Practical connections have new program flying high
HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE: Jonathon Gibson, left, an intern at GTECH, speaks with his superior, Technology Section Manager David Kwasniewski.
PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
By Emily Jones
The first step in revamping the University of Rhode Island’s MBA program seemed obvious: move it to Providence. The school’s main campus in Kingston, administrators felt, was too far removed from the heart of Rhode Island’s business community.
The move also helped facilitate needed changes to the program that administrators hope make the school stand out in the crowded MBA marketplace. From their perspective, nothing set it apart from other schools.
It has been an accelerated, one-year program since 1995, which was somewhat unusual at the time. But many universities have shifted to one-year programs since then. As far as prospective students were concerned, URI offered “pretty much your vanilla daytime MBA program,” said Mark Higgins, dean, and Alfred J. Verrecchia and Hasbro Inc. leadership chair in Business at the College of Business.
The school was having trouble attracting both in-state and out-of-state students, Higgins said, and needed to make “truly innovative” changes. He and the faculty opted to “merge best practices” from other programs: experiential learning, working with real companies, drawing on local businesses and talent. Higgins said the faculty struck on a team-teaching approach independently.
The new version, which is finishing its first year, breaks down the traditionally segmented course of study and teaches each class across multiple disciplines. During the spring semester, students apply what they learn in small-team innovation projects at Providence companies. Now, this summer, 17 of the 19 students are finishing the program by working summer internships in the region.
The aim is to give students the practical skills they need to improve a workplace, rather than teaching the concepts alone. “It’s kind of book meets real world,” said Higgins, “and it’s been pretty successful.”
The new-look program begins in the classroom. But instead of semester-long courses in the individual topic areas – accounting, marketing and supply chain management, among others – students learn from a range of perspectives at once. A team of instructors, each with a different specialization, teaches two-week modules that take students through the six sigma process of strategic innovation. First, they learn how to identify a problem, then how to gather data on it and ultimately work their way to a solution.