FROM B-SCHOOL TO E-SCHOOL
by Liza Braunlich
Gerald Powell, global market advisor for Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis, wanted to complete an MBA (Master of Business Administration) with the flexibility to accommodate work time and family time.
At that time, Powell thought his options for completing an MBA meant a traditional classroom setting on weekends or evenings. Then he learned of a new executive program from Purdue University. The EMBA in Food and Agribusiness program at Purdue launched in 1999. It is a two-year program that takes full advantage of interactive distance learning tools.
"The time commitment of about 20 hours per week in a traditional executive MBA was similar to the commitment that I have in the Purdue EMBA program, but the difference is flexibility," Powell says. "The time commitment has been manageable due to the flexibility of 24/7 accessibility."
TECHNOLOGY CREATED OPPORTUNITY
That flexibility is just what Purdue had in mind when developing the program.
"The initial impetus for us to create the program came from our work in the Center for Agricultural Business (CAB)," says Dr. Jay Akridge, program director. "The clientele for our non-degree programs requested we offer a degree program. About that time, customer demand and technological capabilities came together."
With that, Akridge and his colleagues at CAB and the Krannert School of Management went to work. Krannert is recognized as one of the top 25 business schools in the nation, referred to in b-school lingo as top-tier. It already offered an executive program that had a distance component. The EMBA in Food and Agribusiness took it a step further and made online delivery of the program the primary source of content.
A student taking full advantage of the top-tier b-school program is Eric Perry, grain industry manager for DuPont Specialty Grains in Johnston, Iowa. Halfway through the program he moved from North Carolina to Iowa, and never missed a step in class while doing so.
"The single biggest advantage the Purdue EMBA in Food and Agribusinss program offered me is total flexibility to 'attend class' anywhere at any time," Perry says. "The Purdue program is one of the few MBA programs out there that would allow me to move and still complete the program. Courses are structured so that I can do my course work when it best fits my schedule."
Perry had explored other MBA options. "Purdue not only offered a high caliber program, but also a program that was designed to focus on the production of food and fiber," he says.
While the flexibility adds to the feasibility of the program for participants, it has also proved more than capable as a delivery mechanism for demanding course material. During the 22-week semester, students interact with lectures posted online, work in study groups and participate in discussions through online bulletin boards. Two weeks each semester the class meets in person on the Purdue campus.
"Professors who haven't taught using this type of delivery are surprised at the interaction," Akridge says. "We provide support to our faculty members so the professors remain focused on their area of expertise while the EMBA staff works on the technical side of the delivery."
One professor commented to Akridge that this EMBA class is the most fun and most challenging teaching he's encountered. Another professor said the distance learning class covered more material than the fulltime MBA students covered in their daytime classes.
"The professors and curriculum are absolutely world class!" exclaims Powell. "Part of the magic is great communications tools supported by the EMBA staff. For group assignments, our case team turns on voice chat (Internet real-time voice interaction) to keep everyone aligned and productive. It's like being at work and stopping by someone's office."
And Powell says he has already applied what he learned in class. "I know how to write more effective job descriptions, how to prepare competitive analysis for merger candidates, and how to explain tariff policies' impacts on wheat prices and herbicide inputs," he says. "And I've learned it while working full time."
For more information about the Purdue EMBA in food and agribusiness, visit www.emba-agbus.purdue.edu. AM
Liza Braunlich is distance education specialist for Purdue's EMBA in food and agribusiness program.