Businesses want to hire experience. MBA students want to leave school ready to hit the ground running in a new career or better job.

Professor instructing in front of blue screen

In response to these needs, Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School is introducing an innovative, globally focused MBA program that immerses students in theory and practice simultaneously. And it’s all tied in to Boston’s world-class industries—health care, finance, high tech/startup and biotech.

The MBA program is housed in the Business School’s newly designed graduate program space in Sargent Hall at 120 Tremont St. Study and meeting areas bounded by sleek glass panels were designed with an eye to collaborative learning. The space replicates a professional and innovative office environment and thus is inviting to both MBA students and the companies that partner with the Business School.

The new MBA program, launching in fall 2016, was developed after years of research focused on the requirements of cutting-edge businesses, the goals of MBA students, and consensus about what makes for an ideal business education.

“Employers are asking MBA graduates: What have you done that gives me confidence that you can do the job?” said Michael Behnam, dean of graduate programs and academic affairs at the Business School. “They aren’t asking: What books have you read?”

So while Suffolk MBA students will read relevant texts and learn from expert faculty, experiential learning will play a significant role in every single course they take.

Examples

  • A semester-long operations management class visits a local hospital and looks at the operations chain. A hospital manager discusses a challenge, and 35 graduate students working under a faculty expert look at the problem, define it, collect data, and present solutions to hospital executives. The students learn to put an academic concept into action; the hospital gets at least one good idea, if not more; and the faculty member gets the satisfaction of a great learning opportunity for students that also engages their specialized knowledge.
  • A class on collaboration begins with a visit from an executive from one of Suffolk’s industry partners, who discusses collaboration in the context of his or her organization. Three professors with distinct areas of interest – ethics, teamwork or project management – teach collaboratively and, to bring the lessons home, design a learning environment that mirrors the ideas that students are studying. At the end of the term, the guest executive returns, and students present recommendations on an area that was defined by the industry leader as relevant and current. These recommendations bring together the major lessons learned from the collaboration class.
  • In a required domestic or global travel seminar, students take what they’ve learned in the classroom and put it to the test by studying leading firms’ real problems, formulating solutions and making competitive presentations before teams of company executives.

 

In addition to the experience of working in teams, analyzing problems, engaging in entrepreneurial thinking and making presentations based on their reading, experience and class work, the students make valuable connections through their immersive experiences.

Behnam leads a global travel seminar to Germany every year. On a Monday, students tour the BMW manufacturing plant and headquarters before an executive introduces an actual company challenge. The students split into groups and spend about five hours analyzing the problem, applying everything they have learned in the classroom, from their readings and through their life experiences. The student teams then present their solutions to BMW executives and receive feedback. After dinner with the BMW representatives, the students discuss their day’s work with the professors accompanying them. On each of the succeeding four days, the students engage with different companies, implementing what they learned on the previous day as they address a variety of business issues.

“Their confidence is boosted by Friday night,” said Behnam. “After presenting before a new company every day in an unfamiliar culture where people speak a different language, they realize that they can handle much more than they imagined they could. It’s an amazing transformational experience for our students.”

Mutually beneficial interactions

And the companies heed the students’ advice.

“The students’ recommendations have become part of our standard checklist when we prepare and negotiate potential cooperation models,” wrote Rene Munser, head of Global Commercial Operations for BayerPharma AG in Berlin after a Suffolk visit.

The travel seminars are part of the MBA requirement and may be domestic or international. Students have visited companies and organizations including 3M, the Bank of England, Bombay Stock Exchange, Citigroup, Coca Cola, GE Financial Services, Lloyd’s of London, Microsoft and the World Trade Organization through the Business School’s travel seminars. Destinations range from China, Brazil, India, Mexico and England to hops between New York and Los Angeles for students studying the American entertainment business.

Developing the program

Sawyer Business School faculty and administrators spent about two years revising the MBA curriculum, with input from alumni and employers who had hired Business School graduates, said Heather Hewitt, assistant dean of graduate programs. A plan had been formulated by fall 2014, when the Business School MBA task force joined more than 5,700 academic and industry leaders for a conference on the future of business education. The participants projected a program of study that hews closely to what the Sawyer Business School had already designed and was prepared to implement.

The faculty is excited about being the first in the region to adopt a new, immersive MBA curriculum and about enhancing their use of Boston as a learning laboratory – especially in its key industry areas:

  • Biotech
  • Finance
  • Health care
  • High-tech/start-ups

“Most MBA programs have become a generalized management degree that tried to be everything to everyone,” said Behnam. “The goal of MBA students is to further or change their careers and to get a better job. Our program is designed to generate exactly that outcome.”