Nov. 23, 2005
By Jessica Stark
Students enrolled in traditional Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs spend a lot of time in the classroom reviewing case studies, analytical models and management approaches. And little or no time is spent working with real businesses.
At Ohio University however, a new partnership between the College of Business and the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs is turning the traditional MBA model on its head by integrating practical business experience along with theory.
This unique approach, which has students working as consultants, gives all 50 students enrolled in the program an opportunity to work with community business owners as part of their 15-month academic curriculum.
"It's challenging and it's good. But if in one word you asked me to describe this program, I'd say it's integrated. It's definitely integrated," Burcu Yenigun says about Ohio University's MBA program. Her classmates and colleagues Corey Patterson and Abby Sauders agree.
Patterson says that the integration of classroom education with business experience sets Ohio University apart, and Sauders says the integrated program allows her to see business theory become business application.
She favors the words "business application" over "business practice," to stress that what she's doing is more than just practice. She and all Ohio University MBA students have the opportunity to actively apply classroom concepts to the real world while making a distinct impact on the Appalachian region.
Though this is the first year the entire MBA program has been integrated, the longstanding relationship between the College of Business and the Voinovich Center has produced many successes. The Voinovich Center is an academic center that leverages state and university funding with local, federal, foundation and private resources to develop and strengthen businesses in the region. And last year, Ohio University MBA students helped regional businesses secure more than $20 million in loans, $5.5 million in venture capital funding, $30 million in new government contracts and nearly $1.5 million from individual investors.
"The students working here are helping to start companies. They're helping to save existing companies. And by the time they earn their MBAs, they're seasoned problem solvers, leaders and managers," says Kevin Aspegren, manager of consulting services at the Voinovich Center. "Many times, they're graduating with references and job offers from the companies for whom they have provided services."
Aspegren says rural businesses, especially in economically depressed regions where consulting services aren't readily available, face unique challenges. "We're providing a service that previously hasn't been here and wasn't readily available," he says. "The MBA students get to work with real clients, with real problems, that require real solutions."
With an eye toward helping the region, the Integrated MBA was created to meet the needs of individuals who want to earn an MBA but lack the work experience other MBA programs require. In the Voinovich Center, the College of Business saw the opportunity to leverage education directly with experience.
"At the Voinovich Center there's an infrastructure in place. Students are working with professionals who are hired for their business excellence and their ability to mentor," says MBA Director Deborah Crown-Core. "If the College of Business were going to handpick a staff and a system that would work with our faculty to provide the educational experience we strive for, we couldn't have done any better than the Voinovich Center."
The first eight weeks of the program are spent mostly in the classroom developing comprehensive content knowledge and a management skill set, while also learning procedural knowledge. Crown-Core said it's important for students to learn how to apply their knowledge in an environment that is focused 100 percent on their learning.
Once the students are successful in the classroom, they begin working on business projects in increasingly influential roles, with feedback from faculty members and Voinovich Center professionals.
Integrating the MBA core curriculum with the Voinovich Center's practical application gives students experience in solving real business problems in a variety of industries, while also refining their professional communication skills and building strong working relationships.
Perhaps more importantly, all MBA students will learn what it means to add value to themselves, their organizations and, on a larger scale, the region where they live.
"With this integrated program, we don't have to wait to see the results of their education. They're not just adding value to their organizations later, they're adding value now," Crown-Core says.
Though the responsibility of adding value seems daunting, it's what drew students to the program.
Patterson, also earning a Master of Sports Administration, values the learning opportunities and unique business training the Integrated MBA provides.
"There's a unique cross-training that goes on here," he says. "You don't just get stuck in one sector of the business world. Instead, you see the whole picture and how those sectors integrate to run a successful business."
Like Patterson, Sauders is also earning a dual MBA/MSA degree. Hoping to work in college athletics, she is excited about the business opportunities.
"When I think of all we're going to learn, when I think of all the impact we can have, when I think of all we'll know at this time next year, I'm just amazed," she says.
Yenigun, too, was drawn to Ohio University because of the work with the Voinovich Center.
"This program is ideal because while you're earning your master's, you're not taking a break from the business world. You're still working with companies and having a professional life," she says.
The program's innovative combination of theory and application is likely to continue to appeal to a variety of students and business partners, benefiting both participants - and the entire area - for years to come.
"Once other universities see what we're doing at Ohio University with the Voinovich Center, it's going to catch on like wild fire," Patterson predicts. "Because we're not just adding value to ourselves, we're adding value to Athens. And beyond that, we're adding value to the Appalachian region."
Jessica Stark is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.