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Students Can Prepare for Management Careers In and Outside of Business School

If individuals’ professional goals include assuming management roles, they may be considering business school so they can earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a similar degree. Whether they are looking at online MBA programs or online degrees in business management, prospective students may wonder how exactly the opportunities that await them in business school will develop their leadership abilities.

To find out how business school can help aspiring managers, we spoke to LaTanya White, a professor of management at the School of Business and Industry at Florida A&M University, who also holds an MBA degree.

Q: Do you think students graduate from business school with all the skills they need to be good managers?
A: I don’t think students are graduating with everything that they need from the curriculum alone. Luckily for the students at Florida A&M, they are required to do at least one internship to supplement their academic matriculation. Without having that real-world experience, I think business students are doing themselves a real disservice. Even if it’s not a paid internship – [it's] the opportunity to take what we’re teaching in the classroom and see how it’s really being applied in the real world, and [then getting] to come back and share their insight and their experience with their colleagues, which would encourage them to [pursue] internships and get that real-world experience. It adds so much more to the academic side of it when they can come back to the classroom the next semester or the next fall and say, “Well, I saw this in action and these are some of the best practices, and I’d just like to share that with the professor and the classroom.” So the curriculum alone is not enough in theory. Especially for the millennial student – they really have to have that real-world application and see how it’s working on a day-to-day basis.

Q: Why is curriculum not enough for millennials specifically?
A: I think millennial students – they specifically or especially need to get the internship or real-world experience because they’re so hands-on. They want it now, so they need to see the relevance and the meaning of what we’re teaching them in class … It’s when they can put their hands on it and be a part of it and be a part of creating something meaningful – then I think it resonates more with a millennial student versus a Gen X or Gen Y.

Q: What if a student graduates and realizes they still don’t have the skills they need? What should their next step be?
A: I think the next step is to become a servant leader. It’s identifying the organizations in your community that need thought leaders or people that can come from a business background, because that’s a lot of the trouble that some nonprofits have. Most of their directors of development only know the resource side and don’t have a real sophistication from the management side. So for new graduates, I think positioning themselves as servant leaders to go and volunteer in an organization in a leadership capacity [can be helpful]. And you know there’s nothing wrong with being on the front lines, or being in the trenches for say, Habitat for Humanity. But really [it's about] being able to sit down with the director of development or the vice president of whatever, and understanding what their challenges are as a manager in a nonprofit organization.

Q: What else can students do while in business school to prepare for management careers?
A: I suggest to a lot of students to identify the associations that support their industries. So for business students, it would be maybe Entrepreneur magazine or the Inc. growth conference or something like that, and look at who those keynote speakers are. Google them. Have they written any books? Read their books. What’s their story? What were their challenges? … [Identify] who the change agent in [a] particular organization [was] … What was that person’s motivation and how did they bring about change?
I think the other thing is taking a little more personal responsibility for rounding out their academic experience. So we talked a little bit about servant leadership and the associations that support businesses like the chambers and things like that. But attending those conferences … our chamber here in Tallahassee – they have an annual chamber conference where the student registration is $99 dollars … going to the conferences that support either your discipline, say the American Marketing Association or AICPA, and registering as a student … it gets you in front of those industry thought leaders … they really want to be inclusive, they want students to come, they want students to be a part of the industry in the beginning of their careers.