A key tenet of Clemson University’s MBA program is empowering students to experience and solve real-world business problems while earning their advanced degrees.

Six Sigma, MBA, workplace solutions

MBA 803 students tapped classroom knowledge to solve work-related problems.
Image Credit: College of Business

The concept of ‘fixing the plane while it’s in flight’ is put into practice throughout the MBA curriculum. Working professionals in the program are applying their classroom knowledge to solve business problems they are encountering in their everyday work lives.

No better example of how workplaces are benefiting from their student-employees is MBA 803 statistics, a class led by Dee Kivett, a lecturer and Six Sigma black belt who received her MBA and Ph.D in automotive engineering from Clemson.

“This class teaches student-employees how to use data to make decisions and drive action in their professional lives,” said Kivett, who is also CEO of an upstate engineering and manufacturing consulting business. “By empowering students to apply the right statistical tool to a problem, they are becoming more effective in their jobs and bringing value to their employers.”

Each of the eight teams of working professionals identified an issue within one of their organizations and set out to find a solution. All of the teams made presentations on their challenges to cohorts and are now working with senior leadership to implement, or test their proposals.

MBA, Six Sigma, workplace solutions

Teams from various companies solved an issue at one of their organizations.
Image Credit: College of Business

The problem/solution scenarios run the gamut from streamlining manufacturing efficiencies and improving the quality of hospital patients’ food to adjusting restaurant menu pricing and server training to standardizing the shape and size of chocolate chip cookies.

Kivett said the MBA program’s project-based learning model utilizes a Six Sigma methodology that employs a tried and true statistical approach to problem solving that has been around for decades. By learning which statistical tools to use for a given problem in the workplace today, Kivett said students are more apt to retain that knowledge long after they leave the classroom.

“Unlike traditional learning which focuses on theories, practical application learning has a tendency to stick. Five years from now, students will more likely be able to go through the phases of problem solving and know the right tools to use,” Kivett added.

Applying those right tools to business practices is helping Mieke Nelson and her MBA teammates enhance a process for global tire manufacturer Michelin. A team leader, Nelson and her cohorts set out to improve a research and development process for testing tires.

Nelson is an industrial engineer at Michelin’s North American headquarters in Greenville. She works in research and development. In that role, Nelson ensures her division’s researchers and designers have everything they need to perform their jobs, effectively and efficiently. Her team set out to improve on the time involved in testing tires.

“Michelin is a very customer centric organization, so improving processes internally enables getting the product to market faster,” Nelson said. “Our team drilled into a lot of data and was able to identify areas that could be improved. Our solution will help streamline the testing process, which will improve employee satisfaction, and ultimately benefit customers by getting products to market more efficiently.”

The project-based learning and Six Sigma methodology was embraced by Nelson’s team for its approach to problem solving, as well as the resulting benefits it brings to a real business issue.

“Teammates especially like that the exercise allowed them to achieve an outcome that was useful to an organization,” she said. “And companies benefit from having professionals from other business sectors lending an objective eye to an issue they face.”

Kivett said the learning concept is arming students with the ability to use information long after their classroom work is completed. And in the process, students are bringing value to their employers and advancing their careers.

“This project-based learning concept is something Clemson’s MBA program prides itself on and weaves into various levels of the curriculum,” said Greg Pickett, director of MBA programs and senior associate dean of the College of Business. “By practically applying their learning to workplace issues, students are finding solutions to problems and as a result employers are reaping the power of the program while their employees are still in the classroom.”

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