August 3, 2000
Food and agribusiness MBAs grow futures virtually
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Today's food producer is more likely to drive a microprocessor than a tractor. It was with this in mind that Purdue University's School of Agriculture and the Krannert Graduate School of Management a year ago began offering a largely Internet-based MBA in food and agribusiness. The first class' reviews are now coming in.
"If you had asked me last fall what I thought the learning experience would be, I would have thought that it would be logging on to a Web site and pounding out the assignments on my own," says student Eric Perry, a manager with Murphy Family Farms in Wallace, N.C.
"That is so far from the reality. I know my classmates -- I e-mail and telephone them. In some ways, we are closer than if we were all in the room together."
"The 16 students in the first class have become very close," says Luanna DeMay, the executive MBA in food and agribusiness program manager. She explains that the students in their first year have spent a total of five weeks on campus together and untold hours in front of their computer screens, accessing information and "talking" to their professors and each other about the complicated, modern business of food.
There is educational method to all this, according to Jay T. Akridge, the agricultural economics professor who directs the program, one of only a handful of master's degrees in the management of the food and agribusiness industry in the nation. "Our courses focus on the study of food and agribusiness through a management foundation, industry-specific topics and the networking that occurs among our students who come from across the food and agribusiness industry."
The mostly wired educational experience offers students a Web site for each class and weekly "lectures" made up of faculty-prepared PowerPoint slides, many with audio clips. The students post their questions and comments to on-line class discussions. In addition, the students have group projects that they complete largely over the Internet. The food and agribusiness MBA takes a total of two years to complete.
While the curriculum is designed so that busy business people can complete their educations while continuing their careers, the electronic MBA has some surprising byproducts. "One of the things the professors like is that the students' comments are more thoughtful and considered because of the nature of the medium," says Liza Braunlich, the instructional design specialist who is the technological intermediary between the professors and the students. Unlike a real-time class, Braunlich says, students have time to think more about their responses to the questions and ideas of their professors and classmates before they post their comments to the Web.
"Online education has made us rethink testing, too," Braunlich says. "Since the students have all the facts at their fingertips, we test more for analysis of concepts." This, says Braunlich, yields a higher-level educational outcome.
On the lighter side, the program Web site offers a Virtual Harry's, named after a famous West Lafayette watering hole, where students can hold private discussions -- no professors or administrators allowed.
The students, with an average age of 34 and 11 years of business experience, are all employed full time, which is why the program is called an executive MBA. They come from Dow AgroSciences, LLC; Cargill Corp.; seed companies; and corporate farming operations from New York to California and Minnesota to Mexico.
The students spend an average of 20 hours per week on the three classes per 22-week "module." This year, the students have covered food and agribusiness economics, markets, trade and regulation; accounting; quantitative methods for decision-making; human resource management and organizational behavior; and marketing management.
Next spring, the students will put an international cap on their MBAs at the Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands. Between now and the Netherlands trip, there will be many more hours of Internet time studying and talking about production and operations; financial and strategic food and agribusiness management; the legal environment of business; risk analysis and management; and international food and agribusiness strategy.
The second class of 30 food and agribusiness executive MBAs is lining up for a one-week orientation on campus in July. This group, which includes a Ph.D. agronomist and a veterinarian, averages 39 years old and brings 16 years of experience from such varied companies as Deere and Co., Seed Dynamics, Inc. and Nestle USA, Inc.
After the members of the new group get acquainted and oriented in West Lafayette, they'll return home, fire up their computers and begin planting virtual seeds.
The Krannert Graduate School of Management, which began its executive programs in 1983, offers executive master of science degrees in management and international management. These are largely distance-learning, Internet-based like the executive MBA in food and agribusiness. In addition, Krannert offers an on-campus executive weekend program leading to a master's degree in management.
Sources: Eric Perry, (910) 289-2111, firstname.lastname@example.org
Luanna DeMay, (765) 494-4270, email@example.com
Writer: Mike Lillich, (765) 494-2077, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com
Other sources: Jay T. Akridge, (765) 494-4262, firstname.lastname@example.org
Liza Braunlich, (765) 494-4263, email@example.com
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