STEM @ Work: Wired for Business

Case studies of STEM-related programs.
STEM @ Work: Wired for Business


In the European Union, a pilot program called MBA4PHD has been under way for two years. Funded by the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme, the pilot is focused on providing business skills to individuals in the STEMMA fields of science, technology, engineering, medicine, mathematics, and the arts. Four schools now participate: the University of Turku in Finland, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the University of Wales in the U.K., and EM LYON in France, the sole business-only school in the alliance.

Students enrolled in the program continue their scientific or technical training at their home universities, but tack on 12 to 18 months to pursue a management curriculum in parallel with their doctoral studies. Business modules are conceived and coordinated at the consortia level and can be delivered by local or consortia faculty. Intensive modules bring together most participants for shared residencies three times a year, and the EU’s Erasmus mobility program helps integrate faculty and students. Kirsi Peura of the University of Turku has been instrumental in coordinating the project.

The curriculum focuses on innovation, entrepreneurship, and the business acumen needed to bring ideas to market. “Creativity and technology are changing our lives and redefining the landscape of our economies, and we are witnessing unprecedented innovation in the tools and techniques we use to live and work,” says EM LYON’s Rickie Moore, an associate professor in entrepreneurship who has engineered the pedagogy for the MBA4PHD program.

Moore believes the MBA4PHD program will help students develop the skills they need to compete in the knowledge economy while still allowing them to practice their initial disciplines. It also will make sure the world doesn’t miss out on exciting inventions. “A lot of STEMMA graduates will come up with innovative ideas, but we want to see these ideas get to market and start transforming lives,” he says.

So far, the pilot program is small—two cohorts of ten or fewer students—but diverse, including men and women from a wide range of backgrounds and countries of origin who share an average age of 30. Moore expects the program to expand to schools across Europe, but only after the first graduates enter the workforce and administrators can assess how they might need to tweak the program.

“We’re applying our own methodology to ourselves,” says Moore. “We’re working on getting our prototype right before thinking about expanding.”

One of the challenges is securing funding. In Europe, Moore notes, doctoral students traditionally receive stipends from their universities, whereas MBA students pay for their degrees. To complicate things further, funding models for education are different among all the participating countries, and that’s likely to continue as the program goes forward. But the cost structure might see some changes. “We’re working on a funding model that allows the doctoral programs to embrace some of the costs for the MBA program,” says Moore.

While the MBA4PHD program is still in the pilot stage, Moore is also promoting what he calls the Contextualization STEMMA graduates. He has worked with program partners to organize workshops on knowledge transfer and entrepreneurship education for STEM and nonbusiness graduates. These workshops allow peer groups to discuss critical issues related to adapting entrepreneurship techniques to fields such as the life sciences, the creative industries, the media, and information and communication technologies.

Students who emerge from the workshops and pilot program are likely to embark on varied and fascinating careers. Moore theorizes that some graduates might manage multispecialty medical practices; others might handle big data for big pharma. Moore has already coached individuals working on innovative projects such as the commercialization of a molecule that slows the degeneration of brain cells and the development of a test protocol for personalizing radiation treatment.

But, Moore says, other students might end up taking jobs that no one even visualizes now. He wants to help prepare graduates for whatever the future throws at them. “Ten years ago, no one would have listed ‘app developer’ as a viable career choice,” he points out. “But today, mathematicians, statisticians, and artists are embracing entrepreneurship as they enter new careers in augmented reality, gamification, and digital animation. As wearable technology accelerates, we will see more collaboration and cross-fertilization among artists, stylists, designers, and engineers.”


Since Texas Tech University already had a strong STEM orientation at its Lubbock campus, it seemed natural for the Rawls College of Business to develop a STEM MBA. The program, launched in 2013, is packed with STEM-related cases and STEM-specific electives, such as a commercialization class.

Students come primarily from science and engineering backgrounds; the rigorous application process has, so far, resulted in cohorts of about 20 students each. While administrators expect a jump in class size with the 2015 fall cohort, they don’t plan to admit more than 40 students in any group.

Classes are led by business faculty with STEM backgrounds or co-taught by cross-disciplinary instructors. For instance, a course called STEM Theory to Business Practice is co-taught by an adjunct STEM professional and a marketing professor who comes from an engineering and computer background. According to dean Lance Nail, “Our professors can say, ‘These are the theories that you learned in your STEM discipline, and this is how they can be applied to a financial pricing model.’”


Launched in 2004, the BS/MBA program at Iowa State’s College of Business in Ames allows students to earn combined graduate and undergraduate degrees in five years. First offered mainly to engineering students, particularly those in industrial engineering, the program has expanded over the past decade to include students from chemistry, animal science, food science, and other programs. New majors are added only after undergoing a rigorous curriculum review process at both the department and university levels.

Each class is relatively small, with 2014’s entering class of 21 being the largest yet. Undergraduates start taking MBA courses in their senior years while completing their STEM courses, occasionally taking courses that apply to both degrees. For instance, industrial engineering undergraduates must do a senior project that often involves acting as consultants for a manufacturer, which fits within the MBA program.

Students are placed in diverse four-or five-person teams that they stick with for ten core courses. Admission to the program is fiercely competitive and students know there’s a lot of work ahead, says Ronald Ackerman, director of graduate admissions and student services. “They’re taking 18 to 21 credit hours of MBA programming as well as 400-level engineering courses, so they’re hard-working, focused, and mature. They’re the best and the brightest.”


The Krannert School of Management at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, has a strong STEM focus in most of its majors, as well as a tech commercialization stream within its two-year MBA. Therefore, an MBA geared to STEM professionals seemed like a natural fit, and the school launched a one-year program in June 2014. Among the first group of 20 students, the average level of work experience is five years.

At Purdue, the semester is broken into two modules, and students supplement their core courses with electives from the colleges of science, engineering, and technology. During the spring semester, they add an experiential learning component that involves either doing a project with a tech-based company or participating in the tech commercialization stream where they can work with researchers on campus or startups in the research park.

Students also can opt to take a series of Lean Launchpad courses, which are usually filled with a mix of MBAs and engineering students.


Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers three STEM programs. The bachelor of business administration in management information systems (MIS) enrolls about 350 students each year, the BBA in actuarial science enrolls about 300, and the master of science in information technology auditing and cybersecurity (MS ITACS) enrolls about 50.

The second two programs have always been classified as STEM under federal standards, but the BBA in MIS, launched in 2000, was reclassified in 2013. The benefits were immediate. One hundred percent of the graduates have been placed, and a Fortune 10 firm has made a multiyear commitment to provide funding for and recruit from the program.

Now the school is making a concerted effort to remind financial aid administrators, corporate partners, students, and alumni about its STEM programs. For example, because these programs originate in the business school, financial aid professionals often do not suggest STEM scholarships for the students enrolled in them. To make students aware of STEM-based scholarships outside Temple University, the Fox School created a website at The school also explains visa benefits to international students interested in its MS ITACS program.


Students at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe can choose to pursue one of four STEM-related degrees, including bachelor of science degrees in computer information systems or business data analytics and master of science degrees in information management or business analytics. The newest is the bachelor’s in business data analytics, which just launched in fall 2014 with 92 students.

To have these four programs classified as STEM with the U.S. Department of Education, the faculty had to demonstrate how the program contributed to the Arizona Higher Education Enterprise Plan, which emphasizes the need for graduates in high-demand fields. According to Michael Goul, department chair and professor of information systems at the Carey School, “The Board of Regents has created an online dashboard that details the degrees awarded in the state in high-demand fields in order to raise awareness and increase transparency of overall progress in the state of Arizona.”

Many of the students in the program are double majoring in business data analytics and disciplines such as economics, finance, marketing, and computer information systems. Goul notes that accounting students also are increasingly expressing interest in the program as more accountants are required to work with unstructured data.


The next step for business schools is to make more students aware of the many opportunities available, attracting them to business training and retaining them in STEM fields, says Goul. “We want to help them master the emerging big data wave that is rushing ashore for virtually all business disciplines.”

Whenever anyone asks Moore of EM LYON why scientific types—or anyone else, for that matter—should study entrepreneurship, he says, “It’s about developing capacity. We can’t predict the future, but we can help our graduates create their own. Who knows what roads graduates will take? But business schools can do our part in helping them make more effective contributions to society.”

And for Moore, Goul, and many other business educators, that means designing programs that will make business students experts at applying management expertise to technical innovations.