Schools Increasingly Leveraging Undergrads In MBA Programs

MBA students meet with undergraduate business majors at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota

MBA students meet with undergraduate business majors at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota

Wharton junior Sandhya Jetty’s first contact with Teddy Daiell, a first-year MBA, began over e-mail, when he introduced himself as her mentor and asked her to reflect on what she hoped to gain out of their relationship. In many ways, the two were an unusual match. Jetty, a finance and operations and information management major, is a soft-spoken self-described introvert, while Daiell, who hails from the consulting world, has an outgoing and charismatic personality.

They’d been set up through a new pilot mentoring program at Wharton called GUIDE, which pairs up first-year MBAs with Wharton juniors.

At their first in-person meeting, Daiell gave her a homework assignment, asking her to read excerpts of Principles, a book by Ray Dallio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, which they discussed at their next meeting. He encouraged her to cut out a time-intensive extracurricular activity she wasn’t passionate about and advised her on how to conduct a more focused, narrow job search.

MORE SCHOOLS RECOGNIZE THE BENEFITS OF PAIRING MBAS & UNDERGRADS

He even assessed her interview skills during a mock case interview, telling her to speak slower, smile more and exude more confidence, she said. His guidance helped her nab her dream summer internship, a position at Qatalyst Group, a technology-focused independent investment banking based in San Francisco.

“He said he thought I had it in me to get the internship I wanted, so I shouldn’t be afraid of not getting a summer job,” she said. “He encouraged me to focus my job search on what I really wanted and have the confidence it would work out.”

Too often, MBAs and undergraduate business students at top business schools exist in separate spheres, with their paths rarely intersecting except in the occasional class or school club. At some top business schools that is starting to change as administrators and students are recognizing the many benefits of pairing the two groups together on more formal projects, whether it be through mock job interviews or organizing 5Ks together.

‘I’VE SEEN SO MANY VALUABLE RELATIONSHIPS COME OUT OF THESE PROJECTS’

Mentoring programs like the one at Wharton are one of several formal ways that undergraduate business students can connect with the MBA population at business schools. Another avenue is through experiential learning projects that place MBAs and undergraduates on the same teams for real-world consulting projects, such as ones at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

No matter what the project, undergraduates and MBAs said the advantages of working together go both ways, as the two groups learn to work together on teams, gain concrete leadership skills and make future career connections.

“I’ve seen so many valuable relationships come out of these projects,” said Paul Friga, an associate professor at Kenan-Flagler who runs the business school’s STAR (Student Teams Achieving Results) program, which places undergraduates and MBAs on consulting teams that tackle complex problems for companies and non-profits. Currently, there are 26 teams of undergraduates and MBAs at the school. “The MBAs and undergraduates get to know each other socially, help each other with the job search and often stay in touch for the rest of their careers,” he said. “It is special and unique for undergraduates to make such close connections with MBAs.”

‘THEY BRING A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE TO PROBLEMS THAN MBAS’

That’s not to say pairing them together doesn’t come with some challenges, Friga said. For example, many of the MBAS like to meet during the day, while undergraduates prefer to meet later in the evening, making scheduling difficult sometimes (the default meeting time for the teams is set by the program for 8 a.m.). Another stumbling block is that undergraduates are often shy at the start of a project, intimidated by the years of experience their MBA peers have on them. The project’s team leader has to work hard to make that those students feel comfortable and have ownership in the project, Friga said.

Stefan Valley, a second-year MBA at Kenan-Flagler who is now a STAR Fellow, was placed on a consulting project last year where his team of MBA and undergraduates worked on a project for PNC Bank. They examined the shadow banking securities market and delivered recommendations on how to best regulate the industry. He became close with the two undergraduates on the team, who impressed him by playing important roles on the project, often pushing and driving the work stream, he said.

“I realized they bring a very different perspective to problems than MBAs. We are guilty of overthinking and over-engineering things, and they bring in fresh ideas,” he said. “I think that was incredibly vital to us, especially when looking at a complex problem.”

At the end of the project, he was so impressed with the undergraduates’ drive and work ethic that he wrote two letters of recommendation for jobs they were seeking, and still speaks with them on a frequent basis, he said.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.