Real World Learning, Real World Results

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Does an advanced MBA degree really provide the tools for real world results?

Academic institutions concentrate on learning, delivering the academic fundamentals that create a foundation of intelligence, but is there a practical aspect to this institutional “magic”?

For one Dallas-based institution, “higher learning” has turned into higher program rankings – and an improved student experience as well. The New York Times reports that academic rigor has changed, particularly in the undergraduate environment. The “new rigor” ain’t all that rigorous, as seen here in “The Default Major – Skating through B-School” in the New York Times. Business programs also attract more than their share of students who approach college in purely instrumental terms, as a plausible path to a job. But does that model even work anymore?

Consider this quotation:

“Business education has come to be defined in the minds of students as a place for developing elite social networks and getting access to corporate recruiters,”says Rakesh Khurana, a professor at Harvard Business School who is a prominent critic of the field. It’s an attitude that Dr. Khurana first saw in M.B.A. programs but has migrated, he says, to the undergraduate level.

SMU Cox School of Business logo
One school that seems to “get it”, and understands that the MBA degree is more than just an instrument (or means to an end) is Dallas’ own Southern Methodist University. Founded in 1911, the school celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, as well as a longstanding tradition of real world excellence, particularly in the Edwin L. Cox School of Business. But what’s most impressive is the school’s commitment to expansive teaching, from the Dallas business community. Spearheaded by Dean Al Niemi, the Business Leadership Center is led by Paula Strasser, a twenty-year SMU veteran with close ties to the Dallas marketplace. Paula has assembled a team of 67 experts from the DFW area, to assist in the real world learning of SMU MBA students. While other schools feature impressive boards, and invite CEOs to speak on a regular basis, SMU augments that approach – adding significantly to the real world impact of the degree.

While the university attracts nationally-recognized business leaders, local practitioners provide actionable and compelling insights into the day-to-day world of finance, communications, customer innovation, project management and more.

“The Edwin L. Cox Business Leadership Center (BLC) develops strong leadership skills that are fundamental in the world of business”, according to the BLC brochure.

I’m proud to be a part of this organization, and join an elite group of 67 business pro’s who care about SMU, the MBA degree, and the greater Dallas business community.

For other MBA programs that aspire to improve their rankings (and the student experience), they must consider the role of the greater business community within the academic environment. What distinguishes the SMU degree is that community connection, and the powerful and tangible networking experience that creates a truly unique learning experience.

Approximately 92% of Cox graduate students actively participate in the BLC elective programs – meaning, MBA students invest their time with no grade or credit hours as a ‘reward’. The learning and exposure is, in itself, the value equation – and students report that the experience is impactful, and necessary.


Chris Westfall is an award-winning instructor at the Business Leadership Center (BLC) at SMU. He regularly speaks on leadership issues in his MBA seminar, “Pick a Team and Win.” He was recently recognized by MBA students with the top teaching award from the Cox School of Business. His next BLC seminar is Monday, October 3rd, 2011.

An alumni of SMU, Chris graduated with a BFA degree from the Meadows School of the Arts. As the national elevator pitch champion, he regularly offers seminars to MBA programs and universities. Other colleges include:

Photo courtesy of Ian. Used under creative commons, some rights reserved.

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