Hidden MBA Gems: How These B-Schools Have Embraced The STEM Surge

NC State photo

Declaring STEM a way to better prepare graduates to manage data and make informed judgments about finance, marketing, operations, staffing, and strategy, the Poole College of Management at North Carolina State announced in January that it had designated its full-time Jenkins MBA an entirely STEM program. Poole also secured the certification for its executive MBA program.

Steven Allen, interim associate dean of academic programs, tells P&Q that the move made sense for many reasons, chief among them that NC State is a STEM university, by virtue of history and location. NC State sits adjacent to dozens of employers of MBAs, including IBM — “The truck rolls up and they always take a few,” Allen says — Cisco Systems, NetApp, Red Hat, Fidelity, and many others.

“Our strongest programs are in areas like statistics, engineering, physics, and so it’s a STEM university,” Allen says. “And where did they put this STEM university? Well, it’s not like a lot of college towns, in the middle of nowhere. It’s in Raleigh and it’s right next to all the companies in the Research Triangle Park. There’s a lot of synergy with Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. We don’t get all the headlines that Austin and maybe some other places get, but it just fits the overall strategy of the university.

“And the other driver is what we are doing today compared to say 10 years ago, with the growth of analytics in the program, which I think is true in a lot of places. We’re not unique in that regard, but growth in analytics, we’ve really had to kick it up a notch.”


Steven Allen of NC State Poole College of Management

The last four years have been devastating for NC State Poole in terms of attracting international students, Allen says. Historically, the Jenkins MBA has had about 20% international students, but last fall the school enrolled just 6% internationals for the incoming Class of 2022, which has 34 students.

The Poole College — ranked 54th by P&Q — saw it all coming, Allen says. The numbers had been dipping for years, and school leadership began working on STEM certification through the school governing board and the UNC System in the summer of 2019.

“Especially over the last four years, we have had real challenges with the international students who come here,” Allen says. “They read about other schools becoming STEM-designated and naturally they started asking. So we started down this road in the summer of 2019. That’s about the time, I think, some other programs in the U.S. were starting to get that designation. That opened our eyes. ‘Well, if they can do it seems like it shouldn’t be that hard.’ Those are famous last words in academia.”

Like other B-schools, NC State Poole sees international voices as invaluable in the classroom. Having a program that provides a pathway to as long as three years of work in the U.S. will be a big draw, Allen says.

“They provide some different perspectives in the classroom discussion, expose our students to a broader range of individuals, and build a broader network themselves,” he says. “And plus there’s a certain competitive element. At the same time you want them to be happy when they graduate. And especially the last three, four years — even before Covid — it’s become harder and harder to get anything beyond the 10 months of OPT that’s available. So going from 10 months to three years on OPT and with the new administration that I think will take a different perspective towards immigration, we hope things will improve.”


Ben Tepper of Ohio State Fisher

Describing the Jenkins MBA experience, Allen says, “If you want lots of case studies and war stories about Steve Jobs, don’t come here. You’re not going to be happy.

“We have upgraded our requirements in the area of analytics. So now everybody has to go beyond the basic, whatever they call it these days, statistics course, and so all of our students have to take an extra course beyond that. They have to do a consulting project that almost always involves a lot of data management. And most of the electives — our finance electives, marketing electives, supply chain electives — they’re pretty STEM-y, let’s just put it that way.

“We’re a relatively small program, so we can’t have 15 different concentrations. Basically, all of our students fall into one of the four areas. So entrepreneurship is probably the only one that doesn’t necessarily have to be STEM, but as it turns out, most of those classes are project-based and the ideas that are being pitched, they’re pretty STEM-y, too.”

Similarly, the MBA curriculum at Ohio State Fisher has always had a heavy STEM lean, says Ben Tepper, associate dean for graduate programs.

“Basically, we were already offering everything that we needed to offer in order for a student to graduate with the right kind of skills to justifiably refer to them as a STEM MBA,” Tepper tells P&Q. “It was just a matter of going through the right hoops with the university (to gain the designation). And I suspect that’s similar to how it has worked at other universities or colleges of business that have gone through this. I think more than half of our core coursework was STEM-worthy. And then it was just a matter of identifying a slate of electives that we already offer, and just spelling out that these are the courses that you need to take or to choose from in order to be awarded a STEM designation.”


Then there’s that one big variable to consider — the giant wrench in the gears of Covid-19. Ohio State Fisher Dean Anil Makhija says the process of going STEM has been indelibly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic — but not all in a bad way.

“We have paid a lot of attention to what we are already doing and doing it better, but also thinking about the results of Covid, and how things will be different because of the coronavirus as well,” he says. “And so we are thinking quite seriously about introducing a lot of online content going forward. One example I will give you is that our largest graduate program is a working professional MBA, where we already have something like 400 students enrolled. The bulk of them have come from the Columbus neighborhood. Just prior to Covid, we started running buses to Cleveland and to Cincinnati — now, Covid made those buses a hard proposition because of social distancing. So instead what we have done is, we’ve gone down the path of trying to build a 100% online working personal professional program.

“And not only are we going to generate our traditional graduate type of programs. We’re also going to create micro-programs, badges, etc. We are thinking about, for example, something in FinTech which will be a limited number of credits and is part of what the new market demand is like. And at the same time it could be potentially an online kind of offering.”

See the next pages for a complete list of STEM programs at the schools ranked 25-100 in the Poets&Quants ranking, as well as detailed descriptions of select ranked and unranked programs.


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