Turning Thinkers into Doers

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Leading in thought and action is not just a tagline here at U-M Ross. It is a philosophy that lives throughout our action-based approach to education. June is an excellent time to reflect on this core element of the Ross experience as many students are actively participating or just returning from exciting, hands-on business experiences throughout the world.

Currently, more than 80 MBA, Master of Supply Chain Management, and engineering students are embarking on 35 operations-related projects at some of the world’s largest companies through the Michigan Ross Tauber Institute for Global Operations

In these projects, students will work closely with senior-level company leaders in collaborative teams to tackle critical issues such as manufacturing process improvements, supply chain disruptions, and operational sustainability concerns. These annual projects return both significant learning gains for the students and savings for the host companies. Last year, the teams generated more than $375 million in projected savings over a three-year period, or an average of $10 million per project, for companies including 3M, Amazon, Boeing, Cisco, Dell, General Mills, Dell, Microsoft, and Pfizer.

This spring, more than 500 MBA students traveled to locations throughout the world to work hands-on with companies on critical issues related to strategy, finance, marketing, accounting, and more through the annual full-time MBA Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP). Many students explored cross-national, cross-functional, emerging market, and startup issues, and they experienced what it takes to reap the benefits of highly diverse teams. Since 1992, Ross MAP teams have completed more than 1,700 projects for more than 800 organizations, and often when I speak with MBA alumni around the globe, they tell me that MAP was one of the most transformative aspects of their Ross experience. 

Action-based learning at Ross includes case competitions, simulations, leadership development experiences, and a wide range of extracurricular opportunities for students in all degree programs. For undergraduate students, for example, action learning crescendos in the BBA case competitions, which challenge selected BBA students twice a year to work in teams to solve a complex consulting issue for a sponsoring company using classroom learning. The Ross Leadership Initiative is woven throughout the Full-time MBA Program and last year included team projects in which students developed for-profit business concepts to benefit social and public initiatives in Detroit as part of orientation. 

These projects exemplify Ross’ strengths in delivering high-quality, immersive action-based learning, which was pioneered at our school. Today we remain the preeminent institution for learning by doing. The value of action-based learning is clear: classroom teaching is only one component to learning. To emerge from business school with the tools and skills to apply advanced business concepts in complex environments, it takes both learning concepts and applying concepts through doing. Ross graduates emerge with skilled practice in applying complex business concepts to tough issues and deep insight and greater perspective on both global markets and career opportunities for themselves. 

While there are other schools which offer some form of action-based learning, no other school delivers it to the extent we do. There is a reason for this: action-based learning requires an incredible investment of faculty time and resources, expertise to anticipate the numerous complexities that emerge in administering projects at such a large scale, and an extensive network with organizations large and small throughout the world. Ross’ proven model involves an effective mix of principled teaching, support throughout the project, clearly defined project parameters, wide latitude for experiential activities, project deliverables, and structured assessment and feedback to ensure a high-quality feedback loop for individual learning and development.

As we look to the future, we are committed to building on our tradition of leadership in action-based learning and expanding the ways all students at Ross benefit from experiential learning. We are currently exploring ways to put action-based learning into every class every semester, in part through the use of technology. We are also in the early stages of developing a new global conference for academic leaders and practitioners centered on advancing the delivery of action-based learning across institutions globally. 

I look forward to sharing news of further developments as we look to become the most innovative provider of lifelong business education targeted to meet the evolving needs of students at all stages of their careers.

> Read the Dividend magazine feature story on action.

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Alison Davis-Blake

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