OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi MBA students enrolled in a business planning and entrepreneurship class are embarking on a game of friendly competition with serious consequences.
During the spring class, which is led by Clay Dibrell, UM associate professor of management, community members pitch potential projects for a social entrepreneurship project. Students can select one of those projects, or choose to work on something they create. This year, one project captured the hearts and minds of the majority of students in the class.
Shambrica Whitehead is a young lady who lives in a nursing home and attends high school in Walls. Paralyzed completely on one side, Whitehead is in dire need of a new wheelchair that provides better support and improves mobility. Such wheelchairs can cost several thousand dollars. Numotion, a Memphis, Tenn., company specializing in solutions for people with mobility limitations, has donated a modifiable frame and offered to measure Whitehead to ensure that the end product is right for her.
Upon hearing Whitehead’s story, six of the eight teams in Dibrell’s class chose to design projects to benefit her. Angela Box, who works with Whitehead as her occupational therapist through the Quitman County School District, presented Whitehead’s story to the class.
“After the presentation, when Shambrica and I were surrounded by students who approached us to ask questions and meet Shambrica, I was overwhelmed with joy,” Box said. “I was grateful and honored that these students elected to take on this project. I know it is a lot of hard work. Watching and hearing the way they interact with Shambrica and talk about her speaks volumes about the respectful and caring people that they are.”
“There was such an emotional connection between Angie and Shambrica,” said Adrian Skogeng, an MBA candidate from Oslo, Norway, who obtained his undergraduate degree from UM in managerial finance. “It was moving, and we knew we could do something good to help Shambrica get what she needs to be more comfortable and more productive.”
Skogeng, who played four years on the Ole Miss tennis team and is a volunteer assistant, is part of a team selling “Together4Shambrica” wristbands. The red-and-blue bands can be purchased for $10, $25 or $50, with all proceeds going directly to the fund for a new wheelchair. The bands are available online.
Other teams are using social networks, websites and other marketing strategies to raise money by selling “parts” to the wheelchair. Jessica Turner, an MBA candidate from Clinton, is on one of those teams and felt a personal connection to Whitehead.
“Seeing pictures of Shambrica and learning more about her story drew a personal connection for me because I had a nephew who was confined to a wheelchair,” Turner explained. “Knowing that Shambrica’s quality of life can be improved by our efforts is motivation to work hard for her.”
Jessica’s team website offers certificates of commitment, allowing contributors to receive acknowledgement of their support and providing a way for them to share Whitehead’s story with others.
Three additional projects are promoting sales of various parts of the wheelchair. Geoffrey Martin, an MBA student from Natchez, is part of a team whose website offers opportunities to purchase numerous parts of the wheelchair, including armrests and footrests, a solid seat, heel loops, caster wheels and more. In addition to parts, cubic inches of the wheelchair are available for purchase online via Shambrica’s Fund. Wheels for Shambrica is another team’s project offering a similar approach.
Another project is offering a variety of sponsorship levels to help raise money for the wheelchair. Each sponsorship purchased at Strength4Shambrica helps the cause and earns the sponsor a chance to be entered into a drawing to win an iPad.
“This has been such an amazing experience for Shambrica,” Box said. “She is absolutely thrilled that she has been able to go to Ole Miss, talk to college students and even get ‘famous’ on the Internet.
“This experience has already given Shambrica so much socially and mentally, which was something I had not even considered, but has been so valuable. I cannot wait for the day when we get to present her with the new wheelchair, which will so greatly improve her independence and quality of life.”
The competition runs through April 29. A special fund is being established to ensure that proceeds from each project are made available for the proper use, and to ensure that future proceeds are used only for Whitehead’s medical needs.