Higher Education: MBAs
The evolution of the Florida MBA experience: changing workforce and student needs
PATRICIA SANCHEZ ABRIL
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI
Specialty: Business law and ethics
Education/Experience: Law degree, Harvard Law School; bachelor’s, literature, Duke University. Previously a practicing attorney at two law firms.
A Teamwork Curriculum
A team of faculty at the University of Miami researched what makes a top-notch curriculum for about a year before rolling out an overhaul of their flagship MBA.
The team was led by Patricia Abril, then the vice dean of graduate programs who has been a professor in the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School for 18 years. The team talked to employers, advisers, alumni, students and other faculty and culled industry data as part of their research.
One of the biggest changes was a more interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, Abril says. After asking big employers how they would redesign the MBA, the committee heard that students most need agility and adaptability. They need to be equipped to learn quickly and manage the speed of change.
The team structured the curriculum with an eye toward enhancing skills in three main areas: Critical thinking and decision making with data; leadership and working in teams; and innovation and strategy. Those themes run throughout the program.
More experiential learning was baked into the program through projectbased teamwork. That included linking students with companies and giving them problems to solve, using skills in data analysis, negotiation and design thinking.
The redesigned curriculum rolled out last fall. Students were able to take electives in their area of interest during the first year, giving them a leg up for summer internship opportunities.
The program also focuses on sustainability, a schoolwide priority. UM also launched a master’s in Sustainable Business, and its MBA students can take the courses.
“When teaching is your passion, what you are really doing is instilling this sense of excitement and curiosity and breaking apart people’s fears so they can face the challenges in front of them. Creating a classroom environment that is synergistic is both the challenge and joy of teaching.”
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
Specialties: Business ethics, management
Education/Experience: Ph.D. and master’s, industrial administration, Carnegie Mellon University; bachelor’s, finance, University of Iowa. Schminke has served as a visiting scholar at Oxford University and the London School of Economics. He has served as a research fellow with the Ethics Resource Center in Washington, D.C.
Merging Both Sides of the Brain
The biggest shift in MBA programs through the years has been the explosion of options now available in business graduate programs, says Marshall Schminke, who has taught business ethics, strategic management and other courses at the University of Central Florida since 1999.
Gone for the most part are the days when students had to quit their jobs to attend an MBA program full time for two years. Executive MBAs —cohort-style programs for working senior executives — and professional MBAs —part-time programs often offered at nights — have proliferated.
Reasons for pursuing graduate business programs are changing, too. “They are looking for some basic business skills, but they are training to get ahead in a particular field that they have chosen for their career,” Schminke says. That has led to the proliferation of specialized MBAs, including sports business management, real estate, human resources, and entrepreneurship.
Schminke has adjusted his teaching style through the years. “I went from being a traditional expert type to tapping into the experience in the room. I shifted to a Socratic approach, where we start with a discussion of a problem and as they talk about their own experiences, it is easier to bring in the work of Michael Porter or tools to address those problems.”
Schminke’s favorite course to teach is the capstone course. He was a finance major as an undergrad, and his Ph.D. was in management. “That’s a big shift because you are going from an economic model of the world to a psychological model of the world. And I always see my mission as making sure that people coming out of that last course in the curriculum know that neither psychology nor economics on their own is enough to be successful in business. And I love the capstone class because it lies at that intersection of accounting, finance and economics on one side and then creativity, innovation, leadership and motivation on the other. I love every day that I go into that class.”
“You have to engage them. You have to give them a reason to think what you’re offering is important, and then you have to meet them where they are to help them understand what this journey is going to look like for the time you have them. That’s the fun part.”
Specialties: Marketing and ethics
Education/Experience: Ph.D., Texas A&M University; MBA, Western Illinois University; bachelor’s, Western Illinois University. Previously taught at Louisiana State and worked with multinational corporations, including Ford, Bayer Chemical and Daimler-Benz.
Mark Johnston teaches marketing management, marketing research and is a chair in marketing and ethics at the Crummer Graduate School of Business. He has been a professor at Rollins since 1993. Classroom Trends:
“The challenge today for any business school is the world is changing, and the curriculum should reflect what is going on. We undertake changes to our curriculum more often than most, and we’ve seen a huge increase in social entrepreneurship — being your own boss but benefiting society. We have added concentrations and courses in that area.
We have added courses in design thinking to help students understand how ideas get brought to fruition and implemented and the ability to work across different parts of a company. We were one of the first schools in Florida to offer that at the graduate level.
We put students on real-life projects. We feel they need to understand how they can take what they are learning and solve real business problems. We went down to Mexico and worked with a very large retailer there on their strategic plan and implemented significant changes in their marketing strategy. They went twice — once for research and then again to represent the four to five months of research. It was a very effective way for students to learn.”
Secret Sauce: “The first is understanding that the MBA needs to be relevant, current and help the student be a better business leader in an ethically responsible way. The second is delivering it in a dynamic and engaging way that allows the student to be part of the learning experience. The third part is staying connected with our students. You don’t stop learning when you graduate. We have free courses for life. So many alumni want to come back and speak and hire our alumni. That is very much a part of the success of our program.”
FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY
Education/Experience: Ph.D. and MBA, marketing, University of Michigan; bachelor’s, political economy, University of California, Berkeley. Previously taught at Notre Dame and consulted.
Insights into the Next Generation
Ann Root arrived at FAU in 2006 but has been a marketing professor for more than 30 years.
- Trending: Entrepreneurship. One of Root’s favorite courses to teach is Developing and Marketing Innovations. “Once they finish that class, they are very excited about pursing their own next great idea. They like the process — they can apply it to work as an intrapreneur, and FAU has a lot of resources for actually making the product real and launching it.”
- MBA’s Relevance: “Always ask the question, ‘Is the MBA worth it?’ As a public school, we have a very good return. The full-time MBA, where people quit their job and moved to a different city for two years to get an MBA, that model is gone. The online MBA is increasing because of flexibility, but this younger group coming up likes socialization. Our Professional MBA that is at nights and in person will continue to grow.”
- MBA Curriculum: “The names haven’t changed but the content has. I know IT is talking about cyber-security, operations is talking about supply chain, marketing is talking about data and privacy issues — the hot topics and current events going on.” One way Root brings real world experiences into the classroom is through semester-long projects with South Florida non-profits.
- Students: “The younger generation is more about impact. I talk about profit, but they are asking the question, ‘Well, good for you, company, but what else do you do? What are you doing to help the community?’ I get a window into the next generation, and it’s one of the nicest generations coming up. They are extremely optimistic and very considerate. Entrepreneurial in nature. They really want to get to know people. They are very social.”
FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY
Education/Experience: Ph.D. and MBA, University of Wisconsin; bachelor’s, Texas Southern University. Previously taught at Southern University, Grambling University and Savannah State University and worked at IBM.
Lessons for a Lifetime
Bobby Davis says the most special moments for him are when his former students come back to make presentations to current students. “They tell them, ‘Please do not take anything you learn at the School of Business and Industry for granted.’ Everything you learn you will see it again and be able to use,” says Davis, who is in his 36th year as a professor at FAMU and in total has taught for 44 years. He’s been associate dean for the School of Business and Industry for the past 10 years.
The magic of the MBA comes in its interdisciplinary approach that combines technical skills, soft skills and experiential skills such as internships. FAMU incorporates some courses from its Professional Leadership Development Program to get students up to speed on the soft skills. Davis specializes in marketing and most enjoys teaching classes on sales, marketing research and consumer behavior.
He says the MBA is the most popular post-graduate degree, but employers are asking for specific skill sets. That’s why FAMU offers an MBA combined with supply chain management and is considering a business analytics specialization.
Davis shared some advice for students preparing for an MBA:
Establish a schedule early in order to stay on top of everything. Good time management skills will be key. Those skills are taught in FAMU’s Professional Leadership Development Program.
Learn how to work in groups – team projects and study groups are part of the MBA experience.
Learn to read text quickly and assess what is important. FAMU’s business school introduces its students to Guaranteed 4.0 for a process of “bullet-point reading” and studying for maximum efficiency. Data show that it works, he says.
Learn to network, an important part of the MBA experience you can take with you for life.
What Davis likes best about teaching: “Having this opportunity to help students transform their dreams into reality.”
Education/Experience: Ph.D., accounting and taxation, University of Houston; executive MBA, Houston Baptist University; bachelor’s, accounting, University of Illinois. Certified Public Accountant, state of Texas. Previously taught at Texas A&MCorpus Christi and founded a CPA business.
Valrie Chambers has taught accounting at the university level for 27 years, including the last seven at Stetson University. One of the biggest changes she’s noticed since she earned her MBA in 1985 was staring her in the mirror.
“When I went to school, I may have had one female professor,” she says. Chambers became the first tenured woman in Stetson’s accounting department in 2017. And now, “a third of our full professors (at Stetson) are women. There are still glass ceilings and glass cliffs out there, but there are fewer of them,” says Chambers, who also serves on the Diversity + Inclusion Advisory Task Force of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
There is more diversity among her MBA students, too. Chambers says she is likely to have more women than men in any given class, and that means for group projects there will be women on every team. There are also more people of color. “I try to encourage all of my students, but especially the students who might feel less welcomed because of less representation. That problem is still there. I don’t think we are finished yet.”
Chambers incorporates multicultural examples and success stories. “Before I would have taken anything in the book and taught it. Now I look for ways to be inclusive. I ask myself, do I have an example that is inclusive? It’s about normalizing inclusion. If people in the classroom are used to seeing an inclusive environment, then I think it reduces unconscious bias when it comes time for them to decide who to hire or promote.”
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
Specialty: Management information systems
Education/Experience: Ph.D. and master’s, computer information systems, Georgia State University; bachelor’s, management, Augusta College. Previously, she taught at Georgia State.
The Ins and Outs of Info Tech
“I love being able to get a student where they can get excited about something that they thought they weren’t interested in when they came into the class. Students energize me,” says Ashley Bush, a 20-year professor of management information systems in Florida State University’s College of Business.
Bush teaches an introduction to information systems, a required class across all FSU MBAs. “The goal is to help students be conversant in technology and how it is used in an organization. We’re not trying to turn them into technical experts.“
She also teaches a number of electives, including a database class that involves business analytics and an information security class. FSU offers in-person and online MBA programs, and the online offering uses the same faculty.
It’s the online offerings that have grown the most, with the technology making it easier to get a degree and work on it part time. “We are not expecting anyone to quit their jobs.”
In Bush’s department, MBA students can specialize in management information systems, supply chain management or in business analytics. “Analytics has just exploded on us. Everyone wants to have a better understanding of analytics so they can bring something back to their organizations,” says Bush, adding that FSU’s business school is also seeing interest in health care business. “We respond to what our employers and our advisory boards are telling us they are looking for.”
While the pandemic was devastating, it opened up new ways for professors to use technology to communicate with students. “In some ways, it may have turned us into even being more connected, post-COVID.”
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA
Specialty: Business management
Education/Experience: Ph.D., industrial and organizational psychology, USF; master’s, industrial psychology, University of Central Florida; bachelor’s, psychology, Stetson University. Management positions in public, private and non-profit sectors.
The MBA was originally designed for those without an undergraduate business degree — engineers, for example, who wanted to move into management. But today, about half of Charles Michaels’ MBA students have an undergraduate business degree. “They want to sharpen their leadership skills,” he says. “They get out in the real world, and they find they weren’t taught the people skills as an undergraduate.”
Michaels’ research has been in social isolation in the workplace — he and two co-authors wrote the scale that measures social isolation at work. “People are not wanting to go back (to the office), and we are going to have to handle that change in how we manage people. Right now turnover is a real issue. Things like job satisfaction, organization commitment and social isolation are going to be issues.”
Michaels, who arrived at USF in 1983 — when the “Japanese were killing us in terms of quality” — to teach graduate-level management courses, most enjoys teaching a course called Leadership, Conflict Resolution (negotiation) and International Management. One of the skills Michaels teaches today is “service leadership” — taking care of subordinates instead of expecting subordinates to take care of you.
He once turned down a dean’s job because “that’s not fun, and teaching is.”
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Specialty: Strategic management
Education/Experience: Ph.D., business administration, and master’s, University of California, Berkeley; master’s and bachelor’s, chemical engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was also an assistant professor at INSEAD in France and Singapore.
Gwendolyn Lee, a University of Florida business professor since 2004, studies how companies respond to changes in the business environment, and lately her research has focused on how they respond to the pandemic and recover. As part of the MBA committee, she works on how the UF MBA responds to market changes.
How the MBA is Adapting: “Employers want specialists that can arrive on day one and start making an impact in their specialized area. So that’s a dilemma for the MBA because it is a general degree. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a lot of interest in master’s of science degrees. A response from the MBA program is to embed those skills so our students will be ready to participate in a world with artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, analytics. We are adapting to what employers are looking to hire.”
Tech in Teaching: “The way we teach benefits from the online part of the delivery. Our college was way ahead in online teaching. We have learned how students learn more effectively. An example is how the assignments are made — the explanations can be captured by video, creating more class time for students to exchange ideas. Class time is a meeting time to discuss and debate. The students love the idea exchange, but they need to be warmed up for the debate with readings, videos, online quizzes. A smaller class size is needed to keep the richness of the exchange.”
Staying Relevant: “The type of skills we need to train are critical thinking and decision making. That is what will sustain a person’s career no matter what future changes will be. Learning a programming language is transient because tomorrow there will be new programs to learn. I help my students to develop critical thinking through my course; there is a lot of debate and discussion, and my final exam is multiple essays. They really have to defend their reasoning, using the frameworks they have learned.”
JOHN C. SHAW
Specialty: Organizational behavior and leadership
Education/Experience: Ph.D., organizational behavior, University of Florida; bachelor’s, English literature, Swarthmore College. Previously taught business at Mississippi State University.
MBAs of the Future
“I think of myself as a lifelong learner. When I step into the classroom, it’s not a one-way street. We bring in a very diverse group of graduate students with varying experience and backgrounds, so to be in that classroom and have that back and forth, I probably learn as much as my students,” says John C. Shaw, who has been teaching in the MBA program at Jacksonville University since 2009.
MBA Audience: “If you don’t have a business background or you are going from public to private or looking for a career change, an MBA is a wonderful degree. But all students should ask themselves if they have the passion, the patience and the financial and personal flexibility to invest themselves into it. Education is fantastic. You will have fabulous faculty. You will have interesting classes and meet interesting people, but at the end of the day, it’s not those grades or even in some cases the degree. It is about making it your own. Personalize it, then it becomes extremely valuable.”
MBA’s Future: “As we move forward, will we conceptualize the MBA for the lifelong learner? We are already moving to a shorter MBA. Do we take it a step further, where students will take a specific class, or module, when they need it for their career? You stack those, and that becomes the MBA degree? It remains to be seen. I’m 53, and my education didn’t stop in my 20s. One of the constants in business is change. Why shouldn’t an education reflect that? The possibilities are exciting for programs, for us, for students.”
UNIVERSITY OF TAMPA
Specialty: Strategic management
Education/Experience: Ph.D., strategic management/ entrepreneurship, University of South Carolina; MBA, Florida Atlantic University; law degree, University of Florida; bachelor’s, sociology, University of Florida. Previously taught at George Mason University. Harris has worked as a lawyer, business consultant, bank officer and health research technician.
Amy Harris has taught University of Tampa MBA students since 2003.
Trends: “We’ve become more full-time rather than part-time oriented. We have seen more international students, which adds a lot of diversity to our classroom, and that’s awesome. A lot of students want the MBA for that breadth, but they also want depth. They’ll take three classes in a particular concentration, or they’re combining an MBA with an MS program and getting two degrees. Analytics, cybersecurity, finance and entrepreneurship are areas students are very interested in.”
Secret Sauce: “The experiential learning opportunity is huge. Students love travel study courses, for example — also the research projects they can do with faculty. In our first leadership development class, we pair our students with executive coaches in the Tampa Bay business community, trying to create experiences for them that link them to the real world as they’re going through their program. But I also think the secret sauce is being able to build community. At UT, that’s one of our stronger points, the opportunity for networking and building lifelong relationships.”
Favorite Course: “The capstone class. We do consulting projects for local businesses, and in many ways the class epitomizes what an MBA is — you don’t know what’s coming at you, and you’ve got to figure out a solution. You need to know a little bit about everything. They’re analyzing an industry and a company and then making strategic recommendations to the company about how they can improve their competitive position.”
Advice: “Get involved. Don’t just go to class and go home. Investigate the many resources at your disposal and figure out which ones might be useful in helping you achieve your goals. And don’t wait until the end of the program to figure out your goals — be intentional about charting your path. It is OK if you deviate but live with purpose.”
FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Specialty: Strategy, international business
Education/Experience: Ph.D., public administration, FAU; MBA, international business, Georgia State University; BIE, engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology. Managed companies focused on the Latin American market.
Putting the MBA to Use
After a long career leading sales and marketing teams targeting Latin America and managing a distribution company selling to the region, Enrique Perez went back to school for his Ph.D. so that he could share his wisdom at the university level. He has been a professor at Florida Tech since 2011, now serving as associate dean of the Bisk College of Business.
The Cuban-born Perez has taught a variety of subjects, including business strategy, international business and entrepreneurship.
Florida Tech focuses on the basics — finance and accounting — along with organizational behavior and strategy. That extends to cutting-edge sectors such as financial technology, cryptocurrencies and blockchain. A dual degree of the MBA and master’s in accounting and financial forensics is proving popular with international students. Florida Tech is also adding an international business concentration in the 2022-23 school year, with courses such as cross-cultural management.
The university’s on-campus MBA program has grown from 60 students to 220 in the last three years. Some are Florida Tech’s engineering alumni. “I think every engineer should get an MBA over a master’s in their field. We teach you how to run the business. We teach you how to make your product so that people actually want to buy it.”
Perez’s advice: “For any students looking to get an MBA just to have MBA next to their name, it is probably not worth it. I have told more than a few students the MBA is probably not for them because they don’t have a plan for what they are going to do with it.”
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY
Specialty: Marketing in service industries
Education/Experience: Ph.D., business administration, University of Southern California; diploma in industrial engineering, Technische Universitat Berlin; MBA, University of Southern California. Previously taught at the University of New Hampshire and University of Miami.
Walfried Lassar views himself as a coach rather than an instructor or facilitator.
“I switched from consulting to teaching because I wanted to mentor. I was always a coach in my life,” says Lassar, a Germanborn business professor at Florida International University since 1998 and faculty director of the Executive MBA program, who once coached water polo, soccer and other sports. “People come to us with a skill set already. It is my job to enhance your skill set and make you better at what you are good at or to give you a new dimension of your skill set.”
As the markets change faster and faster, education is becoming more agile, Lassar says. An example: The proliferation of stackable specializations. In marketing, you could have a specialization in customer experience management, which could include courses in marketing, decision science and process operations, he says. It’s the way MBAs are trying to stay current and relevant, and specialized offerings have become much more popular.
FIU has also been repositioning its MBA programs’ target market from the higher-ups to the high potentials. That’s in response to demographic changes in South Florida. “We are starting to be a technology-forward kind of town, and we are now attracting the younger generation of managers. So we started switching our focus from the mid-career senior VP to the younger up-and-comers. That is who we are trying to attract, and successfully so. We are also focusing on digital transformation — everything we do goes back to that.”
Today, there are more choices than ever for graduate level business education. Lassar also helped develop the DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) at FIU. “The DBA is the new MBA — it’s an MBA on steroids.”