Ohio State Reinvents Its MBA Experience

Year one of the redesigned MBA curriculum at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business


The first is an optional Global Applied Project (GAP) in which teams of students are dispatched to work with for profit and non profit organizations all over the work at the clients’ expense. Before shipping off, students take a project management class and are then assigned a faculty advisor for their team project. In May, just after the end of classes and before a summer internship, students travel for three weeks to complete the assignment.

This year, for example, students teams are going to China, Brazil, France, Thailand, Ethiopia and India. The projects vary greatly, from operational assignments in Tanzania and Ethiopia to better source clean water to figuring out how to harness sugar cane in Brazil for the production of alcohol. Some 72 out of 94 students already do this international experience. “They will work with locals and present their work to locals,” explains Zinn. “This is a far richer experience than to just do corporate visits. We used to do five projects but will do 12 this year.

“We source projects first and then we post the content for students to see,” says Bailey. “They then send back their preferences and explain why they are a good fit for the project. They do not know the location or the client. This is a legitimate consulting project. This is not a free trip. Once that is completed, we get together as a group for six and one-half hours thinking about how students fit together with the requirements of the project. After that we then have our GAP reveal. Project can range from logistics and general strategy and finance to data analytics operations and improvement projects.”


The redesign adds two more required experiential options: the business lab project, in which students will work with companies on a multi-week project and travel off campus to work on location with the company, and a social impact challenge in which students are almost totally on their own. “We will help them identify projects and clients but this is the third time around so you better have this figured out by now,” says Zinn. Both are part-time projects done along side other coursework.

In the business lab, explains Croxton, students will largely tap into the Columbus business community, home to the headquarters of 15 Fortune 1000 firms and more than 300 foreign-owned businesses. “Students will get to practice working in a team, scoping a project, and issues around selling their ideas to executives in these firms,” says Croxton. “They will apply what they have learned in the classroom.”

Another feature of the new curriculum is called “pathways” which replace the current set of majors in Fisher’s MBA program. “The change is more than a name,” insists Zinn. “The idea of a two-to-six course pathway is that they will be more flexible, easier to create and easier to delete. You will have pathways in finance, marketing and operations but we would also like to keep an eye on what is going on in the marketplace so faculty could do healthcare, sustainability or other pathways. In logistics, for example, there are a lot of students interested in humanitarian logistics to help in the case of a hurricane or crisis. The idea of the pathway is to keep the program fresh.”


A pathway also opens the door to more interdisciplinary approaches to topics so it can leverage the strengths of the entire university, whether the College of Public Health or the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. Consumer behavior, for instance, could be a combination of business and psychology courses. “Pathways allows us to have input from faculty but also we can be responsive to recruiters and what skills they are looking for,” says Bailey.

“One of the important items with the redesign is that students can build a program that fulfills their goals and career needs,” adds Croxton. “They will be able to go in and choose their pathway. Students will likely pick a pathway with some functional expertise in supply chain or finance but then they will have the opportunity to take additional pathways in such fields as risk management, consulting, sustainability or health care management.”

The adoption of the changes was not without controversy. Though overwhelming approved by the faculty, more than a dozen professors voted against the curriculum overhaul. “Some faculty don’t believe in the MBA market at all,” says Zinn. “They are a small minority. And some people just saw what the changes will do to their own courses. They are used to teaching a course one way but with a redesign it can change the way they teach. It doesn’t have to be the change itself but it could be the fear of it that led some to oppose it.”


Adds Dean Makhija. “We had 60 plus vote for it and 15 or 16 on the negative side. At the end of the day, the faculty wanted the MBA redesigned and I have no doubt the payoff for students and companies will be evident.”

The biggest challenge in implementing the changes? “To get the faculty to work together is a thing,” says Zinn. “They just aren’t used to working that way. It will require more coordination between the topics.”

Overall, the redo was data-driven. “Yes, faculty was very involved,” adds Bailey, “but we did focus groups with students, alumni and recruiters and employers. We really sat down as a group and asked how do we best respond to the needs in the market. It really does take advantage in offering the maximum impact we can have.”

Year two of the redesigned MBA curriculum at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business

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