Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis has received the inaugural MBA Roundtable Innovator Award for its program called Critical Thinking@Olin. The MBA Roundtable Innovator Award promotes innovative initiatives in MBA education and recognizes institutions that are driving change in the field.
Critical Thinking@Olin was designed to develop critical thinking skills in MBA students and has had measurable impact on graduates’ success in the job market. The MBA Roundtable presented Olin Business School with the award at its seventh annual curricular innovation symposium, held this year in Seattle on November 17-18, 2011.
“This has become an issue for businesses around the world, and we wanted to create a new way to respond to this pressing employer need,” says Jackson A. Nickerson, Frahm Family Professor of Organization and Strategy at Olin, who chaired the effort. “Few business schools teach critical thinking, and those that do focus on argumentation, logic and logical fallacies,” Nickerson adds.
“Olin has developed an educational approach with a different focus. 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.”
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.
Critical Thinking@ Olin has had a direct and positive impact on student success in the job market, the school reports. 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.
“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.