The students in the STEM path to the MBA — the self-proclaimed guinea pigs — seem to be satisfied after their first semester of experiments.
In August 2011, the inaugural class of the STEM path to the MBA program began the studies that will lead to their graduation with both an undergraduate degree and an MBA within five years. The program gives high-performing students entering the University with majors in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) the opportunity to learn business concepts throughout their collegiate career in addition to their STEM discipline of choice.
Bill Petty is clinical professor and one of the instructors of the 1.5-credit-hour honors course that STEM path students take every semester. He said the STEM path to the MBA arose out of a societal need for individuals with this skill set.
“In the State of the Union address, we heard President Obama say we are weak in science and technology. There are jobs to fill,” Petty said. “There are technical jobs out there that can’t be filled right now, and we are trying to fill them.”
Dr. Robert Morgan, executive director of innovation initiatives and the instructor of the other section of the STEM path honors course, said this combination of technical and business skills is particularly attractive to employers.
“We noticed traditional MBA two-year students of all backgrounds, but particularly engineering, had higher salaries and were easier to place,” Morgan said. “Potential employers are looking for students who have a mix of technical skills, such as understanding engineering concepts and the business implications.”
Companies are already excited about the skills the students in the STEM path will have upon graduation. The excitement of employers is something that excites students like Irwin Corpuz, a student from Tuscaloosa, Ala., majoring in civil engineering.
“I’m excited by the opportunities to advance I will have. Mr. Petty has talked to different companies who are already thinking about talking to us,” Corpuz said. “Having job security as a freshman is freaking awesome.”
Erin West, another “guinea pig,” who is majoring in chemical engineering and is from Terre Haute, Ind., said she has already learned things about business she did not expect to learn.
“A lot of people, including myself before I started the STEM path, are under the impression that being in business is having people skills. I have learned in reality it is about knowledge and selling your product or yourself,” West said.
“You have to think of that other person’s point of view and what is going to be valuable to them. It is a lot more skills and learned characteristics than I thought.”
Crystal Bice, a student from Birmingham, Ala., majoring in chemistry, agreed that the class has given her the opportunity to approach learning differently.
“This is not a normal class in that we aren’t just given information and expected to spit it back out. We learn as we develop,” Bice said. “It allows people in science majors like me to show we are creative as well.”
The inaugural class is a diverse group. The 55 students represent 11 majors and 18 states, with more than two thirds of the students from out-of-state. The class is 60 percent male and 40 percent female. With this diversity of students comes a diverse set of needs to fulfill.
John Lake, a STEM-path student from Atlanta, Ga., majoring in civil engineering, said the program has not limited his academic exploration.
“We are still encouraged to a co-op or internship. The instructors are willing to work with you on Skype if you’re studying abroad,” Lake said. “They are not trying to exclude anything.”
West, who is studying abroad this summer, agreed that the STEM program has only provided more opportunities.
“If anything, STEM has opened more doors for me. Since I’m already taking MBA classes, employers can take the fact that I’m getting my MBA seriously,” West said.
The STEM path to the MBA class of 2016 will have class together every semester until graduation. In addition to the practical skills they are learning, many students value the relationships they are building with their peers.
“I like the fact that we are going to be together for five years, especially since we are all science and engineering majors,” said Joey Neff, who is majoring in biology and Spanish and who spent one Saturday helping West move. “We are a big family, and we find our little family within it.”
Lake agreed these relationships are a valuable part of the STEM path program and will continue to be valuable beyond graduation.
“Just building these relationships is a benefit of STEM,” Lake said. “Even once we’re in the workplace, and I am confident we all will be, having those connections on down the line is something we can benefit from.”
With several students already enrolled for next year’s STEM-path class, the program shows promise of growth. While there are currently no concrete plans for the future of the program, there are many ideas. In addition to toying with the idea of adding other paths to the MBA for creative majors like dance or art, Morgan and Petty are working to add a service component to the program.
“The biggest thing I would like to see happen in the future is to get the students into service learning by creating business plans for local or struggling businesses,” Petty said. “We want the STEM students to be known for something, and we want to make sure they have something sustained.”
West and her peers are looking forward to what benefits the future with the STEM path will bring.
“I discovered a lot of them just this semester, but there are benefits I probably don’t even know about yet,” West said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
While the future of these intelligent, 18-year-olds will only be told with time, they are already proud of what they are doing.
“There are a few bumps in the road once in a while, but it is going to be great to watch the program grow and say we were the first class,” Corpus said. “I’m proud to be the guinea pig.”