Ross’s interim dean for what’s next for the top-ranked business school

BY Megan MalasJune 14, 2022, 1:50 p.m.

Signs on the North Campus of the University of Michigan, as seen in Ann Arbor, Michigan in July 2019 (Photo by Raymond Boyd / Getty Images)

When Francine Lafontaine became interim dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in May 2021, she quickly learned that this role was inherent in balancing. Lafontaine had to ensure that the top-ranked business school would continue to compete in the business education market, but he also had to innovate in a way that left room for the next dean to create a vision for the school.

“What we did last year was focus on who we are, what our mission has been and how we’ve approached it so far,” Lafontaine said. Condition. “There are two important aspects – that we want people to deal with problems in the real world and we also want a culture that is inclusive and engaged, because we want students to deal with important problems and ultimately make a positive change in the world.

In May, the University of Michigan announced Sharon Matusik as the new dean of Ross Business School. Matusik will begin her term in August after an 18-year stay at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she has been dean for the past five years.

“When I think about the ideas for transformation in my field, the most influential mentors and my role models, they have to do with Ross,” Matusik said in a press release. “What unites them is a deep commitment to making an important impact.”

Lafontaine’s candidacy as interim dean was preceded by her career as a member of Ross’s faculty in 1991. She plans to continue that role after taking leave when Matusik becomes dean. Matusik was not available for comment on her vision for the top-ranked business school, as she did not participate in media interviews until she officially became dean on August 1st.

Prior to this transition, Condition talks to interim dean Lafontaine to learn more about Ross’ plans for the future.

Ross is focused on “action-based learning” and technology

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the action-based approach to Ross School’s MBA programs. This stage offered an opportunity for Ross’s leadership to reflect on both the current effectiveness and the future potential of the school’s distinctive MBA program.

In the Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP) course, full-time MBA students work for half a semester in a team with the support of faculty on a real-world problem proposed by a company. The projects develop with the development of the business and involve a lot of interaction with partner organizations. In 2022, many of the MAP projects were implemented in partnership with companies from the technology sector, which is increasingly focused on the school.

In fact, last year Ross launched the Business + Technology initiative, designed to help students deepen their understanding of the technology industry.

“One of the things we’ve found is that companies often say that business school students don’t understand the language of some of the technology activities,” Lafontaine said. “Our Business + Tech initiative this year did what they called a Business + Tech literacy download, where students could participate in 25 different types of sessions on topics such as storytelling, data analysis and programming languages.

Ross is investing in proposals for analysis

While Lafontaine was in charge, Ross expanded his scope by launching two new concentrations for the MBA program – one in data and business analysis – and an MBA concentration in management science.

“This is one of the ways we allow students to take several courses so that they can show that they have spent more time and energy on analysis than a typical MBA student would have,” explains Lafontaine. “It’s an important component of how the world is evolving right now.”

Both new concentrations within the Ross MBA program are designed around new courses that the school has developed over the past few years. These courses include a fintech course, which covers capital analysis, which helps students think about how to use data to analyze diversity and equity issues in business.

Ross also added a master’s program in business analysis to its list, which will start in the fall of 2022. The school received thousands of applications for the first group of the program.

“We had an incredible number of candidates for this business analysis program,” says Lafontaine. “We have our first class, which starts very soon, which will have about 60 students – we had a goal of 40, but we have so many candidates that we decided to make it a little bigger.”

How online education fits into Ross’ future

Lafontaine became interim dean in the spring of 2021, as online programs became more popular due to restrictions and policies related to Covid-19. But Ross’s online MBA program was already launched in 2019, before the pandemic jump.

“We have developed asynchronous course modules and built a studio that allows teachers to teach remotely and synchronously in a way that is much more convenient and interactive with students,” says Lafontaine. “By the time the pandemic hit, we had already started offering this program, so we already had a number of resources we could count on – including the experience teachers have in working with synchronous and asynchronous materials.

Over the past year, most of Ross’s full-time and housing programs have abandoned the hybrid delivery model of 2020 and 2021, and students have been on site all along, with Covid-19 precautions and requirements.

“We were able to get things online when we needed to, and gradually get back to personal, because we had this experience with online design and teaching,” says Lafontaine.

Ross is now investing in another high-tech studio designed to support online learning materials as these offerings expand.

“Given this experience, we have begun to use some of the hybrid model in some of our part-time programs, such as the executive MBA program, the weekend MBA program, and our leadership training program,” says Lafontaine.

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