UW News

March 8, 2004

UW’s MBA program makes key changes to maintain real-world relevance

Recent revisions to the master’s of business administration curriculum at the University of Washington will put students closer to the fundamentals that drive the real world of business today and the innovations that will shape tomorrow, said Business School Dean Yash Gupta.

“In redesigning our curriculum I didn’t want to use other schools as our benchmarks,” Gupta said. “That invites imitation when what we need is innovation. It is time for the UW Business School to take a leadership role, to build the management curriculum of the future.”

Last year Gupta appointed a curriculum revision committee comprised of faculty, students, alumni and business leaders, with input from employers and advisory board members, to assess how the two-year program could be enhanced. The committee consequently shaped a curriculum that amounts to a creative blueprint for shaping tomorrow’s business leaders, according to Dave Burgstahler, associate dean for master’s programs.

“A resourceful student has always been able to obtain some real-world experience, but we’ve now built it into the program,” Burgstahler said. “With these curriculum changes, we are equipping students with an equal blend of classroom and realistic learning that prepares them for the challenges of leadership. We want our graduates to see the big picture, maintain a global perspective, and acquire the communication and teamwork skills that will allow them to work effectively across disciplines and functions.”

Phase one of the new curriculum, which emphasized learning in a specific real-world context, was introduced this year. Throughout the first-year core program, students focus on the traditional and essential elements that most MBA programs have, and now they do so in the context of a specific industry – biotechnology, for example – or a specific country, such as India.

The themes create continuity from classroom to classroom and give students a sense of the complex web within which business decisions are made, according to Dan Poston, MBA program executive director. “It’s a stark contrast to the prepackaged cases that exist in theoretical situations, largely ignoring the multicultural and politically charged decision-making process that happens in the real world,” he said.

The industry themes change with each passing quarter, but the country theme remains in place for the entire first year of the program. During 2003-04, for example, the themes include biotechnology in the fall quarter, financial services in the winter and 21st century retail in the spring. The country theme has focused on greater China, which includes Hong Kong and Singapore. Through it all, said Poston, students will cover the basics that all managers need in finance, marketing, accounting, management and operations.

Also implemented during phase one of the revision was a more extensive ethics curriculum. The required ethics course was shifted from the first to the second year and increased from two to four credit hours. Beginning next fall, required ethics courses will broaden to encompass issues of sustainability, resource management, the environment, global human resources, trade conflicts and other increasingly relevant business challenges. The course will be co-taught by an ethics professor and a finance professor.

An additional component of the curriculum is the introduction of a three-day period, known as a Knowledge and Experience Extension Period. During each quarter of students’ first year in the program these sessions will allow students to participate in small group seminars in which faculty will share their current research.

During the spring extension period there will be an end-of-core case competition. A company will present an actual business problem to students who will be divided into teams. They will have 48 hours to work through the problem and then present a solution that will be judged by faculty and industry professionals. The top four teams will have the opportunity to present their solutions to a panel that includes executives from the company.

“We think this curriculum will help our graduates be ready to jump right into a job and contribute from day one,” said Burgstahler.

For more information, contact Gupta at (206) 221-5749 or ygupta@u.washington.edu; Burgstahler at (206) 543-6316 or dburg@u.washington.edu; or Poston at (206) 685-8395 or dposton@u.washington.edu.