Business school is sometimes associated with a sabbatical. It is an extended breather where students can refresh and explore – a time to reflect on who they want to be and assess where they want to go. In school, students enjoy the freedom to size up the market and their value proposition. Along the way, they can broaden their network and cook up new ideas.
There’s just one catch. What students gain in knowledge, they lose in career momentum. As every employer knows, just because a graduate was exposed to something doesn’t mean they can apply it. That’s the Catch-22 faced by every MBA: How can they gain the experience that employers demand when they’re still busy mastering the fundamentals?
LIKE THEY NEVER LEFT THE WORKFORCE
That’s where the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management stands out. A long-time practitioner of hands-on learning, Carlson operates what it calls Enterprise programs. Here, MBA teams devote a year to working on projects for top employers in one of four areas: Consulting, Brands, Ventures, and Funds. Not only do Carlson students reinforce what they learn in class, but also sharpen their problem-solving skills on c-level issues like interpreting data and developing strategy.
This approach appealed to Linda Nkosi, a first-year in the Carlson full-time MBA program. Before business school, he worked in healthcare program management. Now, he hopes to transition into the private sector in either corporate strategy or finance. To make this triple jump, he is counting on the Enterprise program to expose him to different industries, functions, and corporate cultures.
“Usually, when you make the decision to go to business school, you are resigned to the fact that you will spend 22 months out of the workforce except for a 3-month reprieve where you have to put one academic year worth of theory into practice through a summer internship,” he explains. ”This is NOT the case with Carlson. Carlson’s focus on experiential learning was a big draw for me. The opportunity to actively practice the theory I learn in class – solving real-world business problems that affect business’ bottom lines – was too large to ignore. I get to show what I’ve learned, flex my professional work-muscles and build connections with professionals in the Twin Cities. A huge win!”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
What makes the Enterprise program different? For one, it is far more than the usual semester-long internship prep. In reality, Enterprise accounts for 20% — minimum – of each student’s workload in the program. Starting in the 1st-year spring and extending into the 2nd-year fall, students complete a series of projects with a series of employers. Not only do they gain greater versatility and connections, but also experience and skill. Call it a ‘practice makes perfect’ approach, a learning lab where MBA students become increasingly proficient in areas like conducting research and data analysis, operating in teams, and conducting presentations for executives. Better still, MBA can take more than one Enterprise or customize their experience beyond the four areas. In fact, many MBA students – up to 20% –spend their final term as Enterprise leaders and coaches.
“The Enterprise programs were definitely something that stood out for me,” writes Joe Crawford, a company commander in the U.S. Marine Corps. “Having the opportunity to practice putting the theory and education we receive in class into action while working with a client on a project that truly matters to them is extremely unique. Transitioning from the military without prior business experience, I knew this immersive experience was something that would be incomparable. Getting repetitions in doing the things I want to do after graduation is better preparing me for the future.”
In the Funds Enterprise, for example, Carlson MBAs manage over $40 million dollars in investment. The Consulting Enterprise boasts a managing director and two associate directors who possess nearly two decades of experience at McKinsey alone. Not surprisingly, Carlson has been able to partner with McKinsey and consulting blue chippers like BCG, Bain, and Strategy&. When it comes to the Brand Enterprise, the school has joined forces with the likes of hometown fixtures like Target, 3M, Best Buy, Cargill, and General Mills.
LAND OF 10,000 LAKES…AND OPPORTUNITIES
That’s one reason why the Enterprise Program is so robust at Carlson. The Twin Cities is home to 16 Fortune 500 firms, including 7th-ranked UnitedHealth Group. Make no mistake: Carlson is deeply connected with all of them. “The Carlson network within these Twin Cities companies is incredibly supportive,” observes Lauren Miller, who also earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. “Anyone is willing to give you some time off of their calendar for a virtual coffee chat.”
Of course, a vibrant corporate and startup scene is just one of the benefits of Twin Cities life, adds Berlin Sohn, a Wisconsin native and HubSpot technical lead. “As a soon-to-be new parent, it was important to me to find a family-friendly city to raise my child that didn’t require sacrificing my career. With the reasonable cost of living, abundant outdoor activities, healthy start-up scene, and numerous Fortune 500 companies, the Twin Cities allow me to be an active mom and still have a thriving career.”
Settling down will be a change of pace for Sohn. Earlier in her career, she worked as a professional figure skater who performed on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship and Holiday on Ice. Speaking of ice, Minnesota’s frigid cold certainly didn’t deter Vincent Shaw, a U.S. Army Company Commander. He joined his wife in climbing four peaks that reached 14,000 feet…not counting 500 mile hiking trails across the Rocky and Smokey Mountains. In India, Ullas Pathak ranked among the top 1% of students who took the All India Engineering exam – a test administered to 500,000 people!
Want to know the best testament to the University of Minnesota? Several members of the Class of 2022 are returning after earning their undergraduate degrees at the school. That includes Andre Hollins. A Carlson undergrad who went on to play professional basketball in seven countries, Hollins spends his free time now as a graduate assistant on the men’s basketball team. Lauren Miller, a Neuroscience major as a UM undergrad, is also giving back. She serves as an assistant on the women’s rowing team. Another “Double Gopher” – Chloe Edwards – studied Marketing at Carlson. For her, a Carlson MBA brings an added bonus.
“This time has been such a blessing in disguise,” Edwards writes. “Right after my undergrad, I moved to Asia and traveled around the world, keeping me away for two years. I then moved to Denver for the following three years. I hadn’t been back to the Twin Cities for more than six days in the past five years. During my MBA, I am living with my parents and getting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow my relationship with my parents, getting to know each other as adults. I now get to play cards and chess with my dad every night!”
Since graduation, Edwards has embarked on entrepreneurship. Her startup, Pineapple Mindset, works to develop self-confidence and leadership skills among adoptees through coaching and coursework. Her classmate, Alexis Barber, built a fund-raising operation from the ground up for an animal hospital. In Bulgaria, Lazar Lazarov organized the country’s largest international public speaking tournament that featured students from 30 high schools and 7 countries. Within six months of starting at Vix Technology – a $227 million dollar firm – Pamela London was already running its North American marketing operations. Think she was busy? Just wait until you hear what Sean Thomas Lundy has been doing before business school.
“As an intern at the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, I helped write Public Law 480 of the 2013 Farm Bill. When the legislation finally passed, I knew that I helped change how international food aid is dispersed around the world. Second, I am proud of the fact that I decided to extend my Peace Corps service for a total of 3 years in the field. This allowed me to finish the work I had started and solidify long-term impacts. And lastly, I graduated from Basic Combat Training and am now headed to Officer Candidate School with the U.S. Army.”
STARTING FAST AND GIVING BACK
As part of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Linda Nkosi enabled his country, Eswatini, to acquire vaccines at a lower cost and an earlier stage that reduced the number that expired before use. In the end, his work saved over a million dollars a year. “Those savings were earmarked by the country to increase vaccine service delivery by introducing the HPV vaccine, a key intervention in a country that has the highest incidence of cervical cancer in the world,” Nkosi writes.
The class has certainly stayed busy since Carlson classes started. This summer, Alexis Barber will be joining the Boston Consulting Group as an intern, while Andre Hollins will be doing the same at General Mills. Chloe Edwards has already teamed up with a faculty member to develop a brand strategy elective at the school. By the same token, Sean Thomas Lundy earned a spot as Sands Social Venture Fellow, where he is busy creating a new social venture to serve local residents.
“Together with a classmate, I am partnering with local NGOs to develop work opportunities for homeless teenagers in the Twin Cities.”
A “BADASS” CLASS
The class has already made history, says Pamela London. In November, the Carlson team won the Elite 8 Brand Management Case Competition – the first Carlson team to achieve this feat in 14 years. Better still, the case team was comprised exclusively of first-years. That said, Berlin Sohn made some news of her own.
“I completed my first semester (7 courses – 20 credits) while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. It was difficult, but I received so much support and grace from the Carlson community during the trying experience.”
Sohn is just one example of how Lauren Miller describes the Class of 2022…
“Each person I’ve met so far has been uniquely talented, incredibly driven, and compassionate in a way I didn’t think was possible through a predominantly virtual environment. We have found ways to support one another through the rigorous fall core curriculum and on-campus recruiting season – and we’ve had laugh-out-loud side conversations through dozens of different class and club group chats. I can say, without a doubt, that these are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”
Page 2: Interview with Phil Miller, Assistant Dean, MBA and MS programs.
Page 3: Profiles of 12 Carlson MBA students.