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Faculty-guided research prepares students for real-world challenges

Monday, July 23, 2012
Faculty-guided research prepares students for real-world challenges

MBA candidate Danying Xing found the transition from her previous studies in mechanical engineering to the world of business an exhilarating – albeit challenging – experience. It was an experience she enhanced significantly by seizing the opportunity to join a faculty-guided research project through the SBA’s Center for Integrated Business Research and Education (CIBRE) last summer.

For Xing and the other participating SBA students, the research projects represent a valuable chance to gain practical insight into the field she hopes to enter, as well as real-world experience that will help her thrive in her chosen career. Through the program, students are assigned to research projects designed specifically for businesses in the area.

“When you do actual research projects, you get a sense of how messy they are,” says Nivedita Mukherji, associate dean and associate professor, economics. “Students mostly get these canned projects where the data is nice and everything works. Real research projects are not always so well-defined. Experience on these projects helps the students learn how to frame questions and collect the necessary data.”

Close to home

Xing, who is in her second year of OU’s MBA program, assisted OU Professor of Economics Jonathan Silberman and Mukherji with “Second-Stage Companies in Macomb County, MI, 2002-2009.”  OU MBA candidate Zachary McKenzie participated, too.

The project, conducted at the request of Macomb County, called for identifying county-based, second-stage manufacturing companies – those that have progressed beyond the startup stage, have annual revenues between $1 million and $50 million, and employ between 10 and 100 workers. The research team was also asked to identify which manufacturing sectors these second-stage companies represented.

“The goal was to have a better understanding of growth trends in the county,” Xing says.

Under Mukherji’s and Silberman’s instruction, Xing collected data from the U.S. Census Bureau and identified second-stage companies in Macomb County, as well as companies in the same sectors in Michigan and the U.S. for benchmarking purposes.

As a Shelby Township resident – a township in Macomb County –  Xing found the research fascinating and quite relevant.

“Macomb County is growing, but so is Michigan. The question was, ‘Is Macomb County doing well on its own, or is its growth tied in with the state’s growth?” she explains.

A promising picture

The report presents encouraging news for Macomb County.

The research uncovered that several manufacturing sectors in the county – namely transportation equipment and fabricated metal product manufacturing – were outperforming the same sectors at the state and national levels.

The report also lists eight manufacturing sectors with growth potential that can add value to Macomb County. They include: wood container and pallet; metal valve; motor vehicle metal stamping; other motor vehicle parts; aerospace product and parts; aircraft engine and engine parts; other transportation equipment; and military armored vehicle, tank and tank components.

The report indicates these sectors are noteworthy since they experienced growth during the 2002-07 economic expansion and continued growing during the recession.

Valuable insights

Not only did Xing find the research results interesting, she appreciated being a part of the research process, from collecting data to analyzing it, and she recognizes how much the experience has enhanced her business skills and understanding.

The challenges of the real project offered valuable learning opportunities.

For example, Xing learned how to work around limitations of the data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Those difficulties are a normal element of the research experience,” Mukherji says. “Finding data is a huge challenge – as well as learning how to analyze it.”

The professors guided Xing through the process of conducting business research. “She was a very conscientious student,” Mukherji adds. “She gained an understanding of the research process.”

After graduation, Xing hopes to combine her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Shanghai’s Tongji University with the knowledge and skills she gains through her MBA experience at OU to pursue a career in manufacturing or business analysis.

By Flori Meeks