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Field projects offer unparalleled challenge and experience

Why it matters:

MBA students traveled to work with corporations on real-world business challenges and offer solutions

If the MBA candidates who participated in the Innovation Field Project had blown off an optional gathering late one May afternoon, it would have been understandable. Finals were winding down and graduation was approaching. Still, they flooded the Passano Lobby at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School’s Harbor East building. Spring sunshine was streaming in, spirits were high, and this was a celebration.

More than 50 MBA candidates took advantage of the Innovation Field Project in spring 2023, traveling to sites across the country to consult with partner businesses and solve complex challenges on-site. In all, 12 teams left Baltimore with enthusiasm and energy and returned with the kind of outcomes that inspire both knowledge and confidence.

“I think the project added significantly to my experience,” said Sneh Sonaiya, MD, a first-year Master of Public Health/MBA candidate who went to Columbus to work with OhioHealth on an operating room efficiency challenge. “I have been a physician in India, so I saw one side of the story of what it’s like to be treating the patient, but then there’s the operations side. For a system as big as OhioHealth, I realized how complex it can be to have it functioning well. That was a huge takeaway for me.”

Dr. Sonaiya was part of a team that pinpointed the cost of inefficiencies in surgical provisions throughout the 10-hospital OhioHealth system. The team also made recommendations on how to update the supply, setup, and tool lists each surgeon wants for each of their surgeries to reduce those inefficiencies and costs.

For experiential learning opportunities like this, the work isn’t limited to hard skills. It’s an immersion in the delicate nature of team dynamics, too.

“I’m the conflict resolver on my team,” said Sharon Ametepeh, who was part of the OhioHealth team in Columbus and plans to advance an operations management career. “People have different commitment levels and priorities in their personal lives, which sometimes take priority over the teamwork. Learning to communicate the needs and expectations of the team and making sure everyone is on the same page every day, constantly communicating, making sure everybody understood what was needed and required of them really helped, and I think my teammates appreciated that.”

Ametepeh is married to another MBA candidate, Dominic Boapea, whose team was one of three that traveled to Dallas to work with Siemens. “The most important part was the fact that I was able to apply certain skills and knowledge I’ve learned in classes. And I was impressed that Siemens was actually going to implement our recommendations.”

The couple said they were glad they weren’t assigned to the same project. They say they’re not exactly the kind of couple that should work together. But they also said having different experiences allows them to exchange ideas and learn from each other. 

“It’s nice to go through this process together and lean on each other,” Aemetepeh said.

“We are in different cohorts and we can leverage off each other’s experiences,” Boapea added.

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Between munchies and mingling, each of the dozen teams—two who worked with Merck, three with Siemens, and one each with American Express, OhioHealth, PetCo, San Francisco Veterans Affairs, SkyPoint Cloud, Constellation Energy, and Equum Medical—presented their cases and recommendations to each other and to a crowd of supporters. The energy in the room had the feel of a group of people who had conquered a small mountain together.

 “We got to a point where people showed the interest in the work,” said Michelle Neziyanya, one of the American Express team members who has a background in finance and an interest in fintech. “Even when things weren’t going well, we all worked together to figure it out.”

There were hugs, cheers, and big slaps on the back, but none of it was about profit or paychecks. Whether they realized it or not, they’d just learned one of the most important things about being leaders. And that was worth all the celebration.

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