“We have a good thing going. Why mess with it?”
Two decades ago, that thinking surely swayed the board rooms from Borders to Blockbuster. They just couldn’t picture the digital tsunami swelling off their shores. Now, they are case studies, Ozymandias-sized warnings against complacency in a world of never-ending shifts and sieges.
Academia isn’t immune to this disruptive dynamic. That’s why the most forward-thinking programs are taking what’s solid and stable and revamping it. Count Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business among them. The MBA program already enjoyed several advantages, including world-class career services, a tight-knit community, and a wealth of resources that comes with a 60,000 student research powerhouse. These days, such blessings aren’t enough to weather the changes to come.
ONGOING SUPPORT FROM AN ADVISOR, CONSULTANT AND COACH
Becoming great starts with humility. It requires summoning the courage to listen, act, and change. That’s exactly what the Fisher College committed itself to do. “Over the last 18 months, Fisher has worked with students, alumni, executives, recruiters, faculty and staff to redesign the Full-Time MBA program,” says Walter Zinn, associate dean for graduate students and programs. “We set out to create an MBA that provides maximum value for both students and the firms that hire them. The result is a program that produces a well-rounded MBA graduate that is poised for immediate and long-term success.”
The foundation of the program is self-awareness. Before classes start, Fisher has already conducted student assessments to identify each student’s strengths and gaps, so they can tailor programming to their needs. While it may take a village to raise a child, it takes a Fisher team to truly prepare an MBA graduate. For students seeking personalized attention to make a career transition, they’d be hard-pressed to find better than Fisher. The difference? Students receive continuous feedback and support from a team that includes an academic advisor, career consultant, and professional coach.
That’s just the start for a program that has grown increasingly cross-functional, data-driven, and experiential. Notably, program courses are often co-taught by faculty from differing disciplines, so students can clearly discern how various roles and functions are interconnected. Fisher also leverages Ohio State’s scale, freeing MBA candidates to take electives in nearly 100 graduate programs. What’s more, the program has beefed up its hands-on opportunities, pairing up student teams with area businesses as part of its Business Lab and Core Capstone projects.
A PERSONALIZED APPROACH OVER THE PROVERBIAL ‘BOX’
At the same time, Fisher has reached out to top companies and alumni to gain a deeper understanding of what makes MBAs valuable. As a result, the program has more deeply interwoven soft skill development into the curriculum, along with areas like problem-solving, persuasion and influence, cultural understanding, ethics, and leading through ambiguity.
“Fisher’s redesigned MBA program applies a multifaceted approach to help each student to achieve their full potential,” says Keely Croxton, Co-Director of the Full-Time MBA program. “We have increased the focus on experiential learning, improved upon a strong core curriculum using integrated class sessions across subjects, and designed an array of assessments, workshops, and flexible paths for coursework to facilitate a personalized approach to each student’s success.”
This flexibility appealed to students like Christopher Scott, a first-year with a chemical engineering background who hopes to move into consulting. “A few things became major priorities during my [campus] visits,” he writes. “One was the ability to craft my path and decide for myself which gaps needed filling in my resume. Whereas some programs will try to put students into a box and require them to declare one major or another, Fisher guides us to handcraft a curriculum path that can incorporate one or multiple specialties.”
PEACE CORPS BECOMES A LESSON IN GRIT
Embracing an interdisciplinary ethos, Fisher tends to attract students with rather diverse professional backgrounds. The Class of 2020 is no exception. As an undergrad, Erin Collin studied Zoology before running a laboratory at archrival University of Michigan. In contrast, Courtney Clark majored in Religious Studies at Loyola University, which led to a life-changing stint in the Peace Corps.
“[My defining moment came during] the moment the Peace Corps Jeep drove away from my host village, leaving me to figure out how to live, work, and make a home in a rural Guinean village,” she shares. “It was terrifying, but I leaned into the challenge and developed incredible relationships with members of my host community and learned so much. I look back to that moment when I’m faced with challenges that seem insurmountable and know that I can make my way through a lot of situations if I approach them with openness, humility, and a willingness to learn.”
Isaac Reynolds also brings an international profile to Columbus. A Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs major, Reynold was named by the U.S. State Department as their youngest officer in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. “I led a team of four American instructors as we engaged over 320 secondary school students across the Sultanate of Oman in vocational and English literacy development in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the US Embassy. I deeply appreciated the experience of representing my country through such meaningful work and will never forget my students!”
POWER LIFTERS, CAKE DECORATORS, AND ANIMAL RESCUERS
Their interests are equally eclectic. When people think of the Rochester Institute of Technology, most envision engineering and computer science. What about slam poetry? Well, Christopher Scott, an RIT alum himself, coached the school’s poetry slam team to the national finals in 2016. This year, Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones weren’t the only big names in the Ohio State weight room. In her weight class, Iowa’s Hayley Coffas ranks among the Top 20 in the world in competitive powerlifting. Outside work, Sai Krishna Velaga rescues animals and birds in her native India. At the same time, Sandra Glaude has racked up three certifications from the Wilton School, the most respected name in cake decorating and confectionary art.
The Class of 2020 is equally accomplished. Adedimeji ‘Tade Idris got a taste for real responsibility in his last job, managing a government securities portfolio worth over a billion dollars. Christopher Scott was the youngest engineer to work on the Acura NSX Supercar, a $160K hybrid that goes from 0 to 60 in three seconds. After a pipeline gas leak explosion caused the death of 27 people, Sai Krishna Velaga was tapped to lead the testing of an underground pipeline’s physical integrity.
You won’t find some of their biggest accomplishments in the news, however. That doesn’t mean they weren’t truly profound. Take Sean O’Rourke, who has spent nearly a decade teaching high school English. His greatest feat was spending four months preparing a dozen students to re-take the Pennsylvania State Assessment they’d failed. Not surprisingly, all twelve passed after O’Rourke’s involvement. For Hayley Coffas, her big moment was a culmination of small sacrifices and unseen acts of courage. She graduated at the top of her class at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville as a first generation student.
“UNIQUELY COMPASSIONATE” AND “CONSTRUCTIVELY COMPETITIVE”
“It was such a milestone for me personally. I grew up in a small town where the idea of engineering (or an MBA) is not a typical path.”
Ask the Class of 2020 to list the best qualities of their classmates and phrases like “deep thinkers” and “Midwest nice” are bound to spring up. It is a place, notes Adedimeji ‘Tade Idris, where “everyone has a voice.” That said, Christopher Scott is happy to add a new phrase to the Fisher Lexicon: uniquely compassionate.
“Fisher’s tight-knit, familiar MBA program has a unique tendency of creating more than just “cohorts,” but families of students who care deeply for one another and for the community around them,” he writes. “They spend the majority of their days finding ways to improve and lift up the students to the left and right of them. The atmosphere is best described as constructively competitive.”
APPLICATIONS AND GMATS UP
By the numbers, the Class of 2020 is a step forward over previous classes in most metrics. That starts with the number of applications. In a down year for American business schools altogether, Fisher boosted its number of applications during the 2017-2018 cycle by 32%. In the process, the school boosted class size to 94 students, all while dropping its acceptance rate a point to 36%.
It gets better, with average GMATs rising from 670 to 676 over the past year (though average GPAs slipped fro 3.47 to 3.44). GMAT scores also stretched from 600-740 in the 80% range. In addition, the percentage of international students jumped by four points to 29%, with the class share of women holding steady at 32%. Overall, the class includes students from 20 states and 12 countries, including Brazil, Pakistan, the Ukraine, and Vietnam.
Those aren’t the only numbers that impress. The Class of 2018, for example, notched a 95% placement rate within three months of graduation. According to U.S. News’ annual survey, business school academics ranked the program’s supply chain and operations programs among the ten best in the United States. In addition, the program trends towards being among the more generous with three-quarters of full-time students receiving merit-based funding according to the school.