The D'Amore-McKim School of Business' pioneering Online MBA program was among the first in the country when it debuted in 2006, but as digital transformation continues to underscore the need to remain agile, it's fitting that the program recently received a makeover. Call it a new look for a rapidly changing world.
More deeply infused into the updated program are new experience-powered learning opportunities—one of the core tenets of a Northeastern education—along with a more affordable $45,000 price tag. As D'Amore-McKim celebrates its centennial during the 2022-23 academic year, this commitment to an in-depth, transformational learning experience continues to set the school and the Online MBA apart.
During the fall of 2021, D'Amore-McKim leaders convened to brainstorm ways to make the Online MBA program even more cutting-edge, relevant, and competitive. And, like true innovators, they reimagined the program once again.
“We're leveraging something we think is really significant, which is an experiential component, into an online, digital, scalable program,” says Emery Trahan, D'Amore-McKim Interim Dean and Professor of Finance.
Building a better Online MBA by leveraging experience
“My main concern was to come up with something novel,” said Fernando F. Suarez, the Jean C. Tempel Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, who chaired the faculty task force that redesigned the Online MBA curriculum.
Suarez, along with Associate Professor of Finance John Bai, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Professor of Practice Mark Dockser, and others, first studied the marketplace to understand how to best evolve the Online MBA. Many programs were rigid and felt pre-packaged, the team noticed. “That was one of the key elements that led us to start brainstorming: How do we do this differently?” Suarez says.
Adding meaningful, hands-on experience to an online program was at the forefront of the task force members' minds.
“One of the key differentiating factors of this new Online MBA program is bringing in real-life experiences—real-world activities with real-world leaders, content, and information,” says Dockser, who was charged with developing the experience-powered learning components that comprise a staggering 20 percent of the program.
Dockser said D'Amore-McKim's new Online MBA flips the traditional MBA model to focus on real-world business decision-making through engaging projects that leverage the minds and know-how of real c-suite leaders. As part of the core curriculum, students learn the fundamentals of finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, human resource management, supply chain, accounting, and strategy. Then, they're immersed in their first experiential course to put theory into practice.
The first students in the redesigned program, which started in October 2022, recently piloted the new experiential curriculum. It paired teams of students acting in c-level roles with a convenience store chain that must decide whether to move to a cashier-less model.
“What we want to do is let our students live in the shoes of decision-makers. We want them to learn how to think 360 degrees around what's going on as part of that,” says Dockser.
The students worked together to weigh the risks and rewards of a cashier-less enterprise. Along the way, they interviewed Amy Latimer, President of Boston's TD Garden, which implemented a cashier-less system that enables patrons to purchase snacks and beverages quickly and more efficiently than waiting in line.
Throughout the decision-making process, “students hear from real-life c-suite leaders giving them feedback,” Dockser adds. “What they're going to guide our students on is, ‘Do you understand your customer? How will you get the information needed to make the best recommendation to the CEO? Have you spoken to these other functions? How will you folks interact?'”
Dockser designed the program almost like a game—”for engagement, but also to be fun, exciting,” he says. As students accomplish their goals and hit milestones, they “unlock” additional content, such as an interview with a CEO, which helps inform and guide their decision-making with new information.
A second experiential component asks students to appreciate first-hand the impact of societal challenges related to equity and inclusion or sustainability—two critical issues facing businesses and today's leaders in their decision-making processes.
The future of work
As seen in Dockser's pilot, technological innovation and changing business demands were also critical drivers in the task force's work.
“In many of our courses, students are dealing with technologies and the impact of technology, providing solutions to situations in which technology challenges the incumbents or provides opportunities for new businesses and new markets,” says Suarez.
With the understanding that most Online MBA students are current professionals seeking to advance in their current roles or “catapult” into a new career realm altogether, D'Amore-McKim's Online MBA provides the hard skills to parse new technologies and big data while emphasizing soft skills like a forward-thinking mentality and teamwork to anticipate and adapt to new problems down the road. With three concentrations and electives, the program is also customizable.
“We have unique electives such as Digital Bias, which will deal with unique problems that the previous generation is probably not aware of,” says Bai. “That aspect is being emphasized throughout the entire curriculum.”
Also different from other programs is access to the Graduate Career Center, which is staffed “with a team of dedicated professionals who work only with D'Amore-McKim graduate students, helping them prepare for and land that next opportunity,” says Kate Klepper, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs.
Klepper believes that, while we can't predict what the future will look like, “some skills will never go out of fashion—like being a critical thinker and being somebody who knows how to identify a problem, dissect a problem, put pieces back together in new and interesting ways,” she says. “Those are skills that are going to help in the future, regardless of what is coming.”
For more information about this innovative new program, visit https://damore-mckim.northeastern.edu/programs/online-mba/.