June 21, 2011

When Harold Williams, previously the CEO of Norton Simon Inc, was appointed Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Management in 1970, the MBA program was similar to those of other leading business schools. Students with undergraduate degrees in business, for example, could waive out of the core functional courses and complete all degree requirements, including either a thesis or written exam, within one year. After building consensus with the business community and the faculty at large, one of Dean Williams' first initiatives was to appoint a team charged with the responsibility for re-designing the MBA curriculum in ways that would better prepare students to meet the needs of future employers.

According to Professor Tony Raia, a member of the original re-design team, the new two-year Professional Masters Program was launched in 1972 and included the usual required core courses, an increased number of electives and an integrated set of innovative new courses designed to connect the classroom to the real world. "We labeled the collection of new courses, 'The Nucleus' and we believed them to be at the very heart of the new program. One of our major goals was to encourage students to become active learners and to assume a shared responsibility for the learning process," he recalls.

During the first year of the new MBA program, students were assigned to sections, took the required functional core courses, and completed the first three quarters of the Nucleus. The first quarter course, Individual Decision Making, was essentially an applied behavioral science course with a focus on providing students with individual feedback and on developing interpersonal skills. The second quarter course, which was called Managerial Decision Making, focused on teams and team work and on making management decisions in a simulated computerized environment. And the third quarter course, Complex Decision Making, involved student teams conducting field studies of real world issues such as, for example, whether or not UCLA should move its home football games from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl.

The second year of the Nucleus included a team-based management field study which involved a participating organization and which provided students with a real world learning experience that would enhance their future careers. Each team, guided by a faculty advisor, was expected to conduct a high-level strategic analysis for an organization and deliver a formal presentation and set of recommendations to their client. The overall goal of the field study was to provide an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned throughout the program in a real world setting, to learn from that experience and to create value for the client organization.

Over the years, the Nucleus has gradually disappeared from the first year of the curriculum in favor of elective courses. First it was Complex Decision Making, then Managerial Decision Making, and finally, Individual Decision Making. However, the field study thrived and eventually evolved into what is now called the Applied Management Research Program (AMR). Students in the Fully Employed MBA Program (FEMBA) conduct field studies in the Global Access Program and students in the Executive MBA Program (EMBA) participate in the Strategic Management Research Program.

Field studies have become the main staple of most MBA programs and are the backbone of many business-related courses. Two years ago, UCLA Anderson hosted the first meeting of field study professionals from top business schools. David Chang of UCLA Anderson's AMR Program helped create this young organization, which will meet in North Carolina this summer.

According to Professor Raia, one of the major challenges faced by management educators is getting students to assume responsibility for the learning process and for their own learning. "Field study is essential to management education in that it provides a unique opportunity for students, whether inexperienced MBAs or seasoned practitioners, to learn from their experiences in and out of the classroom," he says. "Field study can be a transforming part of the MBA curriculum. Many students from over the years continue to communicate with me and other faculty members about what an impact this had on their careers."

Media Relations