Graduate Game Changer: Inside Michigan Tech’s new MBA program

When Warren Call talks about the MBA program Michigan Tech University (MTU) is bringing to Traverse City this fall, he’s not shy about describing it as a game changer.

Call, who serves as president and CEO of Traverse Connect, has had a front row seat – and a key partnership role – in MTU’s steady expansion into the Traverse City region. Last fall, following years of partnerships, articulation agreements, and memoranda of understanding with local organizations, MTU took a step in establishing a Traverse City Research Workspace on the second floor of the Traverse Connect building, thanks to an invitation from Call.

Since then, MTU has been getting more involved in all manner of conversations and initiatives around town. The biggest of those efforts, Call said, is likely the partnership between MTU, Traverse Connect, Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), 20Fathoms, and Discovery Center & Pier to build a $60 million freshwater research facility on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay. That project, if successful, would be a big, loud, obvious game changer for the region.

But when Call looks at MTU’s new local MBA offering, he sees a quieter but no less transformative milestone for Traverse City’s business landscape.

The MBA that MTU is bringing to Traverse City is part of the school’s TechMBA® program, described on the MTU website as a combination of the foundational skills found in any typical MBA program – including the “skills, knowledge, and experience to succeed in the business world” – and the “cross-discipline advantage of studying at a top engineering and technology research university.”

The result, Call said, is a unique “engineering-focused MBA” that has already piqued the interest of multiple Traverse City businesses and organizations – particularly among the local manufacturing sector.

“Our manufacturing companies are pretty excited about it,” Call said.

The program is not manufacturing only. It’s set up for manufacturing workers who need additional levels of skill to become a manager or a director of a company.

“If you look at the skill gap survey we put out last year, there’s clearly a lot of demand for skilled people in manufacturing to begin with, but there’s specifically that gap (of leadership),” Call said. “As in, ‘I’ve got somebody on my team, and I’m glad to have them, but they don’t have quite the skill level that I need.’”

Call sees other areas of potential for the TechMBA program, too.

“I was talking with some of our technology-oriented companies at 20Fathoms, and some of them are quite interested in this program,” he said. “And then, ultimately, it’s just a good MBA from a good school, so there may be people from diverse industries that are interested as well.”

For its part, MTU sees bringing the TechMBA to Traverse City as just the latest step in an ambitious effort to transcend its geographic roots. In recent years, MTU has invested in establishing a robust remote learning program called Global Campus. That program seeks to offer online degrees or certificates from MTU, but not necessarily in the typical online learning setting.

Instead, MTU’s Global Campus programs utilize videoconferencing, live streaming, interactive technologies, and a state-of-the-art learning management system for students to access course materials, communicate with instructors, and interact with classmates in ways that typically aren’t possible in an online learning setting.

That immersive approach to online education is at the basis of the TechMBA. According to Mari Buche, associate dean for MTU’s college of business, MTU used to have an online MBA program, but scrapped it a few years ago because the very structured format made the program difficult for working individuals to fit into their schedules.

MTU has worked ever since to pilot a hybrid version of its existing TechMBA that avoids those pitfalls, and the TechMBA coming to Traverse City is that program.

Like any typical remote learning offering, the online TechMBA makes it possible for students not on MTU’s Houghton campus to work through the 30 credits and eight core classes of the degree from afar. Those enrolled in the program in Traverse City will experience a measure of the traditional in-person MBA program.

Most of those pupils, Buche said, will come to the Traverse Connect building at the same time the core TechMBA classes occur on MTU’s campus – 5:30pm-8:15pm, Monday through Thursday – and join in with the on-campus classrooms via virtual technologies.

“So they’ll still get that benefit of being face-to-face with their peers in Traverse City area, as well as participating in discussions with the rest of the class that’s here at Michigan Tech,” Buche said.

In addition to the remote synchronous learning version of the TechMBA – which will ultimately consist of four classes each in the fall and spring semesters – Buche noted that MTU’s Global Campus vision has also led the university to launch a fully online version of the MBA program. So, if students prefer to work through the MBA coursework mostly on their own, or if they have schedules that don’t allow them to make MTU’s standard evening course hours, there is an asynchronous option available.

“(The asynchronous students) might still use that space in Traverse City, for some teamwork and personal engagement type experiences,” Buche said. “But they wouldn’t be restricted to the 5:30 p.m.-8:15 p.m. time frame.”

Call likes the model of the program in large part because of its in-person, face-to-face learning possibilities. Until now, there has only been one MBA path offering in-person coursework in Traverse City: the Davenport University MBA program, offered through the NMC University Center.

Other MBA programs popular among local professionals either require commuting (the Michigan State University Executive MBA program) or are fully online (highly ranked online MBAs like the one from the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management). The arrival of the TechMBA at Traverse Connect adds one more in-person option to the table, which Call thinks will be beneficial to students.

“If there’s one thing that’s really important to have with an MBA program, it’s your cohort of fellow students, working together on projects and things,” Call says. “That’s really the value of an MBA program, I think. So, I’m just so thrilled that we’re able to do that here.”

The first TechMBA cohort in Traverse City will begin coursework this fall, with Traverse Connect and MTU aiming for 12-20 enrollees. More information can be found online at www.mtu.edu/business/graduate/techmba.

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