As a student in Professor Mariah Webinger's managerial accounting course, a core element of the Boler College MBA curriculum, you’re expected to get comfortable with numbers. Few anticipated where this data set would take them over the course of this semester.

  • Nearly 17% of Ohio’s adult population has a felony or misdemeanor conviction.
  • More than 500,000 individuals in Ohio have come through the prison system since the mid-1980s.
  • Less than three out of 10 inmates in the Ohio state prison system return to prison after release, below the national average.

Experts point to evidence-based programming and enhanced community partnerships to explain the low recidivism rate. Rather than admire that accomplishment from a distance, Webinger wanted to challenge her 2022 class to get more intimately involved. She felt it would be an effective way to translate abstract accounting concepts in Jesuit-inspired action.

Accounting into Action

Webinger launched the Inspired Business Lab two years ago to infuse Jesuit values into her course. For this project, she merely had to look around the corner, in nearby Shaker Square, to realize her goal of connecting Boler MBA students with under-resourced entrepreneurs.

That’s where she found Edwins, a fine French restaurant, culinary school, community kitchen, small business incubator and audacious social enterprise. Founded as a training program for former inmates by Chef Brandon Chrostowski in 2007, Edwins opened to the public in Shaker Square in 2013. While enrolled in the program, EDWINS students receive intensive training and hands-on work experience, along with free housing, legal services, basic medical care, clothing, job and literacy skills. The Institute graduates 100 students a year who gain employment in restaurants across the country.

Whole Person Perspective

One recent Edwins graduate, Harrison Buckley, plugged into the Inspired Business Lab in hopes of turning his regular chef gig and frequent pop-up catering opportunities into his own business. Boler MBA students Andrew Simonson and Katie Kelly, along with other managerial accounting students, leaned in, quickly scaling their own restaurant 101 learning curve, to help Buckley realize his goals. 

The Boler team set out to determine the cost analysis and create a budget for Buckley's pop-up events. Next came marketing, with a new Instagram account launched to drive more catering revenue. 

Kelly, a Senior Alternative Investment Analyst with Mai Capital Management, found good will and positive energy from the group’s first meeting with Buckley. "We talked with him about long and short-term goals," she says. "I was inspired by his enthusiasm. Business, ultimately, translates to building and maintaining relationships.”

Simonson adds that the challenge of applying business concepts to real-world models deepens learning and makes everyone more nimble, a point that Professor Webinger seconds.

"In a business class, problems and questions come neatly divided into chapters,” Webinger says. "In a real business situation, plans go awry. Thinking on your feet and making plans that adapt to changes is vital in business." 

While initial meetings between MBA students and community partners reveal the sometimes immeasurable distance between a university and its neighbors, comfort and relationships grow.

"Working with community partners can be intimidating; it pushes you out of your area of expertise as a Ph.D. in business,” Webinger says. “It gets the professor (and students) out of the Ivory tower and into the noise and dust of Mainstreet.

“Despite any difficulties and messiness, it is a beautiful process,” Webinger says. “We are honored to be a part of it." 

About the Boler Inspired Business Lab

Boler graduate students engage community partners and apply their skills to a variety of start-ups and business plan challenges, ranging from a new bakery to a mobile car detailing service. In return for their participation in the program, community partners receive a stipend to support their venture. Boler students get an experiential learning opportunity in strategy, accountancy, financial planning, marketing, and data analytics. The Kramer School of Accountancy and Information Sciences and The Donnelly School of Leadership and Social Innovation provide funding.