By Corbett B. Daly

Arizona Daily Wildcat

oel Levinson did not expect to be a consultant his first year in graduate school.

Levinson, a first-year graduate student in the University of Arizona College of Business and Public Administration, also works as a consultant to BDM International to explain opportunities created under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

His work is part of a unique program at the University of Arizona's master's program at the business college.

Chris Puto, associate dean of the business school and director of the Karl Eller Graduate School of Management, said companies increasingly "want to hire MBA graduates who have a sense of what it's like to be in a management position."

In order to do that, first-year students participate in an advanced management business simulation also used by senior corporate managers during executive development sessions.

The computer simulation "lets them see all of the intricacies of how a business works," Puto said, including the results of a decision in one area and its impact on other areas of the business.

During the spring semester, nearly all first-year students take a course in marketing research that allows even more real-life experience.

Susan Heckler, a marketing assistant professor, teaches the course and solicits cooperation from both profit-driven and non-profit organizations to utilize the students' skills.

The students act as consultants to the company's management team, using focus groups and mail and telephone surveys, and deliver a report to the company's manager with their suggestions.

"It's a nice way (to get advice) for organizations who can't afford professional market research," Heckler said.

But the consulting is not completely free, she said.

"Clients have to be willing to pay for cost of doing the research (including photocopying and telephone expenses), but they don't pay for time," she said.

Puto said the UA is unique in its approach because most MBA programs still emphasize the traditional classroom experience.

The University of Michigan does include work experience as part of its curriculum, but the UA's program goes further in its quest for reality, Puto said. He said he helped develop Michigan's program when he was a professor there.

Just as medical students work in hospitals, Puto said he thinks it is important for business students to spend time in companies.

The business students do not get compensation for their work, but the community benefits, he said.

"We do it as a community service," Puto said.

He said the students work in teams who are hired and fired "just like the real world."

Along the same lines, students can be hired by another team and potentially get a better grade if they end up with a better group. If a fired student is not picked up by another team, special arrangements are made, but "about the best (grade) you can get is a C," he said.

"(The program) puts our students in a position to be as knowledgeable and sophisticated as any of the students from the so-called big-name schools," such as Harvard and Northwestern, Puto said.

Levinson said he believes strongly in the case study approach to business school, and "this is the case study approach taken to the extreme."

"It's given me the unique opportunity to act with the business community and develop market research skills," Levinson said. Read Next Article