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Business

Lahiri Challenges Students with Experiential Learning

By Jamie McCrary

Audi outside the Kogod School of Business

Audi outside the Kogod School of Business. Credit: Edward Kobus

Professor Lahiri's Strategic Management class exemplifies experiential learning. MGMT-458 is pragmatic and applied-two attributes Lahiri believes are essential to her students' success.

"It's critical to be able to translate theory to practice," she says. "The real world demands it."

Strategic Management, which serves as undergraduate seniors' capstone experience, teaches them how to make and implement strategic business decisions. They learn to think like a general manager, which means solving complex managerial problems. "This course deals with the world of experience," Lahiri says. "It helps students develop action-oriented management skills."

The class is structured around three hands-on projects: case studies, in-class exercises and a semester-long group assignment. Each experiential method tests students' critical thinking, a goal that Lahiri says is central to the curriculum.

Her priority, though, is teaching how to manage ambiguity. She intentionally challenges students to solve open-ended and unstructured problems, because, "that's how it is in the real world. The best managers are the ones that know how to handle incomplete information," Lahiri says.

The group consulting project is the perfect exercise in obscure thinking. Student teams work with a local business to develop a situation analysis and a strategic plan, ultimately recommending new business models. Each team is expected to come up with a different solution and present their findings to the company throughout the semester.

This year's company is the German automobile manufacturer Audi. The company plans to sell their cars in new markets, and wants students' help evaluating business proposals for each segment. Lahiri will use different theoretical frameworks to help students stay organized and manage the project's ambiguous nature. "It's an excellent chance to apply what we've learned in class to a real-life situation," she says.

Harvard Business School (HBS) cases provide additional opportunities for experiential learning. Students are required to complete in-depth analyses of two HBS cases during the course. These individual analyses are crucial, Lahiri says, because students must develop sound, structured arguments. They cannot simply posit a solution-they must back it up with logic.

"At work, if you have an opinion about how something should be done, your boss is going to expect you to support it with evidence," Lahiri explains. "This is a good exercise in this."

She also challenges students with self-designed, in-class exercises. They're less formal and seamlessly integrated into the curriculum, giving students "daily doses" of real-world problems. For example, when teaching business alliances and collaborations, she's designed a game on how to find an alliance partner and structure a collaboration.

"It's easy to listen to a lecture on these concepts, but applying them is a whole other story," Lahiri says. "In-class experiential exercises like these help students absorb the material."

Lahiri is looking forward to a semester of strategic thinking, applied learning and growth. She knows the road that lies ahead isn't easy, but is confident her students can tackle MGMT-458's challenges. She's excited to shape her students' experience-one that's grounded in real-world projects, as much as in-class theory. "It's going to be a busy semester, and I can't wait to see what my students come up with," Lahiri says."

Learn more about Kogod's undergraduate programs.