Test-driving the business world

Fuqua allows students to study in real time with its array of experiential-learning programs.
October 24, 2016

Sean Lilly Wilson M.B.A. ’00, the owner and self-described chief executive optimist of Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery, participated in Fuqua’s inaugural class of Mentored Study in Entrepreneurship. The experience, he says, gave him real-world insight.

“I could take what I was learning in business school and apply it to a fast-growing, dynamic start-up environment,” he says.

The program places students in part-time internships during the school year, pairing them with local start-up and early-stage companies, nonprofit organizations, real-estate developers, venture-capital firms, and other entrepreneurial ventures.

Mentored Study is just one of several experiential-learning programs students can choose from to enhance the learning that happens in Fuqua classrooms.

“Experiential learning complements all the academic work we do,” says Russ Morgan, the associate dean for the Duke M.B.A. Daytime and Master of Management Studies programs. “It plays a role in early team building, leadership development, and career preparation.”

Duke is home to a number of other hands-on learning programs: The Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP) enhances students’ business education by developing collaborative consulting engagements with businesses and nonprofit organizations; Fuqua on Board allows students to serve as non-voting board members at Durham nonprofit agencies; and the Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE) gives students an opportunity to study the business, culture, economy, and politics of a country or region for six weeks before traveling to the area studied.

Jordan S.E. Smith M.B.A. ’16 says experiential learning was one of the reasons he chose to attend Fuqua in the first place. “You get to practice and employ what you are learning in real time.”

Smith participated in the Fuqua on Board program. He served on the board of the Durham Nativity School from October 2014 to October 2015. “I discovered a passion for education. I ended up at a charter school.”

It was the perfect match for Smith, who as an African American felt he could make a significant impact at an all-male middle school for mostly African-American and Hispanic boys.

“I got to attend seminars and training. I worked pretty closely with the staff on a project to help them track donor funding. I felt like I was a member of the team. I was creating value-added work,” says Smith.

Fuqua on Board is one of the most popular experiential programs, according to Ruth Tolman, director of student life at Fuqua. “We have to turn people away it’s so competitive,” she says. Generally, seventy-five to ninety students apply for forty-eight spots.

Tolman partly attributes the demand to the fact that many Fuqua graduates anticipate being asked to serve on boards. “This program makes them better alumni and board members,” she says.

James D. Emery, an associate professor of the practice, says another sought-after program is the Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum. Last school year, about 157 students enrolled in the course. Students provide services ranging from accounting and marketing to strategic planning for start-ups and large multinational corporations. Clients range from those specializing in social-entrepreneurial ventures to energy, guaranteeing that all students can find a place to work that suits their diverse interests.

Roughly 200 students participate in the GATE program, traveling to South Africa, China, and Latin America, Morgan says. “Certain things we can talk about in a classroom, other things you have to experience for yourself.” Learning about customs, culture, economics, and business context comes from inhabiting a region and getting to see and live it, at least for a short period.

For those students wanting to stay closer to campus, Mentored Study provides personal and meaningful experiences. About 130 students participate in the program.

Wilson says he’s more than happy to give Fuqua students the opportunity to work at his craft brewery located in downtown Durham. It’s a win for both the students and the companies.

“We gain a lot from their knowledge, problem-solving, and their ability to communicate,” he says. And because he participated in the program as a Fuqua student, Wilson takes the task as mentor seriously. “It’s not just finding them a terminal to work on solo or shuffling them to someone else. I work with the students.”

One of those students, Mike Mannella M.B.A. ’15, worked at Fullsteam in the Mentored Study program and later as a summer intern. “I tried things out that I didn’t have exposure to in my old job. He took me on sales calls. He even took me to an auction to look at equipment for the back of the house…. It’s all about throwing the person into the experience, which is fantastic. Not everyone has the chance to test-drive their industry before accepting a summer internship.”

Other experiential programs include:

The Program 4 Entrepreneurs (P4E) leverages academic research, courses, and a broad community of practitioners to help entrepreneurs define, plan, establish, and finance new ventures. Students in this program have started companies that set out to make Wii games for autistic children; built wind farms; developed medical devices for people with glaucoma; and created a central repository for all immunization records.

Duke Armed Forces Association (DAFA) organizes Operation Blue Devil to provide Fuqua students with the ability to experience leadership outside the classroom from the men and women of the elite Special Operations Forces.

Duke University Hospital Experiential Learning Program (DUH ELP) helps Health Sector Management students understand hospital systems better by enabling them to see how the delivery of health care actually works and what factors go into business decisions at the hospital level.

New Ventures Clinic gives students the opportunity to work directly with researchers to establish new ventures related to Duke-based intellectual property, for example, commercializing a process to create genetically engineered spider silk for use in military protective gear and other settings.