May 20, 2019 | By Chuck Carlson
For 13 Albion College students this spring, an opportunity to take a course affiliated with Harvard Business School was simply too good to pass up.
“We recruited within the [Economics and Management] Department and in 36 hours the class was full,” said E&M professor Vicki Baker, who piloted the program for Albion. “In fact it was supposed to be limited to 10 students, but we were able to get 13. They jumped at it because when they heard 'Harvard Business School,' it pretty much sold itself.”
What it sold was an opportunity for students from five institutions in the Michigan Colleges Alliance to collaborate with Harvard Business School Online to work on a research-based business project in a blended learning program.
And when the MCA put out the word to its member schools, Albion Provost Marc Roy and E&M professor and chair John Bedient were intrigued. They asked Baker if she’d be interested in facilitating a program at Albion and she jumped at the opportunity.
“I thought it would be pretty cool,” she said.
For Harvard, it was a chance to expand its horizons, too.
“When we built this course, one of my hopes was that it could be utilized to educate young people about the important role that business has in tackling some of the challenging issues of our time,” Harvard Business School professor Rebecca Henderson said in a press release about the program. “The students and faculty from the MCA campuses who participated in this pilot are pioneers.”
A total of 69 students from five MCA schools—the others were Adrian College, Andrews University, Aquinas College and Spring Arbor University—spent four weeks on specially designed projects of interest to them.
In Albion’s case, it involved working with Thetford Corp., an international supplier of recreational vehicle products with its main headquarters in Ann Arbor. The subject was environmental awareness and sustainability.
Students broke into three teams to produce theoretical environmental sustainability pitches for Thetford that would allow the company to see a return on investment. Baker said it was a partnership not only between the students and Thetford, but with online guidance from Harvard.
The result was a 22-slide PowerPoint presentation that explained what Thetford was as well as the steps it was taking to become more environmentally responsive.
Each student also received a one-quarter class credit and a certificate of completion.
“It was the quintessential liberal arts environment,” Baker said. “They had to work in global teams and this helped create a global experience for students. It was a case of how do we get this knowledge and apply it to a real problem? This is what a liberal arts education is. It’s about real problems. It was a perfect fit.”
Baker hopes the program continues because of the experience provided to students as well as the opportunity to collaborate with an entity associated with Harvard University.
“It was a wonderful program for us,” she said. “It offered curriculum that might not otherwise be offered on campus and it was another opportunity for expanding the curriculum to students and faculty. It was cutting-edge through the Harvard Business School, and you can’t get any better than that.”