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Ross MBAs Learn New Media, Storytelling Techniques

4/27/2009 --

Students return from Istanbul with podcasts that present research, interviews.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—MBA students enrolled in Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks' class returned from a recent trip to Turkey with a different kind of deliverable for their professor.

For his winter 2009 class, "Bridging in a Globalizing World: Turkey and the European Union," Sanchez-Burks and 23 students (pictured at right with Haluk Dincer, MBA '88) traveled to Istanbul for nine days in February to conduct ethnographic field research. The MBAs have since turned their research into original podcasts focused on the global marketplace.

"Doing a podcast leverages the unique talent of MBA students," says Sanchez-Burks, a professor of management and organizations at Ross, and the first to require students to submit a podcast for a business class. By asking MBAs to research and produce the audio features, he hoped they would tap into new creative wells for writing, speaking, and storytelling. And at 30 to 40 minutes, each podcast presents all the elements of a well-researched report -- but in an alternative format.

For their part, students know that being able to tell a compelling story will play an important part in their business careers.

"So many times you hear working professionals say that it's easy to learn the skills, but you need to be able to tell the story and put it in context," says Erica Graham, MBA '09. "If you can tell a story about why your project and goals fit into the bigger picture, it will be more accessible and well-received."

Compared to international immersion courses at other top business schools, Sanchez-Burks' class was unique in that it required students to conduct research on a pressing current event. This focused approach allowed the class to bring a different style of interaction to interview subjects and offered an enriched experience. In addition, the students were able to generate new knowledge by interacting with and recording primary sources.

"When your resources and research for a report are limited to what you can read online and in journals, you're not able to engage with a person and glean a deeper understanding of the topic," Sanchez-Burks says. "By talking to primary sources, you're better able to generate new insights and add value to the project."

Holly Sharp, MBA '09, agrees, noting that the research she did before traveling to Turkey wasn't always in line with the Turks' reality on the ground.

"We all went in with one idea based on what had been written," Sharp says of her podcast team. "And then, while in country, we saw a whole different perspective and came to a different conclusion."

Sharp's team produced a podcast on marketing in Turkey. Based on the research her team conducted before the trip, she expected young people in the country to be more likely to purchase American or European brands, while the older generation would favor anti-American/pro-Turkish brands. That wasn't actually the case, she says.

Nina Henning, MBA/MS '09, says being able to conduct first-person interviews with key players in Turkey gave her a different take on her team's topic, energy and the environment.

"The insights from the people we interviewed were so much more relevant and it was so exciting to be there and to hear those insights from people who are working in the field," she says. "It brought the subject alive for me more so than just reading about it on the Internet."

Other podcast topics covered the issues of smoking, media, and social paradoxes as they related to Turkey's accession into the European Union.

One of the most valuable asset students took away from the class was the ability to feel comfortable in international settings and interact with people from other cultures. Grant Weber, who will graduate in 2010 as a part of the Evening MBA Program, knows how crucial those skills are in an increasingly globalized world.

"International business is becoming important to every MBA," he says. "In this class, we learned about the country in a brief seven weeks and the next thing we knew, we were there. We learned how to interact and operate in the city. It was action-based learning by definition."

Sanchez-Burks often reminded students about the importance of social cues when operating in a foreign culture. Seemingly simple interactions, like having drinks or coffee, can produce major results in the business world.

"Business is about people, and new business is about people of different cultures interacting," says Dara Moses, MBA '09. "Some students have a specific mode and they're used to communicating in that way, but they need to learn new ways, especially in a global economy. How do you talk to a local entrepreneur? How do you operate outside your comfort zone?"

Ross students met and interviewed Turks from all walks of life, from Haluk Aslan, a boat captain, to Semih Yüzen, an environmental entrepreneur. They also met country managers from Google, PepsiCo, Red Bull, and CNN. Many connections were made via the Ross alumni network.

"We really got see how wide the Ross and University of Michigan alumni networks are," says Siddhartha Karri, MBA '09. "I didn't expect us to have thousands of alumni in Istanbul and, on top of that, be able to meet a lot of them. Just seeing how willing they were to help us was surprising. We got to meet the chairman of GE in Turkey just because an alum had a connection."

Beyond networking with Ross alumni and interviewing top talent in the Turkish business and academic worlds, the students also visited the Hagia Sophia, shopped in the Grand Bazaar, and attended a soccer match.

Upon returning to the U.S., students dove head-first into creating their audio deliverables, though most had never produced a podcast before. However, they were as prepared as they could be since Sanchez-Burks invited experts to provide comprehensive training before leaving for Turkey. Kyle Norris, a contributor to National Public Radio, worked with the class to develop engaging audio storylines.

"I'm really impressed," Norris says. "The students seemed to throw themselves into it. When you're doing audio, you have to write in a really conversational way, which is different than academic writing. I pushed them to think and talk in a different way."

Sanchez-Burks and his students agree that MBAs who learn how to present knowledge in alternative media will add value to the business community later. They know this generation's future subordinates will require leaders who are capable and fluent in all forms of modern communication.

"Given the level of technology we should be able to use, being able to put podcasts together and work in multimedia is very progressive and I like to see that Ross is headed in that direction," says Sharp. "It's also making us better writers because it makes you actually think about how you write. If it's no fun to say out loud, why would it be any fun to read?"

To listen to all five student-produced podcasts, click here.

—Leah Sipher-Mann

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,