January 28, 2010
Applied Management Research Program Celebrates 40 Years of Transformative Learning Experiences
Exposes students to real-world business challenges
By Hilary Rehder
Learn by doing. It is such a common suggestion that it could be considered cliché. When a thought like this one is repeated often, it is usually because there is truth in it. And it is not surprising that this phrase is routinely used to describe the experience provided by many field-study programs, which are now so prominent in academia. As the term implies, participating students work "out in the field," practicing their skills and applying their knowledge in the real world.
UCLA Anderson's Applied Management Research Program (AMR), the capstone of the school's Full-Time MBA Program, is a stellar example of just such a program. Sara Tucker, now director of the Coaching and Team Skills Program, was director of AMR for five years. During that time and since, experiential education has become even more strongly recommended, including making it more central to the entire MBA curriculum. She has seen firsthand what the effects are for the students involved in AMR and views it as having the potential to be "truly transformative" for them.
"In AMR, students sharpen their understanding of the theories they have learned in the classroom," said Tucker. "The real world is obviously a more unpredictable environment with much less control, and it has more serious consequences. Using their newly acquired knowledge and skills to find solutions for their client companies adds nuances and details to students' understanding that can be acquired in no other way."
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, AMR continues to challenge students to excel with this practical application, strengthening their management acumen in the business arena. Since its inception in 1969, AMR has brought together student teams with executives from both local and global organizations. For two academic quarters during their second year, full-time MBA candidates devote a minimum of 10 hours per week consulting for their assigned companies, trying to solve their actual problems in real time. At the end of their project, students complete their experience with a written analysis, which is reviewed and graded by a faculty committee.
The idea for the AMR program began when the faculty-at-large decided that the MBA program needed to be improved. A designated faculty team redesigned the program and included action learning and the field project as one of its critical components. Anthony P. Raia, professor emeritus of human resources & organizational behavior, was a member of the founding faculty. He also continued to serve as a faculty advisor in AMR for many years after that, witnessing from the beginning what he considers to be a revolutionary impact on Anderson students' abilities, as well as real results for the numerous companies they helped along the way.
"With our new program, we were light years ahead of other business schools in terms of field-study projects," said Raia. "The faculty wanted to expand the core learning curriculum with the new hands-on component. In the process, we went from a traditional MBA program with a thesis and units earned towards graduation to a two-year section-type program."
During its 40-year history, the AMR program has had partnerships with participating organizations from across the business spectrum and around the world, including nonprofits, microfinance institutions and start-ups, as well as some from among the Fortune 500. Recent examples include Sony International Pictures, Trader Joe's, Mattel, Starbucks, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, BCBG, Safeway, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Fox Sports International, Princess Cruises, 20th Century Fox, Grameen, Hyundai and Disney, among many others.
"Through the oldest comprehensive field-study program in the nation, AMR student teams have been strategic business advisors, providing innovative solutions for over 3,000 client companies," said George Abe, lecturer and faculty director of the AMR program. "Our partners over the past four decades have offered excellent consulting experiences for our students. In turn, the students have assisted companies in a wide variety of ways, including expanding their customer base, improving their products, creating strategic plans and exploring new sources of revenue."
AMR's primary goal of immersing students in live problem solving can be satisfied with different situations in a wide variety of kinds of organizations. While many students choose companies from AMR's pre-qualified list, a few students look within their own personal experience to find appropriate projects. For example, a family-run company, T & T Supermarket, is the largest chain of Asian supermarkets in Canada, which also happens to be owned by the parents of Tina Lee (MBA '09), one of the team members on T & T's project. The focus was to examine whether T & T would ultimately benefit from launching a customer loyalty program, and if so, how they should execute it. (By the way, T & T was recently purchased for $225 million by Loblaw Company Limited.)
"Working with my teammates, we were able to build links between academia and industry, consultants and client, and Western and Chinese cultures, which was critical to making our project a success," said Lee. "These are skills I will surely take with me and use over and over again as I continue my career. Acquiring them made the great learning experience I had through AMR a very important part of my life at Anderson."
Richard Ho (MBA '09), one of Lee's teammates on the T & T project, added, "Our AMR work made us delve deeper into topics we studied throughout our MBA course, such as strategy, operations, marketing, financial modeling and IT development. We put together a diverse team of individuals with each of us serving as a subject matter expert for a particular topic area. This was truly the culmination for our business school experience, encompassing the fundamental principles we learned. It was an opportunity to put all our new MBA skills to work in a single coordinated effort."
The UCLA Anderson AMR program will continue its tradition as one of the longest running and most rewarding educational experiences undertaken by the school's students. It is one of the hallmark elements that helps set UCLA Anderson graduates apart from those of other top-tier business schools. Victor Tabbush, adjunct professor of global economics & management, who served as associate dean and director of the Fully Employed MBA Program from 2001 to 2007, summed up why the learn-by-doing approach of AMR has been so pivotal in the development of full-time MBA students.
"Students learn only a little from listening, slightly more from being shown and the most by doing it themselves," said Tabbush. "In AMR, they do it themselves and learn about the management challenges of planning and executing business strategies in ways that are truly memorable."
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