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Ross BBAs Get in on the Action

3/4/2009 --

Action-based learning gains momentum in undergraduate coursework.

The Ross School's commitment to action-based learning already distinguishes the MBA Program among the world's top-tier business schools. Now the BBA Program is taking action-based learning to the next level as faculty find new and more ways to connect BBA coursework to real business challenges facing actual organizations.

"Our students are an impressive bunch," says BBA Program Director Scott Moore, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of business information technology. "They're also very demanding. Our intention is to provide a broad range of project-based experiences for BBAs while experimenting with the details of course structure and management. "

The support of generous benefactors like Thomas Jones, BBA '68/MBA '71, bolsters the school's efforts. In 2005, he endowed the Thomas C. Jones Center for BBA Education with a $10 million gift, which encourages program such program innovations as the integration of action-based learning into coursework. That could explain why the Ross BBA consistently ranks among the nation's best undergraduate business programs. In February 2009, BusinessWeek ranked Ross No. 4 in the U.S.

Class Act Tammy Feldman is an adjunct lecturer of business economics and public policy, who was recruited to Ross to develop the elective Organizations and Industries (Business Economics 480). BBA seniors manage a live project as the bulk of the course output, with an emphasis on the application of multidisciplinary skills.

"Whether it's a marketing, strategy, or operations management project, students make a real connection between what they learned in the core and how to use all those tools in a meaningful, sustained way," Feldman says.

The in-class component still dominates BBA coursework, but Ross far outpaces competitor programs when it comes to bridging theory and practice, Feldman says. In winter 2009, her students consulted with a local distributor of high-end scientific equipment to create a marketing strategy.

Meanwhile, BBA students enrolled in Professor Anu Nagarajan's course Dynamic Capabilities through Corporate Development (Strategy 392) learn how companies build, gain, and leverage competitive advantages in constantly changing contexts. Nagarajan turned to the staff who oversee the MBA Program's Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP) course to initiate a venture at Whirlpool Corp. Nagarajan's BBAs visited a facility, met with Whirlpool staff, and worked on developing a growth strategy for countertop microwaves.

Own It Other faculty members pioneering action-based learning at the BBA level include Lynn Wooten, clinical associate professor of strategy, and management and organizations; and Bill Lovejoy, the Raymond T. Perring Family Professor of Business Administration, and professor of operations and management science. Wooten's BBAs perform consulting projects for the Target Corp., a concept she introduced into Strategic Management of Knowledge in Professional Service Firms (Strategy/MO 470). Lovejoy's BBAs often can be found working in the University of Michigan Hospital and Health System as part of Projects in Healthcare (Operations and Management Science 490).

As a student in Lovejoy's class last year, Mitchell Zoerhoff, BBA '09, spent three to four hours each week at the East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatric Center's radiology branch. He consulted with staff to maximize patient CT scan throughput without compromising customer service. This year the class is being repeated with nine projects focusing on a range of cross-departmental problems, such as patient admissions and bed allocations or synching up lab testing and physician rounding.

Zoerhoff says his experience motivated him to approach problems from a new perspective.

"You learn in a different way," he says. "You have to gather your own data and work with different kinds of people. You have to discover what the problem is and come up with a solution, and there isn't necessarily just one."

That's the beauty of action-based learning, says Valerie Suslow, associate dean for degree programs and a professor of business economics and public policy. "The students own that information now. They learn it, retrieve it, synthesize it, and apply it to a real-world situation. That's why we think action-based learning is important educationally, and that's why we continue to bring it into the BBA curriculum in a manner that benefits both students and partner organizations."

—Leah Sipher-Mann



For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847, bernied@umich.edu