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Six years ago, faculty decided to incorporate a major industry-based project into the second semester of studies of the MBA program, in the form of applied research projects (ARP). The objective is to allow students to use and refine the skills and knowledge gained during the program in a real and actual professional setting, prior to their graduation.
The theoretical stand point framing the faculties approach is action learning which revolves around the following key characteristics: action as a basis for learning, personal development as a result of the process, working with problems with no potential ‘right’ answer, working with peers, and the belief that the development of questions is more important than expert knowledge.
The format of the ARPs is to invite a hospitality related company to put forth a real problem to the students at the beginning of the semester. The whole class, usually 25 to 35 students divided in smaller groups, works on the assignment for a semester under the supervision of faculty members and presents the outcomes to the company at the end of the semester. The process requires students to work on different levels, as they have to: 1. clarify and define the problem; 2. decide on the type of field research and data collection procedure to adopt; 3. analyse their results and relate them to the material of their courses; 4. propose and present potential solutions; but also 5. to organize themselves into effective groups or teams. These ARPs therefore require students to work on both the content and the process. Students are confronted with the complexity of real-life problems, the interconnection of knowledge, the absence of “silver bullet” solutions, but also the need to develop soft skills and emotional intelligence, essential management skills for the hospitality industry.
The subjects of the ARPs vary every semester. Students have worked on different management, marketing and strategic issues for hotels in Switzerland and in Europe. Examples include an assessment of risks and the development of a strategy for a Palace hotel following the entry of a new competitor in their market; a feasibility study for a real estate developer for the development of a mountain hotel in the Alps; the development of a Management Internship Program for a major 5-star hotel chain; the needs of clients from the BRIC countries and the impacts on the product.
The benefits of these ARPs for the student are numerous: they learn in real life situations, away from textbook scenarios; they experience first-hand the complexity of the hospitality industry at a strategic level; they have the opportunity to interact with GMs and members of executive teams of major hotels and investors and to develop their network; they are directly involved in industry changes; finally, as they are working in teams, they develop relevant soft skills which are essential for their career.
The benefits for the industry are also important: the collaborating companies can be involved in the education of their future employees; the ARPs represent a reservoir for fresh and innovative ideas for the hotels; they can also be an opportunity to generate internal debates; finally companies can identify and employ talent from the MBA program.