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Kellogg offers more than 40 experiential learning classes, offering students the opportunity to solve real-world challenges by partnering with the school’s corporate partners.

Kellogg School students tackle real-world business challenges through experiential learning

By Dylan Walsh

6/30/2017 - In the classroom, theory is taught, foundational skills are practiced, and both are reinforced through case studies or group projects. Outside of the classroom, the complexity of business often presents challenges beyond lesson plans.

“The reality is that the world has many different dimensions that involve things such as missing or incomplete data, competitors and so on,” said Russell Walker, a Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences at the Kellogg School of Management. “We never really have the pristine environment that we’re taught about in theoretical courses.”

To help bridge this divide, Walker teaches three of Kellogg’s more than 40 experiential learning classes, including the increasingly popular Analytical Consulting Lab, in which teams of students use analytics to resolve challenges for real businesses. Past corporate partners involved in the class include Google, Nike, United Airlines and IBM, to name a few.

While these offerings provide deeper educational opportunities, Walker was quick to note that experiential learning does not replace standard coursework at Kellogg; learning economic theory and business foundations remains essential. Rather, experiential learning provides a “tremendous complement” to the work that goes on in other classes.

Ranging in topic from social enterprise and entrepreneurship to data analytics and private equity, experiential learning courses and projects often take the form of fieldwork with customers or small “consulting-style” projects for clients. In some cases, as with the Analytical Consulting Lab, students spend all of their time focused on an external project; in others, standard coursework—lecture, discussion—makes up as much as 70 percent of the class, and external projects fill the remaining time.

“There is a tremendous breadth of offerings across the experiential learning curriculum,” said Associate Director of Experiential Learning Karen Larson. “And if students are unable to find a class that covers their area of interest they are encouraged to build an independent study.”

For instance, when joint JD-MBA graduate Drew Dilts ’17 was helping to run two new startups outside of his coursework, he wanted to learn about operations for entrepreneurs. With the guidance of Professor Walker, he designed and led an independent study specific to this concern. “With these kinds of projects,” said Walker, “there is tremendous opportunity for students to demonstrate their leadership.”

Marrying classroom content with experience
Experiential courses also provide students an important mark of differentiation when applying for jobs and internships—something that is especially useful for students who are approaching Kellogg as a bridge from one industry to another. Dilts, for instance, arrived at graduate school after serving as a PeaceCorps volunteer in rural West Africa. By exposing him to complex challenges in specific industries, experiential learning has given him invaluable fodder for job applications and interviews.

As Associate Director Larson put it, “if you have an engineering background and want to break into marketing, you can find a project that will help you hone your market research or strategy skills.” The high profile of brands that choose to partner with Kellogg only amplifies the value of this work when it appears on students’ resumes, as does the development of new skill sets.

Associate Professor of Marketing Michal Maimaran, who teaches Marketing Research and Analytics, also provides opportunities for students to hone new skills. In her class, students might spend one day learning about how to conduct exploratory research, interviews or focus groups, and the week following, they have the opportunity to put those skills into practice. After discussing survey design, students launch their own surveys; after discussing the fundamentals of data analytics, they collect and analyze their own data. Anything that’s learned in class is shortly thereafter tested on real-world projects. “This process allows students to have a hands-on experience that is of interest to them and real value to the client,” Maimaran said. Recent corporate partners in the course include the Gatorade, the Chicago Bulls, U.S. Bank, Cisco, L’Oréal and MillerCoors.

Bringing a fresh perspective
When it comes to corporate partners, highly recognizable brands are keen to partner with experiential learning classes for a simple reason: the benefits of these classes flow not only to the students, but also back to the companies that take part.

A 2014 Kellogg graduate, Nick Maglio is a strategy lead at the financial services firm Brown Brothers Harriman. One of his concerns is the growing use of ‘robo-trading’: financial companies increasingly offer the management of financial portfolios through the application of an algorithm rather than the oversight of a person. Interested in understanding what kind of risk the firm faces from this automation, and how it might best manage it, Maglio partnered with a team of Kellogg students enrolled in the Risk Lab.

“What was most helpful was to have perspectives beyond my own,” he said. “These incredibly bright students all brought different backgrounds and experiences to the challenge.” Based on the project’s success last time, he is in the process of finding a suitable topic for another project in the fall.

To ensure positive outcomes like this one, the professors of experiential learning classes help guide students, when necessary, toward the best questions and deliverables. Maimaran, for instance, brings experienced mentors into her class and assigns each one to work with a handful of teams. “It’s like having an expert right on your shoulder as you go through this process,” Dilts said.

Industry-specific experience
Before assuming his role at Brown Brothers Harriman, Maglio arrived at Kellogg interested in careers in sports management and credit risk. “Most classes at business school are skills-based or functions-based—finance, marketing, digital analytics,” he said. “But rarely does a class go into a particular industry, like media, or financial services or spirits.” By taking two experiential learning classes—the Analytical Consulting Lab and the Risk Lab—Maglio was able to dive into the specific industries that interested him. In the ACL, he worked with the Chicago Bulls; in the Risk Lab, he worked with Discover, analyzing credit exposure and risk.

JD-MBA 2017 graduate Drew Dilts, on the other hand, enrolled this past winter in the Health and Human Rights class, offered via a partnership between the Kellogg School of Management, the Pritzker School of Law and the Feinberg School of Medicine. In doing so, Dilts worked on a 10-week project to develop “safe spaces” for Syrian refugees in Lebanon—places where women and children could go to receive support services generally unavailable in camps or on the street. After completing the project, Dilts boarded a plane from Chicago to Beirut, where he met with the refugees he had been working for. “I conducted on-the-ground fieldwork for what is arguably one of the most pressing international humanitarian crisis at the moment.”

Whether a student’s interest focuses on finance, or humanitarian aid, “this curriculum makes it easy for them to personalize their experiences,” Larson said.

Interested in learning more about experiential learning at Kellogg? Contact karen-larson@kellogg.northwestern.edu.

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