspective in regard to various companies.
As she spoke, I wondered how the sales pitch would have been enough to convince companies to give this young and inexperienced group a chance in its beginning stages.
Although a well considered pitch, I soon realized that it was not the promises made that caused Barton International Group to succeed – but rather the tireless work of her “very, very dedicated” students. She remembered nights she stayed with them until “one, two in the morning…bringing them snacks and mulling over projects with them.” She laughed, tilting her head back slightly. “They nicknamed me Momma Kate.” This name, given not only for the seemingly never-ending snacks and late nights, was gifted to her because she became much more than just an advisor – she was a coach, a confidant, a friend – whatever they needed her to be.
The first company that Barton International Group ever worked with was Spirit Aerosystems. This assignment, entitled “Project Magic,” sent the original thirteen members to Malaysia for two weeks and ended with a highly successful presentation to the company’s senior management – setting the precedent for the group’s future successes. Although the beginning years and projects were “painful” because of there were “no foundations, no blueprints” for an organization such as this, Project Magic solidified the stability of the group and their willingness and ability to succeed.
Kate discussed the formulation of her class – Data Analytics 690 – a class created to teach new members the information necessary to thrive in Barton International Group and help the organization succeed. She loves that she can “push and challenge” the group of students in her class each year, and she is continuously forced to change the content because of the ever-changing students and ever-changing world. “It would be irresponsible for me to teach the same content every year,” she said, with the explanation that the skills needed to function in the continually developing business world should be changing constantly as well.
Although Kate’s job in Barton International Group has evolved to let her give up much of her initial control to the group, she noted that her fundamental role has not changed – the commitment of being each member’s confidant. She shared with me the memory of two of the founding members who met in Barton International Group and got engaged last summer. Once he proposed, the pair immediately called Kate to tell her. “I know,” she said to them, “I’ve been waiting for when this would happen.”
When I asked Kate about her favorite part of being Barton International Group’s advisor, she leaned back and thought for a short moment before confidently sharing her response. “It’s profound for me,” she ruminated, “watching every single one of you grow and evolve right in front of me.” I paused, thinking it over, giving her my attention as she continued her thought. “I can’t pinpoint one specific story of growth because it’s everyone…so rapid and profound with all of them.” This swift transformation, which Kate gets the “luxury of having the front seat” for, is a direct result of the creation of a safe space in which students are allowed to fail and fix their mistakes with no consequences. Because of this, Kate claims, “you are not afraid.” This lack of fear allows for the acquisition of new abilities and character improvement, which culminates into significant individual contributions and subsequently the collective success of the group.
From substantial concern about the new and instable Barton International Group in 2008, Kate is now comfortable in her role and proud of the work the organization has completed. She continues to play the role of “Momma Kate,” and claims that she gets to see growth that other teachers often don’t get to see right away.
“I feel so lucky,” Kate smiled and shook her head. “That’s all I can say. I feel lucky.”
Written by Zaena R. Helm