Education is a bridge—it equips students for the workforce, puts a promotion within reach, or paves the way to a new career. For employers, this bridge ensures a steady supply of committed individuals with the skills necessary to create value for a company.
Lately, that bridge has been looking a little rickety.
Today’s competitive landscape is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Business students must be adaptable and entrepreneurial enough to spot and capitalize on opportunities no matter what tomorrow (or the next day) bring.
Enter experiential education. If traditional education is a bridge, experiential education is more like Parkour. After years of relying on the case study method, a rhetorical analysis of issues faced by businesses, universities are shifting their approach to challenge MBA students with complex problems in real time. Through working on live projects that compliment their coursework, students blend theory and practice and gain invaluable experience.
The Fox School has incorporated experiential education into its curriculum for over two decades—13 years before the Kellogg school rolled out new coursework and Harvard introduced “Field Immersion Experiences,” Fox students put their MBAs to the test in live client consulting engagements through Fox Management Consulting.
“I went through the Executive MBA in the late 90’s,” Dr. TL Hill recalls. “At that time, all but two of our courses included live projects. It was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.”
This experience is part of what prompted Hill, now the Managing Director of Fox MC, to seek consulting opportunities for students. Beginning with only a few projects, the program quickly spread across the Fox School, today manifesting as the capstone course for every MBA graduate.
Here are three ways Fox School MBA students benefit from experiential learning, creating a direct path between them and the companies whose jobs they seek.
1) Embracing Ambiguity
The Fox School makes a point of regularly checking in with industry experts about the skills they want from graduates. At the top of the list for many employers is proficiency in ambiguity. The problems facing modern businesses aren’t clear cut, and the most innovative answers often come from outside the business sector. Top leaders have to be able to cut through the fog to determine what steps to take and where to begin looking for answers.
Some researchers observe that young workers particularly struggle with ambiguity, showing a strong preference for structure. Traditional education caters to this desire, but experiential education challenges students to look beyond their comfort zone. “Students are shifting from mastering content in a course to addressing an unfamiliar topic with an unpredictable client,” says assistant professor of strategic management Marilyn Anthony.
Consulting projects do not have a right answer. Much like the problems facing industries today, success is not just reaching the finish line, it is redefining the race.
2) Thriving in Collaboration
While working with others has always been part of the business world, modern technology has embedded collaboration even deeper in the workplace. With teams regularly integrating diverse cultures, skills sets, and time zones, MBA graduates need to be self-aware and collaboratively adept.
Fox MC consulting engagements put students together in cross-functional teams with pressures similar to those they will face in their careers. “It’s a huge responsibility to deliver high quality work in a short period of time,” Anthony says. In addition to being graded, teams work for paying clients, and are well aware that the quality of their work could create an open door or a dead end to future employment opportunities.
Students are also balancing new relationships and working styles. “We had some pretty dynamic personalities on our team,” one former student remembers. “I knew one person on my team, but the other three I had never seen before.” Just like the work world, diverse personalities and working styles can’t get in the way of delivering high quality work for the client.
With more than 350 projects under their belts, through a combination of student dedication and program supports, every Fox MC team finds their way through.
3) Earning Executive-level Experience
An ambitious MBA student will complete their degree and enter the workforce in a mid-level management position. It will take them several more years to work their way into a role where they get to make major strategic decisions.
The Fox MC program pushes the fast-forward button on that timeline. “It can give students an experience 5 to 10 years ahead of where they are career wise,” says Hill. “It allows them to do work that would be beyond their ability on their own.”
Past Fox MC teams have selected acquisition targets for top investment firms, designed new product launches for Fortune 100 companies, and created an investment strategy for a large agricultural cooperative.
One reason this level of work is possible is that Fox MC teams have a robust support network. Each team is led by a project executive with years of professional experience relevant to the project they lead. The professors are industry veterans, curating course content to match industry standards. Teams also meet with advisors who critique their projects to ensure the best product possible reaches the client.
For businesses, experiential education delivers MBA graduates who are ready to lead. For MBA students, it sharpens their skills and prepares them for success. And for business schools, whose product is the leaders of tomorrow, it ensures graduates who are ready for the real world. After all, they have already proven what they can do.
Next year, Fox MC students will graduate and become leaders in the community. This year, for a limited time, you can access their experience, knowledge and hard work for a discounted price. To get their help for your nonprofit or business, leave your contact information.
This post is part one of a three part series. Return next week to learn five tips for making experiential education a success.