Ohio State Reinvents Its MBA Experience

Ohio State Fisher. Courtesy photo

MBA students who start their studies this fall at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business will go through a newly redesigned curriculum that makes the experience more personalized than ever before. The changes are the result of an extensive effort to update Fisher’s full-time MBA program, making it more attractive to applicants, students and employers.

Dubbed PIE, for personalized, integrate and experiential, the MBA makeover will put a heavy emphasis on one-on-one coaching throughout the two year program as well as project work with outside organizations. In fact, each MBA student will now be able to draw upon the guidance and advice of a support team of four people: an academic advisor, a career consultant, a professional development coach and an alumni mentor.

“Fisher students always seem to be technically strong, but sometimes I would hear that they could be stronger in what people call the soft skills like critical thinking, leadership, teamwork and communications,” says Dean Anil Makhija. “This program is built to have the job readiness that comes from technical skills but also the personal aspects of a business education.”


Walter Zinn, associate dean of graduate programs at Fisher College of Business

It was two years ago in March of 2017 when Dean Makhija marched into a conference room filled with 16 members of his faculty and staff to deliver a challenge. Makhija urged the group to pull out a blank sheet of paper and reinvent the school’s full-time MBA curriculum. “I am not here to ask you to tweak the old program,” he said. “I want you to blow it up. The dean said to blow it up. Don’t worry about the politics and don’t worry about the resources. I am asking you to design the ideal program, the shining city on the hill (see How Ohio State Is Reinventing The MBA).”

After two years of focus group sessions with students, alumni and recruiters, endless meetings with faculty, and much agonizing and some controversy, the redo is now done and approved. “What we’ve done here is listen to our students, alumni and recruiters and respond in the best way possible to improve the program’s outcomes,” says Walter Zinn, associate dean for graduate programs. “We went through several rounds of iterations, and we are pretty proud of the product. I think it will make a real difference for us.”

The most immediate change involves upfront assessments of incoming students and coaching during a three-week-long pre-term experience. “During pre-term students will start with a battery of assessments on their strengths and weaknesses and then will meet with a coach to help digest those results and set goals throughout the entirety of the program,” says Roger Bailey, a Fisher marketing professor who is also co-director for Fisher’s full-time MBA program. “Students can have access to a personal development coach for regular meetings set goals and work on weaknesses and strengths.


“Rather than give a one-size-fits-all program, each program will be customized. All of those pieces are there,” adds Bailey. “There will be more than one coach so students can engage with a fully supportive team of coaches throughout the program: a career coach, an academic coach to help with coursework, and the leadership coach. And there’s a mentorship program as well with alumni. The coaching piece will have a huge impact. It’s easy for students to slip through the cracks. But the coaching program in and of itself and the focus on personalization is really something that can make a real difference.”

The leadership development coaches will be trained by our school’s leadership development program. Their job is not only to give advice but to help students work through problems and opportunities. While coaching is voluntary, those who buy into it could find their MBA experience changed in profound ways. We are going to invest a lot in getting students prepared. The three-week kickoff has data analysis workshop, and an experiential case study to set them up as a baseline. When they get to the core capstone experience after the first semester, they will be able to see how far they’ve come.

“The agenda of regular meetings with the coach will be driven by the students,” adds Keeley Croxton, co-director of the full-time MBA program a professor of logistics. “They will come in and say here is an issue I want to work on, whether it is time management or recruiting for an internship. So this relationship with the coach will help them grow their leadership skills, their personal satisfaction with what they get out of the program, and how they use those skills going forward.”


The feedback used to inform the curriculum review also showed that while the core classes were thought to be solid, they needed to be more integrated. “So we have changed the way those classes are taught,” says Zinn. “We compressed classes into blocks to free up Fridays when faculty who teach in one of three blocks per semester will work on integrating the material in the fall semester.” Courses such as strategy, global business and data analysis in the second semester that are not part of the integrated core already are are integrated.

Each Friday, at least two or more professors will come and teach a case study, host a guest speaker or facilitate a simulation to integrate the core subjects taught earlier in the week. “The idea is that it is integrated so it has to blend material from at least two of the functional areas,” says Croxton. “We have told the faculty these are not opportunities to come in and lecture. We will look to the students to explore the material in their functional courses and how they can be used across silos. Some of this came from conversations with recruiters and managers who said the difference between those business grads who can move through a company quickly and those who can’t is the skill to think in a cross functional way.”

In common with other more recent curriculum overhauls, Fisher is putting significant emphasis on experiential or action learning. “That is a really big push we are doing with the redesign,” says Zinn. “We will have at least three opportunities for students to have experiential projects.”

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