By Mackenzie Greenwell and Eric Nelson
Purdue’s strategic commitment to engagement and launching tomorrow’s leaders is evident in a new initiative at Krannert that takes teams of graduate students from campus to corporations.
Launched in 2009, the Experiential Learning Initiative (ELI) gives master’s candidates hands-on exposure to actual business situations through semester-long field projects. Management Projects, a new course built around ELI consulting projects, was introduced this semester.
Students enrolled in the course receive two weeks of classroom preparation on a variety of topics, including project and team management, database resources, personal networking, and the management consulting process. A variety of tools, templates, and other resources are available to project teams through Krannert’s intranet.
In addition to semester-long projects, smaller-scale ELI projects are posted online. Students can then use the school’s intranet to self-organize teams, secure faculty and executive advisors, arrange course credit, and submit proposals directly to the company that initiated the project.
"The overall objective is to provide opportunities for our students to combine their existing knowledge and strengths with classroom learning and apply it in active business settings," says management professor and ELI director Matthew Lynall. "We want to help students turn their expertise into experience and their skills into career success."
Although the projects course wasn’t formally offered until this year, several consulting projects completed in 2009 provide evidence that the initiative is already meeting its goals.
One early project involved a Krannert team conducting extensive benchmarking and market analysis to develop pricing points and a marketing plan for new seating arrangements for Purdue’s Mackey Arena, which is currently undergoing renovations.
"The experience allowed me to connect the master’s curriculum to a real-world application," says Eric Kennedy, a second-year MBA student who worked on the project. "I was able to better understand the purpose of the management tools I learned in class."
Another group of students worked with Heritage Home Improvements to develop a growth plan to help the company achieve its ambitious expansion objectives. Susan Lee (MBA ’10) and her team conducted market research and analysis that led to implementation plans for both market and organizational development.
"Working on the project gave me an opportunity to enhance my research skills," says Lee. "It also exposed me to the abundant resources available at Krannert outside of the classroom."
Coupious.com, a mobile phone application providing coupons and deals for businesses based on the geographic location of the user, partnered with Michael Owusu (MBA ’10) and other master’s students to identify and evaluate alternative ways to scale the business to regional and national market coverage. "It was a unique opportunity to achieve real deliverables that were both measurable and immediate," say Owusu.
The emphasis on teamwork also fosters interaction among classmates, faculty, and business professionals, helping students sharpen their resumes as well as their communication skills. Whether it serves as an introduction to a potential employer or a compelling job interview topic, an ELI project can be a valuable asset in students’ career portfolios.
"Working on the Mackey Arena project was a great learning experience," says Alona Lyskova (MSHRM ’10) "It not only required our group to apply course concepts to solve practical business problems, but also accentuated the importance of networking, leadership, professional development, and collaboration."
Because each project is tailored to the client’s individual needs, corporate partners have found the ELI experience to be mutually advantageous, adds Lynall.
"We select projects that possess strategic importance, require a cross-functional perspective, and address demanding business challenges in varying fields," he says. "Besides contributing to the development of our next generation of business leaders, corporate partners enjoy the benefit of bright and enthusiastic minds focused on the success of their organization."
Tom Ulrey, general manager of Heritage Home Improvements, echoes that assessment. "My initial impression that the scope of the project may be considerably larger than could be accomplished in the time available was completely erroneous," says Ulrey. "The student team delivered beyond my expectations in well-supported detail. From my perspective, it was nothing short of excellent work."
Michael Pastko, co-founder of Coupious.com, also saw direct benefits from his company’s ELI project. "Working with the Krannert MBA team was a great decision for Coupious," he says. "The students’ research and analysis helped validate many of our assumptions and brought new ideas to light. The overall experience has had a real impact on the direction we are taking our business in the future."
At Robert Bosch Corporation, the combined efforts of ELI students and senior managers to implement the Bosch Production System (BPS) at a recent acquisition resulted in dramatic savings and efficiency improvements in distribution and manufacturing processes. Even after the semester ended, members of the student team stayed on the project to further assist with improvement efforts.
"The company benefited from the students’ abilities to impartially analyze and assess the current state of our processes," says Bosch BPS coordinator Larry Cherry. "There is nothing else that I can think of that has been more useful, more practical, or more beneficial than this experience. I can truly say that I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me."