It was in his sophomore year at Boston University that Emilio Teran realized he didn’t want to be a computer engineer afterall. “I couldn’t see myself as a programming machine,” says the computer engineering major, “and I began to think that if I took an engineering job I would hate myself for doing that for the next ten years.”
So like a good number of undergraduates who major in science, technology, engineering and math, he wanted to leverage his STEM education but do something he could genuinely feel passionate about. He discovered that BU’s Questrom School of Business was launching a new nine-month program for largely STEM types who wanted a foundation in the business basics.
But what really appealed to Teran, who was born in Ecuador and lived in Miami from the age of six, was the unique nature of the master of science in management studies degree (MSMS). The experiential curriculum has no sylabus, no graded tests, even no formal classes. Instead, the pass-fail program evolves around three client-consulting projects that put the learning in the hands of the students. They’re guided by a core faculty team of four professors and corporate partners, who serve as both mentors and teachers. But essentially, the students are responsible for their own learning.
‘WE WANTED TO BE VERY INNOVATIVE HERE AND NOT CREATE ANOTHER ME-TOO PROGRAM’
“This was a chance for me to enter the business world,” says Teran, who started the program in August in its inaugural cohort of 39 students. “I was really excited about doing projects instead of lectures because I got little from my undergraduate courses that were based on lectures.”
Unlike other one-year specialty master’s programs in management, BU wanted to do something truly different—and perhaps invent a new model of what business education can be in the future. Ken Freeman, one of the few former executives to be the dean of a business school, views the corporate partnerships that are at the foundation of the new program as key to the future of business education. ‘We wanted to be very innovative here and not create another me-too program in management studies,” he says. “So far, the enthusiasm of the faculty, students and corporate partners is off the charts. We have companies lined up at the door, wanting to participate.”
The core faculty meets weekly to coordinate the learning for recent undergraduates with STEM backgrounds and also meets one-on-one with students. “Other MSM programs are often watered down MBAs for Chinese internationals at $50,000 a pop,” says Paul Carlile, senior associate dean of curriculum and innovation. “If you were an expert on disruption, you would say this is what stupid companies do before they die. We wanted a targeted curriculum that relies on partner-based learning. The students are responsible for their own learning. In some ways, the program may look a little like the Wild West, but it’s well structured.”
THREE CORPORATE PARTNERS, THREE EXPERIENTIAL PROJECTS
After arriving in August for a lunahc week that included workshops on collaboration and teamwork, among other things, the students are thrown into a computer simulation and live case. The first project begins in September and is for The Paint Bar, a paint-and-sip retailer in the Boston area. The second starts in December and centers around a larger company, Quintiles, a Fortune 500 company that provides biopharmaceutical development and commercial outsourcing services. For Quintiles, the cohort was divided into six teams, each with a corporate mentor. And finally, the third project is sponsored by AT&T and begins in March. “We scale up as we move along and go to the big issue at AT&T which tackles how do you take a large hierarchical organization and change it,” says Carlile. “It is a more traditional capstone that you would find in a full-time MBA program.”
While there are set sessions on such things as data analytics, negotiation, teaming, finance and ethics, most of the learning occurs almost in real time as it is needed for any given project. Students essentially report to work at a design studio on a 9 to 5 basis. They meet with faculty and ask for deeper dives on what they need to successful work on the client project, whether a tutorial on discounted cash flow, a lesson on debt financing, or a lecture on creating models to forecast sales.
“We tell them this is going to be like work,” says Susan Jung Grant, one of the four core faculty members. “We tell them that at work no one is going to tell you want to do. So it’s not by-the-chapter learning where you have to memorize this for a test. That’s no fun and that’s not going to stick. The emphasis is determined by the students themselves. We are covering the basics in a way, but we are letting them ask the questions about how something really works.”