MBA Students In Denver’s Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

MBA Students In Denver's Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

Denver Daniels College of Business students participating in the kickoff for one of their four Denver MBA Challenges. Courtesy photos

Second-year MBA candidate Mary-Margaret Koch just returned from South Africa, where she worked on an expansion plan for a Cape Town escape room company. Her classmate Mitchell “Do” Jones was in Cape Town, too, working with an engineering consulting firm to update their business model.

It was no coincidence that they were in the same place: Their entire cohort was in South Africa with them, presenting plans and solutions to local companies as part of the MBA Global Challenge, one of four challenges students complete as part of the University of Denver Daniels College of Business’s full-time MBA program.

The 21-month Denver MBA is well-rounded in a way unique to graduate business education. MBA students start the program with the Entrepreneurship Challenge in their first quarter, where they work with a group to design and present a business pitch. Next is the Social Good Challenge, followed by the Corporate Challenge, in which students work with an existing nonprofit and corporation, respectively. Students are expected to spend the summer after their first year in an internship.


MBA Students In Denver's Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

Lowell Valencia-Miller: “We want it to be rigorous. We want it to be challenging. We want them to succeed, and we want them to make an impact when they graduate from Daniels”

At the start of their second year, students begin preparing for the Global Challenge, working in groups consulting for companies in the country where they will spend a week later in the fall. This year’s Global Challenge was in South Africa; cohorts in years past have worked with companies in Uganda, India, and Brazil, to name a few.

“I think we’ve designed a great program that takes the student who really wants to own their education and gives them the opportunity to grab it and take it and succeed,” says Lowell Valencia-Miller, assistant dean of MBA programs and an associate professor at Daniels who accompanied past cohorts to Denmark and France.

Valencia-Miller says the experience of collaborating with global clients and working in another country simply can’t be replicated in the classroom.

“The meaningful difference in the Global Challenge is, it adds the complexity, the ambiguity, the uncertainty of what you’re going to be dealing with,” he says, adding that the program is perfect for people looking for learning beyond the classroom: Rather than waiting for a summer internship or post-graduation job to apply their learning in a non-academic setting, students get to use their new skills and knowledge in the real world before the quarter is over.

“They need more than just the theories and the textbooks and the concepts in a classroom. They need practical experience, and that’s what the Denver MBA gives them. What you learn in class in the morning, you get to apply in the boardroom in the afternoon,” the professor says.

MBA Students In Denver's Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

For their global challenge, students in DMBA Cohort 7 broke into small groups to engage with local businesses across Cape Town. The students featured above worked with HintHunt, an escape game company and the first business of its kind in South Africa. Courtesy photo


Students work in groups to complete each of the four challenges. Mary-Margaret Koch explains that each cohort includes people with diverse career and life backgrounds outside the business world. In the challenges, students utilize not only what they have learned in class, but also the unique skills and knowledge they’ve brought from their various backgrounds.

Jones spent years working as an engineer and was familiar with the work done by his Global Challenge client, a South African engineering consulting firm. He understands the various obstacles the company has had to contend with — but, he adds, approaching this work from a different perspective — “a business lens rather than an engineering lens” — has been eye-opening.

Koch’s background in nonprofit work came in handy during the Social Good Challenge. Each group of students works with a different nonprofit to design solutions to a problem the organization is facing. Koch was the only person in her group who had worked in a nonprofit setting and said she educated her groupmates about how nonprofits function and what they need to effectively accomplish their goals.

Koch and Jones were in the same group for the Social Good Challenge. They worked with Dinosaur Ridge, an organization that runs a museum and guided tours at a dinosaur track site near Denver. The students helped the organization create an online gift shop and devised other ways to increase Dinosaur Ridge’s revenue and engagement, such as a “Fossil of the Month Club.”

Jones says it was deeply rewarding to see the positive impact he and his groupmates could make by applying what they’d learned in class in a nonprofit setting: “You’re working with a team of two to three, and just making a really dramatic impact in 10 weeks, exposing the nonprofit to so much more business strategy and opportunity.”

MBA Students In Denver's Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

More Daniels College students participating in one of four Denver MBA Challenges. Courtesy photos


Valencia-Miller says the Daniels College wants students to leave with an understanding of business beyond profit margins. The school emphasizes a “triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.” Through the Social Good Challenge, students see firsthand how business knowledge can be used to support social and environmental progress.

Jones and Koch were in the same group for the Corporate Challenge, which took place in the spring quarter of their first year at Daniels. They worked with a large Colorado-based manufacturing company. Both say it was the hardest part of the MBA program so far.

“Oftentimes, the toughest part of these projects is just figuring out what the client’s problem that they want you to solve actually is” Koch explains.

“Over the course of 10 weeks, we were probably six weeks in before we had a good grasp of the problem we really needed to solve,” Jones adds. They both say that ultimately, the difficulty and uncertainty they dealt with during this project made it all the more gratifying when everything came together in time for the final presentation, which was done in front of around 30 people from the corporation. Especially gratifying was when their group received positive feedback and appreciation for their work from the company executives.

Jones says he became more able and confident throughout the first three challenges. “I was certainly uneasy and out of my realm for the first couple of challenges, I’d never acted in a consulting type role before,” he says. “But I think as they stacked on top of each other and progressed, I now feel very comfortable in that role for this challenge.”

MBA Students In Denver's Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

Students tested customer experience by completing the HintHunt’s “Amazing Race” challenge. Over the following days, they interviewed customers, developed business strategies and conducted market analysis. Courtesy photo


Koch and Jones acknowledge that the challenges are called that for a reason: They require a significant amount of time and commitment, and balancing them with other classes can be tough. But both students feel that the lessons they have learned and the skills they’ve gained from the experiences make it well worth it.

Valencia-Miller adds that the demanding nature of the four challenges is a feature, not a bug.

“We want it to be rigorous,” he says. “We want it to be challenging. We want them to succeed, and we want them to make an impact when they graduate from Daniels.”

Before attending Daniels, Koch spent her career in politics and nonprofits. The opportunities that the four challenges provide — working as a consultant for an actual organization and getting real-world experience in different industries — are things she feels are especially valuable for students who haven’t had much exposure to the business world, and who want to explore their options.

“The Denver MBA is really designed for all students,” Koch says, “but it’s especially designed for people who aren’t 100% sure on what their next step is — the challenges give you exposure to all sorts of different things and you can test them out in a pretty low-risk environment.”

MBA Students In Denver's Daniels College Find Themselves Up To The Challenge(s)

Daniels College students during Denver MBA Challenges. Courtesy photos


Jones is also making a major career shift, from engineering and construction management to business. He says the challenges model is also what attracted him to the Denver MBA — and he agrees that the program is a great fit for those looking to make a career switch.

“The fundamentals are going to be the same no matter where you’re at,” Jones says, “but going through the challenges and getting exposure to clients in different fields helps point you in the right direction.”

The Denver MBA exposed Koch and Jones to a broad array of career options which helped them figure out what to choose as their concentration during their second year of the MBA program — and what to do with their MBAs once they graduate. Jones says he changes his mind “all the time,” but has landed on real estate finance. Koch is going into risk advisory accounting — a field she didn’t know existed before attending Daniels.

“If you know that you don’t like what you were doing before, you want to do business,” she says, “but you don’t know what exactly area of business you want to be in afterward, I think the Denver MBA is a great place to really grow and try out new things in a really supportive environment.”


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