How do you find an employee that is skilled in technology but is flexible enough to deal with the demands of fast-paced markets and ever-changing business models? If you can’t find them in the pool of current IT workers, can you turn to universities to produce the perfect job candidate?

According to the University of Maryland, yes.

The University of Maryland’s MBA program combines cross-functional studies in business and technology with “real world” experiences. The program offers a vast selection of learning tools, including semester-long consulting projects, an executive lecture series, and experiential learning units, one of which incorporates a prison visit into the curriculum to teach business ethics.

Merging disciplines
The program emphasizes business functions such as accounting, finance, logistics, marketing, management, organizations, and strategy, said Beth Wade, assistant dean for external relations for the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. In addition, the University of Maryland’s MBA curriculum is integrated with IT-driven, cross-functional studies such as supply chain management, e-commerce, financial engineering, global knowledge management, and telecommunications, she said.

David Morse, a 1999 Maryland graduate and strategy consultant for ProxiCom Inc., an Internet services company based in Reston, VA, said technology is interwoven into all of the classes in the MBA program.

“In accounting, we studied AOL’s accounting practices. In Strategy, we performed case studies about Dell and Apple. Our capstone case competition [examined] how Amazon could become profitable. In a very real sense, learning about business in today’s world is learning about e-commerce, and Maryland stresses that fact,” said Morse.

Alan Potter, who will graduate from Maryland in May 2000, agreed.

“We learn both technical and non-technical aspects of technology and how technology applies to business from the strategy and vision of the business through the implementation and execution of that strategy,” he said.

The real world
Both Potter and Morse noted that the concepts learned in class were brought to life through interaction outside the classroom.

In the real world, Maryland’s MBA Consulting Program matches students with companies of various sizes and types for a semester-long consulting project. Companies pay approximately $10,000 to participate.

While attending U of M, Morse worked on several consulting projects, ranging from building an online survey to transforming an existing Web site from a brochure-ware site into a personalized, secured information exchange tool.

“Having these real-life experiences in a semi-controlled environment gave me the skills and confidence to hit the ground running in my current responsibilities,” said Morse.

“Too often, students in business school can be separated from the real world, especially the world of a start-up company,” said Rick Carten, consultant for XFI Corp, a Bethesda, MD-based start-up that develops decision support software for use on the Internet.

At XFI, a team of five second-year MBA students with an interest in entrepreneurship conducted a marketing evaluation of personal decision systems software developed by XFI.

Each student worked a total of eight hours a week for 12 weeks, contacting companies that might need the software to determine what features would be useful and to discuss pricing.

“[The MBA Consulting Program] gives students a real-life introduction into the culture of a five- to 10-person company. The students [who worked with us] reacted to our real-time needs and constantly adjusting models,” said Carten.

According to Carten, the project was “a comfortable way for the company to get to know students” they might wish to recruit and provided the company with “the latest business school thinking on different environments.”

Executive insight
Through an Executive Speakers series and experiential learning activities, students can draw on the experiences, both positive and negative, of executives in the field.

Potter said the speaker series gave him exposure to the insights of technology giants such as Jay Nussbaum, executive vice president of Oracle Service Industries.

The speakers shared their tips for success and discussed their experiences dealing with technology in the “real world,” according to Potter.

“All of this has helped to illustrate the theories discussed in class and show us how they are being used or misused out in the business world,” said Potter.

Students get additional exposure to the experiences of executives through four weeklong experiential learning units.

For example, during the Business Ethics Module, students learn tough lessons from former executives who have wrestled with moral responsibilities in areas such as environmental issues, product defects, workplace discrimination, drug testing, sexual harassment, whistle blowing, and “creative” accounting.

Students tour Allenwood Federal Prison and speak with former business executives-turned-inmates about the serious consequences of compromising ethical standards.

Assistant Dean Wade said the university’s partnerships with corporations and executives benefit everyone.

“Students gain real-world experience in solving business problems, working in diverse teams, developing presentation skills, building leadership skills, and leveraging technology,” said Wade. “Business and government leaders gain a quality work product, a fresh perspective on business management, and access to a highly talented, IT-smart MBA recruiting pool.”

Ellen Birkett Morris is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY.

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