Ranch life cultivates supply and resource management research for Barbara Marcolin
June 27, 2016
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario (1994)
BComm, Haskayne School of Management, University of Calgary (1983)
“After being out in industry and academia for a long time, I realized the two have to come together.”
RANCHING AIN’T EASY. It requires balancing everything from digging ditches, to supply and resource management, and selling livestock. It is hard work, possibly made more difficult with the advent of institutional operations.
It was, however, a perfect breeding ground to cultivate a business-oriented mind such as Barbara Marcolin’s.
Growing up in the BC ranching community of Kamloops and the Shuswap, Marcolin saw both an opportunity and a challenge to simplify the farm-to-table process.
“I saw how farm co-ops operated, mostly on the back of an envelope, and I thought there must be an easier and more effective way,” says Marcolin, an associate professor of information systems in UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management.
With the aim to help her ranching community, located in the Thompson Valley, BC, Marcolin embarked on an academic journey.
Accounting initially seemed like the best option, but while attending Thompson Rivers University (formerly Cariboo College), she became drawn to computer science. Realizing the potential of the burgeoning discipline, she predicted it would be the next wave of business management.
Following her intuition, Marcolin completed degrees in commerce (BComm) and business technology (PhD).
THE POWER OF TECHNOLOGY
Majoring in the disciplines of management information systems and computer science turned out to be the winning combo.
“Computers have become the solution to effectively managing businesses,” says Marcolin. “Technology underlays today’s fast-paced business environment in both companies and start-ups.”
The interface between business and technology has been such a driving force for Marcolin—not only has she developed curriculums around the topics, she also helps businesses adapt and embrace technology. For example, she helped develop tech solutions for Kinek Technologies, a New Brunswick-based package delivery system tailored to its clients. Marcolin learned that the key to success is bridging the gap between the business and the end user.
As computing potential has evolved, so has Marcolin’s approach. Currently, she collaborates with individuals, non-profits, companies or governmental organizations that are trying to meet new entrepreneurial technological requirements.
Marcolin and her team of graduate Management students work on new software solutions, paying particular attention to the users. For example, they’re collaborating on a computer application that provides information to patients concerning 150 chronic disease programs, as well as the available professionals, researchers and health coaches.
Marcolin suggests that these initiatives would be impossible without input and buy-in from the organization or client.
“Technology enables, but it can’t transform business practices unless there is a corresponding effort from the user of the technology.
“When designing the platforms and architecture, many elements need to be considered. I enjoy the challenge of breaking down a complex situation into workable modules. It’s like putting together a puzzle; the individual pieces form the picture.”
FROM BOARDROOM TO CLASSROOM
Marcolin is passionate about teaching. She has supervised numerous graduate students and clocked countless hours teaching courses at undergraduate, master’s and PhD levels.
“My teaching philosophy focuses on creating a positive, caring environment with high learning expectations,” she says. “I’m less concerned about being popular and more interested in ensuring every student learns something valuable and relevant.”
She encourages Management students to embrace technology.
“In class, I try to bring forward a diverse range of technical insight to both those students who are apprehensive about technology and those who sit on the edge of the next technology wave,” she says.
“I balance dynamic discussions about business and effective technology use while connecting discussions about trendy tech issues and announcements. My classes involve daily exercises, buzz groups and case discussions to create an active learning environment.”
Bringing real-world scenarios to the classroom is also an aim of the annual Entrepreneur Boot Camp [see sidebar], where Marcolin acts as faculty advisor and judge.
“The Boot Camp is a valuable opportunity for students to connect with sponsors in the community. During this event we hope to motivate, support and inspire our students’ entrepreneurial spirit.”
BRINGING IT BACK TO THE FARM
A return to the Okanagan Valley from working in industry on the East Coast has brought Marcolin full circle. In addition to her academic responsibilities, she also mentors the local farming community.
“After being out in industry and around academia for a long time, I realized the two have to come together,” she says. “It has been a great opportunity to be back in the valley and put this philosophy into practise. I enjoy introducing the locals to technology, new processes and new business models.”
What’s more, Marcolin also paid it forward by supporting her two daughters in their pursuit of management careers. Both of them followed in their mom’s footsteps and pursued training in the same faculty where Marcolin teaches at UBC Okanagan. Her son, the youngest child, enters his first year of Management at UBC in September 2016. It’s all in the family.
“People think I got into management because of my mom, and I really tried not to be like her,” says Marcolin’s eldest daughter, Laura (BMgt, Class of 2014). “I came to my own conclusion that management was the way to go. It’s such a useful degree.”
Looking back on her trajectory, professor Marcolin couldn’t agree more.
“I am fortunate to have trained at top institutions, which have allowed me to contribute back to the communities that supported me.
“The management degree was an especially great choice. I’ve also really enjoyed being part of the tech-age and seeing its impact on businesses.”
BOOT CAMP: WHAT’S YOUR BIG IDEA?
Professor Marcolin has been an integral force behind UBC’s flourishing Entrepreneur Boot Camp.
In this annual competition, Management and non-Management students—in teams or as individuals—have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. The panel is largely comprised of business leaders and successful entrepreneurs.
Although the core activity of the activity is the competition, it also provides a valuable opportunity to connect the students with the Okanagan community.
A keynote address, supplementary workshops and networking opportunities are also valuable components.
“For many students,” says Marcolin, “this is a highlight of their year.”
Past winners include:
- AlumniXchange (2016): Like AirBnb but through Alumni social networking with professional host/renter connections. Management and Engineering UBC Okanagan students.
- Third Dimension (2015): A mobile survey tool for use at construction sites.
- Adventure Bucket List (2014): An adventure tourism company currently exploring possibilities in Chile.
- FestFeed: The social-networking app for festivals received 2014’s Bootcamp award for “Promising Business Model.”