Experiential / Reality-based Learning / July 13, 2023

It’s All About the Experience

Reimagining Learning With a Focus on Experiential Opportunities

Reimagining Learning With a Focus on Experiential Opportunities

The Smith School has always known how important experiential learning is for students. These hands-on, immersive experiences and opportunities to solve real problems for real companies help them develop critical thinking skills, greater resilience, and an ability to lead the organizations of the future. Smith has offered this type of learning—both in the classroom and beyond—for years.

But now Dean Prabhudev Konana is pushing for more. He launched the new Office of Experiential Learning (OEL) this year. “We want to expand on what we’re already doing and grow more meaningful alumni and corporate relationships,” Konana says. “We really want to increase the opportunities for our students to get the type of real-world, practical learning that will make them the most sought after by employers when they graduate.”

OEL is led by Assistant Dean Nicole Coomber, along with Nima Farshchi, executive director, and Mary Wagner, senior director of experiential learning. They are working to create integrated, interdisciplinary opportunities for more students and make it easier for faculty to line up alumni or corporate partners and design projects.

“We know these experiences are good for students, we know they’re great for partners to connect,” says Coomber. “We’re here to try and make it easier.”

Within the next three years, OEL wants to make sure Smith students are getting an experiential learning opportunity in at least 20% of their classes. This past academic year, the Smith School offered 114 unique experiential learning projects, with over 250 alumni and corporate partners.

Engaging Alumni and Corporate Partners

Getting more alumni involved is a big push for OEL, with a goal to have the “Smith 600” involved in experiential projects, hiring, career coaching, and advising the dean and school. Most will sit on Smith Advisory Councils, launched by Konana in 2021.

“The advisory councils give us insight on where industry trends are going and how to incorporate that into learning,” says Wagner, who is now managing the councils.

The office is also working to pull in more corporate partners. The school already has great relationships that serve as a model, such as the Smith Analytics Consortium collaboration with Deloitte and KPMG. The professional services firms support the annual Datathon competition, which wrapped up on April 28 this year, and mentor students throughout the 11-day campus-wide event.

“Deloitte gains a lot from hosting this annual event and each year we get to see the vast amount of different perspectives in tackling case competitions," said Abe Gellman ’20, a Deloitte consultant who was a Datathon judge.

Real-World Learning, Practical Applications

Companies also get a lot out of engaging with Smith students. Coomber heads an MBA capstone course that last year joined the Federal Labs Academic Accelerator program. Now expanded to several classes, Smith MBA students are working with federal agencies to help them commercialize inventions that happened in their labs. Students worked on projects with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command to develop a product to prevent sepsis in burn patients, and the National Reconnaissance Office to determine the competitive landscape for sensors.

The Smith School’s location has been a major boon, says Coomber—and something others are jealous of.

“We have access to government agencies that other schools simply don’t,” she says. “With our location, we’re really able to work closely with these partners, and we’re really leveraging it for these opportunities.”

Management professor Rellie Derfler-Rozin incorporates experiential learning throughout the Master’s in Management Studies program she heads up. Students take an experiential learning class where they consult for companies, including Lockheed Martin, Marriott, Google, PepsiCo, and Major League Baseball this spring.

“I’ve had to apply all of the skills and strategies that I’ve gained from a variety of classes I’ve taken in the past year for this one class,” said Abby Meyers, MS ’23, who worked on an MLB project to recommend cities for expansion teams.

Tyrone Brooks ’96, senior director for MLB’s Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program, worked with students in the class and heard their final pitches. He was impressed with all the data they were able to incorporate. “Having that information is vital for convincing management.”

The Center for Social Value Creation launched a new undergraduate course through a first-of-its-kind partnership with UMD’s Sigma Chi fraternity chapter. The fraternity provided funding for the class, which has students consulting for a company with a social mission.

Greg Schaub ’82, a Sigma Chi and Smith alumnus, helped forge the partnership and remains involved in the projects. “We hope to be a conduit for helping students find experiential learning opportunities, internships and eventually jobs,” said Schaub.

This spring, Humberto Coronado’s supply chain management students learned about warehouse management using virtual reality technology. Teams met up as avatars in a virtual distribution warehouse to assess the facility and complete assignments. Coronado says many top companies are already using VR, and this kind of experiential learning gives Smith students a leg up in the job market.

Outside the classroom, accounting lecturer Samuel Handwerger leads the Justice for Fraud Victims program. Students work with the Prince George’s County Financial Crimes Unit and State’s Attorney’s Office to investigate financial fraud cases to help vulnerable populations.

Those are just a few of the experiences happening now. The goal is to create even more, and to make them more in-depth and happen early on in a student’s Smith experience, says Coomber.

“The sooner we can get them exposed to these real-world problems and companies, the more they can start to develop those skills that employers are really looking for.”

Media Contact

Greg Muraski
Media Relations Manager
301-892-0973 Mobile

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

Back to Top