BY Meghan MalasJune 14, 2022, 1:50 p.m.
Signage on the University of Michigan North Campus, seen in July 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (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 it was a balancing act in her own right. Lafontaine needed to ensure that higher business schools continued to compete in the business education market, but he also needed to make innovations to give the next dean a place to create a vision for the school.
“What we’ve done over the last year has been focused on who we are, what our role has been and how we’ve dealt with it so far,” Lafontain said. Good luck. “There are two important aspects, which are that we want people to deal with real-world problems and also an inclusive and participatory culture, because we want students to deal with important issues and ultimately have a positive side in the world.”
In May, the University of Michigan announced that Sharon Matusi was the new dean of the Ross School of Business. Matusi will begin his term in August at the University of Colorado Boulder after 18 years in office as a dean for the past five years.
“When I think about transformative ideas in my field, the most influential tutors, and my teaching models, they have a connection to Ross,” Matusi said in a press release. “What unites them all is a deep commitment to making a significant impact.”
Lafontaine’s interim dean has held Ross as a faculty member since 1991 before his career. He intends to continue with this mission, after taking a sabbatical year, when Matusi becomes dean. Matusi was not available to comment on his vision for high school, as he did not participate in media interviews until he officially became dean on August 1st.
Prior to this transition, Good luck Lafontaine spoke with interim dean Ross to learn more about his plans for the future.
Ross is focused on “action-based learning” and technology
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Ross School’s action-based learning approach to MBA programs. This milestone provided an opportunity for Ross to reflect on the current effectiveness and future potential of the school’s MBA program attribute leadership.
In the Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP) course, full-time MBA students work for half a semester with the help of teachers on a real-world problem proposed by a company. Projects evolve as businesses evolve, and have a strong interaction with collaborating organizations. In 2022, many of the MAP projects were carried out in collaboration with companies in the technology sector, which is gaining more and more attention for the school.
In fact, last year, Ross launched the “Business + Tech” initiative, designed to help students deepen their knowledge 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 certain technology activities,” says Lafontaine. “Our Business + Tech initiative did something called Business + Tech literacy download this year, where students were able to participate in 25 different types of sessions with data, data analysis, and programming language storytelling.
Ross is investing in analytics offerings
While Lafontaine was in charge, Ross expanded his reach by launching two new concentrations for the MBA program — one in data and business analysis — and one MBA in management science.
“It’s one of the ways we allow students to take some courses, to show that they’ve spent more time and energy on analytics than typical MBA students would have,” Lafontain explained. “It’s an important component of the evolving world right now.”
These two new concentrations within the Ross MBA program are designed around new courses that the school has developed in recent years. These courses include a fintech course that deals with equity analysis, which helps students think about how to use data to analyze diversity and equity issues in companies.
Ross also added a master’s program in business analytics to his list, which will be launched in the fall of 2022. The school received thousands of applications for the initial cohort of the program.
“We had a huge number of applicants for this business analysis program,” says Lafontaine. “We have our first class, which will start soon, with about 60 students; we were aiming for 40 students, but we have a lot of applicants where we decided to do a little bigger.”
How online education fits into Ross’s future
Lafontaine became interim dean in the spring of 2021, as online programs became popular as a result of Covid-19-related restrictions and policies. But Ross’s online MBA degree program already began in 2019, before the pandemic-induced rise.
“We developed asynchronous modules for the courses and built a studio that allows teachers to teach remotely and synchronously, which is much more comfortable and interactive with students,” says Lafontaine. “By the time the pandemic hit, we were starting to offer this program, so if we already had it we could rely on a variety of resources, including teachers’ experience dealing with synchronous and asynchronous materials.”
Over the past year, most of Ross’s full-time and residency programs have abandoned the hybrid delivery model of 2020 and 2021, and students have been confronted all along with the imposition of Covid-19 measures and requirements.
“When we need to take things online, and we’ve been able to gradually translate them in person, because we’ve had this experience with online design and teaching experience,” says Lafontaine.
Ross is now investing in another high-tech studio to support online learning materials as these offerings expand.
“Given that experience, we’ve started to use a little bit of the hybrid model in some of our part-time programs, such as the executive MBA program, the weekend MBA program, and our executive education program,” says Lafontaine.