MBA Launches Revised Program

"Challenging and Creative"
Dave Wilson, GMAC,
on the program

After several years of planning and curriculum development, the Illinois MBA launched its revised program in the fall of 1995. While the verdict is still out, students and faculty alike were excited and energized by the content and method of the new courses.

To succeed in business, managers must be able to integrate knowledge and use it effectively. One objective of the revised curriculum, therefore, is to produce students who are trained in the core disciplines but also have the ability to draw on all of their training to solve business problems quickly and creatively. In addition to the basics, students also need communication skills, computer training, decision-making ability, and leadership qualities. The revised program focuses on all these.

What is new about the revised MBA? Everything! The courses and the teaching methods.

There are five required courses, team taught in seven-week units. Each team includes a communications and computer specialist. A different business problem is tackled every week. Faculty on the team approach the problem from the perspective of their respective disciplines, so students learn from the beginning how to examine issues from the point of view of accounting, marketing, strategy, finance, economics, etc. The end product is an integrated approach to solving business problems.

Students also work in teams. Assignments in the core courses are all collaborative.

Between the two seven-week units each semester of the first year there is an "Applying Business Perspectives" (ABP) seminar, rather like a case competition. Each team is given one week to formulate an in-depth analysis of a multidimensional business problem. At the end of the week, the team presents the analysis and solution to a mock board of directors made up of business executives who have been invited to campus to "judge" the presentations.

In the second year of the program, the students return to a more traditional curriculum, taking regular graduate courses in areas of their own specialization. These courses constitute the "professional tracks" in the MBA program and allow the students to focus on the challenges offered by the career paths they have chosen. In the second semester of the second year, MBA students take the final course of the required core, the Capstone.

With one semester of the new curriculum behind him, and the second underway, Larry DeBrock, a member of the Business 401 team, reports that he and the other faculty found this integrated approach to teaching very exciting. "Although it involved more out-of-classroom preparation, the rewards have been tangible. Students perceive the commonalities of the different disciplines, and the cross-theme applications of various business tools reinforce the value of learning these difficult concepts."

Another innovation in the program is the introduction of FirstClass, a groupware computer program. It provides access to class assignments and problems for the various subjects of the course. It also acts as an archive for course handouts. FirstClass supports virtual office hours that allow students to ask questions and have discussions with each other and their teachers. In fact, the virtual office hours have developed into a faculty moderated "chat-group," where ideas can be exchanged. This software also allows students to work together on their group assignments from remote locations. With 75 groups needing to meet frequently, this innovation greatly eases time and space restraints. Individual groups set up private folders that the members use to talk about, plan, and do their projects.

The first Applying Business Perspectives seminar was very successful. Each team was given information about a real piece of property in Australia and asked to decide whether or not to build a resort on it. Five finalists were selected from the 37 teams. The winning team won a trip to the Bahamas in January. The second place winner was treated to a weekend in Chicago. David A. Wilson (Ph.D. Accountancy 1972), president and CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, one of the ABP judges, waxed enthusiastic about the new curriculum. He called it "challenging and creative."

The Required Core - 5 Courses

  • First semester- the business core focuses on how to relate basic business knowledge to business problems.

    Business 401: Foundations of Business. Subjects taught include strategy, resource measurement, economic principles, decision-making under uncertainty, consumer behavior.

    Business 402: Designing and Managing Business Process. Topics include allocating tasks, authority, and resources, internally; designing and supervising the creation of products and services; measuring costs and performance of business processes; gathering, analyzing, and communicating data; and regulating capital resources within the firm.

  • Second semester- the core concentrates on how to relate to various constituencies: investors, employees and customers; and the environment in which business operates.

    Business 403: Managing Stakeholder Relationships in a Changing Environment. Here the focus is on identifying and interacting with a firm's stakeholders. Subjects covered include human resources, management, capital markets, and the legal environment.

    Business 404: Managing Change. Subjects include organizational change and strategic reorientation, especially dealing with challenges from technology, competition, environmental concerns, diverse work forces, globalization.

  • Fourth semester the last required course in the core is the integrated capstone.

    Business 420: Corporate Strategy and Global Issues in Management. This course focuses on corporate strategies, especially from the global perspective, approached from the viewpoint of the general manager.

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