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Business students advance with ASU's Forward Focus

Full-scholarship MBA program with updated curriculum draws strong group

Kala Brgant and Willy Chang
September 06, 2016

Zack Mardoc spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Madagascar, growing vegetables and digging latrines. He returned to Arizona with a new understanding of how to help the poor.

“My experience gave me a pragmatic approach," Mardoc said, adding, "You get rid of poverty with an economy.”

To put his passion into action, Mardoc looked for jobs with companies that valued social and environmental impact as much as profit. But he soon realized that to be a competitive candidate he needed a master’s of business administration.

That’s when he discovered the newly created Forward Focus MBA, which had an updated curriculum and covered tuition and fees at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business: "It shot to the top of my list."

The first complement of Forward Focus MBA students is fulfilling Arizona State University’s goal of drawing a wider variety of people who might not have otherwise pursued an advanced business degree: high-caliber students who want to give back to the community, such as through nonprofit work or a startup.

Mardoc, one of 119 students in the first cohort, said the program “creates a lot of creativity and engagement.”

He plans to use his degree to help disadvantaged communities invest in themselves. “I see using finance as an opportunity to promote social responsibility,” he said.

The numbers show the program’s reach:

  • 43 percent of the students are women, compared withAccording to statistics from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT. 30 percent of the W. P. Carey full-time MBAThe W. P. Carey School of Business still offers the evening and online MBA programs. program that started in fall 2015, and 36 percent nationwide in MBA programs.
  • 31 percent of the group is international students, representing 24 countries including Iran and Uganda.
  • The average GMAT score of the students is 682, compared withAccording to statistics from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT. the mean score of 536 for test-takers nationwide.
  •  A third of the students come from science, math and engineering backgrounds, rather than traditional business experience.
  • "The data for our inaugural Forward Focus class is very encouraging,” said Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business. “We were looking for high-quality applicants who might think they couldn’t pursue a top MBA program. The backgrounds of these students, from their nationalities to their undergraduate degrees and work experience, really underscore the type of opportunities we hope to create with this MBA program."

Along with the scholarships, the school revamped the full-time MBA curriculum, increasing the credits from 48 to 60. The four new courses provide more real-world training: Decision-Making With Data Analytics; Executive Connections, which provides mentoring from retired senior executives; Intellectual Fusion Learning Lab, which pairs MBA students with master’s students in other disciplines; and Future Forward Leadership, which builds real-time skills in improvisation and decision-making.

That progressive, adaptive approach impressed Willy Chang, 28, a member of the first Forward Focus cohort. He was an organic chemist in the biotech industry and wanted a change.

“W. P. Carey was able to identify that the program had become outdated, and they added courses in relevant skills, like business analytics,” said Chang, who is aiming for a career in that field. “What ASU is trying to do is ambitious. By removing the concerns of debt, they’ll attract a more diverse cohort and strengthen the school.”

Another cohort member, Kala Brgant, was one of those who had been too anxious about finances to leave her job to go back to school.

Brgant, who left a marketing position, praises the mentorship support but was most struck by how the program truly is focusing on being forward-thinking.

“I felt like, ‘What is the catch?’ But when I start researching, I felt inspired by the whole idea of how the curriculum is committed to thinking of the future,” Brgant said. “Even our accounting class is focused on what we’ll need to know with all the changes coming in business.”

Top photo: Kala Brgant and Willy Chang are among the 119 students in the first Forward Focus MBA program cohort in the W. P. Carey School of Business. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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