Posted by Kara Kennedy on 2011-11-17

Students in the M.B.A. program at Samford University's Brock School of Business had the opportunity to take an innovative course this past summer, “Examining Current Topics in Strategy Implementation and Technology using Science Fiction.”

Professors Cynthia Frownfelter-Lohrke and Franz Lohrke developed and taught an MBA elective focusing on the difficulties managers can have when implementing strategic plans and making important business technology decisions.

Students read articles, wrote papers and made presentations about critical topics such as artificial intelligence, corporate culture, management succession and crisis management.   To stimulate class discussion, the professors used Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) videos and a live Twitter feed (@trekstrategy) with students’ and professors’ tweets during class.

“Star Trek: TNG provides a great platform for discussing technology issues,” said Cynthia Frownfelter- Lohrke, professor of management information systems.

“Despite going off the air 17 years ago, the show was so futuristic that its themes remain current.  For example, we were able to use several clips focusing on decision making by Commander Data, an android who serves as the Enterprise’s second officer, to discuss artificial intelligence questions like 'how and when do computers make better and sometimes worse decisions than humans?' We also talked about how businesses can protect themselves better from cyber attacks using the episode, 'Contagion,' where the Enterprise crew downloads a malicious virus from another ship’s computer.”
The live Twitter feed added an innovative technological twist to class discussions. Students commented that it revolutionized class participation and made it much easier to stay engaged during an evening course, even after working during the day. They were also interested in knowing in real time what other students thought about how the video cases related to the topic being discussed.

"The Organizational Leadership class was valuable because we were able to learn through the integration of contemporary management and strategy topics with science fiction. The episodes in Star Trek covered a number of managerial areas including environmental uncertainty, corporate culture and multi-generational management. The variety of issues presented through the Star Trek episodes facilitated great class room discussion,” added M.B.A. student Katie Voss.

“Using clips from popular movies and television shows can be an effective teaching method to illustrate important business issues because professors can take a story students already know and overlay an important theory,” said Franz Lohrke, Brock Family Chair in Entrepreneurship.  “For example, professors have used 'Willie Wonka' to illustrate human resource management issues and 'Shark Tank' to examine venture capital decision-making.  We were able to use lessons from 'Star Trek' to examine not only business technology issues, but also important factors that can keep managers from implementing strategic plans like having key managers leave the company.”

To examine how companies handle CEO succession issues, for example, the professors used episodes where Captain Picard was kidnapped by an alien species called the Borg.  The Enterprise crew was then forced to continue implementing their strategy and find innovative solutions during a crisis, despite the loss of their inspirational leader.

“This is a current topic from many companies. We had extensive discussions this summer about how both Apple and Google would face this issue very soon," said Cynthia Frownfelter- Lohrke shortly before the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.