Full Time MBA Program Educates While Helping Community

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The full-time MBA program at the UT Knoxville College of Business Administration is breaking educational ground, giving students the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills into practice while adding to the long-term value of social cause organizations in East Tennessee.

Innovation in Practice, first offered in spring 2011, is an applied-learning course now required for all first-year, full-time MBA students. Student teams partner on real-world consulting "engagements" for regional nonprofit organizations; they develop the critical skills of seeing things others miss, leading transformational change, managing projects, collaborating, and "walking in the footsteps" of executives and board of directors.

"Other MBA programs have applied-learning courses, but UT's program is the first to pair 16 student teams with 16 different nonprofits as a required learning experience for all MBA students," said Amy Cathey, executive director of the full-time MBA program. "To my knowledge, there is no other MBA program in the world that makes this level of investment in applied learning and no other MBA program that can document the outcomes in terms of hours contributed for the benefit of the local community."

In the Innovation in Practice course, each MBA team is paired with a faculty mentor, a nonprofit organization, and a defined scope of work for the upcoming project. Unlike many classes where multiple teams work on a similar project, each team is solely responsible for executing the scope of work for its nonprofit. Example focus areas for these projects included aligning value propositions, increasing earned income, managing receivables, acquiring new properties and evaluating information technology architecture.

"Our experience with the students and professors was nothing short of tremendous," said Daniel Watson of Restoration House, an organization dedicated to providing support and housing for single, unwed mothers. "We would have had a hard time paying someone to receive the same level of results as we did through this partnership."

Innovation in Practice is an outgrowth of community outreach that the full-time MBA students have been doing with nonprofit organizations since 2004. Since that time, there have been 52 applied-learning experiences with social cause organizations that have involved 247 students and more than 19,000 donated hours. The MBA Class of 2011 participated in 16 of these engagements and provided more than 5,600 of the outreach consulting hours.

Student feedback about the course has been positive. 

"The consulting project was an eye-opening experience," said Chris Andrews, a full-time MBA student who worked with Historic Rugby. "It allowed us to tackle the real challenges that the organization faced and make recommendations that will impact its future in a way we could never have imagined." 

Glenn Swift, faculty co-leader for the course and former AT&T executive, said the applied-learning program helps graduates "enter the workplace with confidence" because they are "experienced and ready to serve as value creators."

Faculty co-leader Pat Richardson echoed that:

"We've seen them excel at innovative thinking," he said. "Working on a real problem with no 'right' answer was tough for the students to wrap their arms around, but it forced them to increase their technical skills, enhance their personal leadership development, and become stronger analytic thinkers."

Innovation in Practice faculty mentors include Joy Fisher, Neil Fischer, Sherman Jones, Austin Lance, Pat Richardson, Raymond Stark, Glenn Swift, and TK Wright.  

For more information about the UT full-time MBA program, please visit

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