WUSTL wins MBA Roundtable Innovator Award

Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis has been selected as the inaugural winner of the MBA Roundtable Innovator Award for its Critical Thinking@Olin initiative, designed to develop critical thinking skills in MBA students.

The MBA Roundtable Innovator Award was created to recognize and promote innovative initiatives in MBA education and to acknowledge the institutions that are driving change in the field.

The MBA Roundtable, a nonprofit organization that facilitates the exchange of information and resources on MBA curricular innovation, presented WUSTL with the award at its seventh annual curricular innovation symposium, held Nov. 17 and 18 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“Few business schools teach critical thinking, and those that do focus on argumentation, logic and logical fallacies,” says Jackson Nickerson, PhD, the Frahm Family Professor of Organization & Strategy, who chaired WUSTL’s nomination effort for the award.

“Olin has developed an educational approach with a different focus,” Nickerson says. “We focus on the ability to comprehensively formulate or diagnose problems. Through Critical Thinking@Olin students develop the ability to formulate and ultimately solve the right strategic problem the first time.”

Critical Thinking@Olin, launched in 2007, developed a novel approach to teaching critical thinking and redesigning MBA orientation.

It introduced several curriculum changes — including two new courses — as well as peer and self-assessments; training of faculty and staff on critical thinking tools and techniques; and incorporating expectations of critical thinking into all courses throughout the curriculum.

Critical Thinking@Olin has had a direct and positive impact on student success in the job market. The rate at which summer interns receive full-time job offers doubled after the initiative’s launch and employment rates for Olin MBA students, 90 days post-graduation, have been among the top schools for the past three years.

Recruiter feedback offers many testimonials about Olin students’ improved ability to face today’s business challenges.

Key to the multifaceted initiative is a standard inquiry process that helps students define problems without jumping to solutions. Students are first introduced to the process in orientation, using case studies, written assignments and peer and self-assessments.

Every course in the MBA curriculum is also required to incorporate critical thinking and students are provided multiple resources that reinforce the content.

“Washington University’s initiative addresses the gap I see in managerial thinking by emphasizing problem-solving and team-dynamics,” says David Lifschitz, a member of the MBA Roundtable Innovator Award selection committee and president of Gehr Group, a Los Angeles-based diversified global holding company.

“I look for these exact critical thinking skills in candidates for executive positions. Washington University has been very open about sharing its experience with other schools, so I think this could have a strong impact on the greater MBA community,” Lifschitz says.

Other finalists for the award were:

  • Babson College, for its fast-track development of a common core curriculum for its four MBA programs;
  • Dalhousie University, for Canada’s first Corporate Residency MBA;
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for its online MBA program and its integration with the university’s traditional MBA program; and
  • University of Pennsylvania, for its Global Modular Courses, an accelerated study abroad program.

The MBA Roundtable is a collaborative, nonprofit organization, founded in 1995, that facilitates the exchange of information and resources on MBA curricular innovation. More than 150 business schools from across the world are members of the MBA Roundtable.

For more information, visit mbaroundtable.org.