Historically, high school students interested in business are guided towards majors in accounting and marketing and those interested in technology, towards computer science and engineering. It is rare for these students to even be aware of majors such as MIS which merge business and technology. Similarly, most high school counselors and staff are unware of such programs.

To help inform and educate students, counselors and teachers, The Seidman ERP Program faculty, with the assistance of Heather Czech Matthews, have constructed an on-campus SAP Young Thinkers event that uses a simulation to illustrate the role that ERP systems play in an organizations everyday business activities. We have executed these events multiple times per semester for various school districts. (KentISD, OAISD, KentISD) The program highlights the potential use of ERP systems within organizations, and illustrates how employees with these skills functions within organizations.

The simulation (ERPsim) is developed and maintained by the HEC University in Montreal and is available for any post-secondary institution to use. It simulates a market based environment where students manage the day to day operations of a company in order to address the needs of the simulated customers. We have taken the competitive nature of the simulation and organized it into a single day event for high-school students. The event is geared toward educating students in the possibilities of an MIS Career, and provide them with exposure to the most common ERP program used by industry. The fun, gamified environment of the simulation is well suited for providing a meaningful introduction to business processes, technology and decision making.

Hosting such an event is an exercise in project management. Time is both a friend and an enemy. Early planning, in sufficient detail, allows any institution to succeed. We have developed a detailed project plan to help even novice institutions execute the simulation successfully. However, a plan is not the only item that requires attention. We have identified 5 critical success factors for a successful simulation event: event planning, simulation coaching, well-defined materials, clearly defined team roles, and a nurturing learning environment. Our program brings together all the elements necessary to satisfy these critical success factors. These elements have been documented in detail, and are freely available to anyone interested in such a program at: http://www.gvsu.edu/erp/erpsim.

Although the simulation had been used by high school students a few times prior to our initial event, our program was the first to involve the local business community. Local companies helped sponsor the event, but more importantly, provided context for the use of ERP systems in business with face-to-face discussions. Volunteers from these organizations, as well as student volunteers from the college provided coaching to each high school team. This coaching provided the high school students with the support necessary to succeed in the simulation; as well as provided mentoring opportunities to make the event a more meaningful learning experience.

In addition to the simulation itself, students had the opportunity to meet with university admissions and with the university’s career services center. While the admissions group discussed the onboarding of new students, it is the career services center that provided more perspectives on the benefits of an ERP education. Getting students excited about a topic, showing them how it can translate into a fulfilling career and providing them the details on how to begin that process were very well received.

There are three primary benefits from our program. First, the program provides a recruiting avenue for the MIS program in the Seidman College of Business. The event exposes students to the possibilities of an MIS career, hopefully enticing those students interested in the simulation to study MIS in our program. It also educates the administrators and teachers at the participating high schools. In effect, this ‘primes the student pipeline’. Second, students were able to see how technology is used in various aspects of an organization. The professional community mentors provided real-life context to the use of these systems. Third, this exposure allows students to assess their desire to continue study in this area. Thus allowing students to make informed decision on future education and career options.

Our simulation event can be easily transferred to other institutions. The software simulation we use is available to all institutions in the SAP University Alliances. This global program provides institutions with easy access to ERP software. Over 2,500 universities participate. While universities do need to pay a nominal fee to join the University Alliances, the simulation game we use requires no additional fee to students. All the promotional and pedagogical documents and templates necessary to execute a simulation event have been provided to the University Alliances. In the near future, this material will be made available on their web-portal. Until that time, the material is available via the GVSU ERP Portal.  The simulation event material can be easily adapted by individual institutions and customized to their specific needs.

When well executed, a simulation is fun for students and staff as well as educational. It is a good learning environment for students, and a valuable recruiting tool for the host institution and future employers.

** Blog content originally created by Thomas McGinnis, Simha Magal and Meagan Knoll: 2016**

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