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Master Plan

Bay Path’s New MBA to Introduce ’Entrevation’ To the Business Community
Bay Path College has been gradually adding entrepreneurial programming with the goals of broadening both the educational experience of its students and the school’s reach within the region’s business community for several years. Now with a new MBA serving as the crown jewel of those initiatives, the college is no longer building momentum, but capitalizing on the unique niche it has already developed.

Bay Path College began its Innovative Thinking and Entrepreneurship Lecture Series three years ago, calling further attention to the school’s burgeoning entrepreneurial focus within its undergraduate business program.

The college also created an Innovators’ Roundtable, consisting of area business leaders from Western Mass. and Connecticut, to serve as both advisors and mentors to business students. And somewhere in between entering students into the regional business concept program (and seeing those students take top honors) and coining a new term to describe a core class within the business program ‚ entrevation ‚ a light bulb went on collectively above the heads of Bay Path administrators and professors. Soon, plans went into motion to create a new master’s degree program in business administration that would build on the college’s existing entrepreneurial momentum.

That light bulb is now part of all informational materials regarding the college’s newest graduate degree program, an MBA in Entrepreneurial Thinking and Innovative Practices. It is often accompanied by the story of Thomas Edison, who didn’t actually invent the light bulb ‚ British inventor Warren De la Rue did ‚ but instead took an existing product, improved it, and effectively marketed it.

Classes within the new master’s program, the college’s fourth, will begin in October. And just as it stems from a greater push for entrepreneurial programming campus-wide, Janette Ruder, director of the program, expects that its addition to the college’s academic repertoire will also enhance existing programs as well as the overall economic health of the region, as it prepares students for business ownership, career advances, and to make a greater impact within their chosen industries.

"There has really been a campus-wide effort to strengthen our entrepreneurial programming and make it a more distinctive part of the education we offer," said Ruder. "Over the past three years we have added courses and secured a grant from the Coleman Foundation to begin the lecture series and other programs. There has been an overall focus on the development of cooperative education, and it’s within that context that we created the MBA."

Brenda Wishart, director of the undergraduate entrepreneurial program and the creator and professor of the entrevation course, agreed with Ruder that the MBA represents the latest step in a wider effort to bring a new way of thinking to today’s business students, and added that it is expected to bring greater notoriety to existing programs and events at Bay Path.

"We are definitely building on existing things," she said, "and there are also programs that are still developing. Everything that is happening or being planned will include a lot of theory, but will also include the application of skills in real-world environments, and to see how positive and effective that synergy is can be exciting."

The Business of Books and Brainstorming

Wishart said students the new graduate are expected to bring a new layer of experience and insight to the entrepreneurial programming, noting that existing programs at Bay Path will be a large part of the MBA coursework, including the annual lecture series, which last year featured Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and this year will welcome Craig Rydin, president and CEO of Yankee Candle. The students will also interact closely with the Innovators’ Roundtable and participate in entrepreneurship challenges.

The new program is tailored toward working professionals, however. It can be completed in a year or spaced out over two years, and includes components, Ruder explained, that were designed to preserve the traditional core elements associated with an MBA, and also incorporate coursework geared toward teaching more fluid skills. These include developing and executing new ideas, services, and products in the workplace, and strengthening and enhancing creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

Those skill sets, Ruder said, are of increasing importance in today’s workplace, be it a large corporation or a small business venture, due to changing consumer preferences and technology, an expanding global marketplace, and unique financial pressures that require forward-thinking interventions.

"We completed a year of market research before presenting the idea for this specific MBA program," she said. "To offer a degree that would address specific challenges, we knew it had to be one that was both innovative and traditional ‚ a traditional MBA, but with an emphasis on a new way of thinking."

Most MBA programs, Ruder explained, are similar in their coursework and structure, and have been for some time. That’s because the traditional MBA model follows a specific pattern of theory, application of skills, and study of several areas of business including management, finance, and marketing, which has proven to be largely beneficial for students.

For that reason, Ruder said the MBA in Entrepreneurial Thinking and Innovative Practices will not surrender those more traditional components in favor of more modern, or ’cutting-edge’ teaching methods. Instead, it will incorporate new components and teaching practices into that model in order to introduce the ideas of growth and creation in today’s business climate.

"It’s a balancing act," she said. "An effective MBA program should be knowledge-based, and we cannot drift too far into the creativity side of things and risk losing the necessary meat and potatoes that students need. There will be a constant back-and-forth in this program, to ensure that students are getting a rich educational experience."

To that end, the structure of the program has been tailored to include three specific layers of business lessons ‚ both practical and theory-based in nature.

"There will be courses in those core skills ‚ finance, management, and qualitative decision-making, for instance," said Ruder. "There will also be business courses that introduce the ideas surrounding growth strategies and entrepreneurial management ‚ essentially, looking at the ’big plan.’

And finally, courses will be incorporated that address the overall awareness of the environment in which we operate," she continued. "These will examine ethics and legal issues, for instance, and will all be pulled together will constant application, discussion, workshops, and the incorporation of current themes in business and across the nation."

William Sipple, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Bay Path, said several local business leaders and entrepreneurs contributed to the development of the degree program, in part through the Innovators’ Roundtable.

"What we found was an increasing need for people in business to be able to think in creative ways," he said, "and also that there was room for a niche such as this in the region. Just as those leaders have assisted us in developing the program, we think this MBA is going to be good for the overall development of the region. This area fosters a lot of new or reinvented businesses, and we are trying, with this degree, to offer core business skills that are extremely relevant to local business as a whole."

That relevance to the business world is a key factor that is emphasized often by the program’s directors and faculty, and in the program’s literature, in part to better explain the very nature of the program. Sipple said one danger related to the title of ’entrepreneurial thinking’ is that often, people associate it with opening a new business, and fail to see the program’s relevance to other career paths.

"We hope to teach courses geared toward a new way of thinking," he said, "but this is not necessarily a degree just for people who want to start their own business. It’s an MBA program very much rooted in core disciplines, with the flavor of being able to think beyond the norm, see new uses for existing skills, or react to issues to best address the needs of a given organization. We believe that, following our research of several industries, that this is the edge that people need to manage their companies and themselves."

Lighting the Way

The added thrust of innovation within Bay Path’s new MBA program has made organizing the program and translating its unique aspects to prospective students a challenge. But Ruder said the college has relied heavily on its existing infrastructure within the entrepreneurial arts to best explain the strengths of the new program.

"I’ve never seen such synergy between the development of a new program and the existing rhythm of a college," she said, repeating a word that Wishart had already used to describe Bay Path’s entrepreneurial efforts. "I think the whole environment here is entrepreneurial, and as we meet with prospective students, we are explaining to them that they will embody one of the region’s most recent answers to the needs of the business community ‚ college prepared professionals with a solid core of business experience and knowledge, with the added ability to think differently, and more effectively."

In short, Ruder hopes the college’s first class of MBA students will leave Bay Path prepared to create a more innovative business world and a thriving local economy; or even invent ‚ and market ‚ a better light bulb.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]