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From Theory to Global Practice:
Rice Business’s Approach to
Experiential Learning

The Transformative
Journey of Global
Field Experiences

In today’s interconnected world, classroom boundaries no longer constrain learning. At Rice Business, their Global Field Experiences (GFEs) present an unparalleled opportunity for graduate students to apply theory to the complexities of international business. 

Let’s dive into a rewarding partnership that has exemplified this educational evolution. We will explore our success case with Rice Business and how we have supported them in scaling their programs through the years. Rice has nurtured its program with international education elements that go beyond the conventional study abroad or study trips to deliver lasting value to students and the global business community. From its inception to its current form, we will spotlight the elements that have made it an impactful collaboration, scaling not just the number but the caliber of projects that drive home the essence of experiential learning.

Rice Programs with a  “Global Field Experience” Consulting Element

Full-time
MBA

MBA@Rice
(Online MBA)

Professional 
MBA

Hybrid 
MBA

Executive
MBA

History of the
collaboration:

Since our first program collaboration in Colombia in 2017, we have expanded across different countries, delivering 58 Global Field Experiences and consulting with hundreds of businesses. Over the past seven years, we have honed our best practices to ensure optimal experiences at every level, from project sourcing to on-the-ground program execution.

Key University Account Manager

Sarah Taylor

Key University Account Manager
Austral Group

The Rice-Austral relationship has become increasingly collaborative over the years as we have learned and innovated together to improve the GFE. The first consulting projects that we sourced for Rice in 2017-2018 were very different from the consulting projects we are sourcing for them today, and this is the result of some incredibly innovative curriculum design by Rice as well as Austral’s expertise in different markets and economies in Latin America, deciding which best serve Rice’s needs along with balancing risk and safety concerns and the ability of a location to offer a memorable and culturally relevant experience for the students. I think the key piece of our successful partnership with Rice is fluid and consistent communication, which has allowed us to develop deep, collaborative relationships between the Rice Global team and amongst our staff across many different departments, from our Operations team to Risk Management to Experiential Learning, to Finance. We all want to put together the best experience possible for the Rice students, and striving for excellence between all of us is what drives innovation.

Why Emerging Markets?

As part of Rice Business curriculum objectives, the focus of the GFE experience is in one specific type of international environment – the emerging market context, and there are top 3 reasons why:

1

Much of the coursework in the MBA program focused on concepts and frameworks that have been developed based on developed economies such as the USA. The underlying assumption of such framework and concepts is that there is no information asymmetry between participants in economic transactions. Specifically, economic institutions have been established in economies with little opportunity for information arbitrage.

2

In contrast, emerging markets have less developed institutions, leading to questions about how concepts and frameworks developed in the context of developed economies can be applied to emerging markets. Through the GFE, Rice business allows students to identify how economic institutions differ between such markets and examine the implications of such differences for firms and their strategies.

3

Understanding the emerging market context and the differences between the developed and emerging market contexts has increasingly become important. For instance, the top 6 economies in 1990 were the USA, Japan, Germany, the UK, France and Italy. Today, India and China are in the top 6 (China is number 2). In another 20 years, it is expected that apart from the USA and Japan, there will be no other developed economy on that list. China, India, Brazil, and Russia are expected to make the rest of the top 6. They would account for almost 40% of the world’s GDP. This suggests that most of your jobs and careers involve extensive interaction with these markets. In other words, even if you don’t plan on moving out of the USA, your life, job, and career will still be impacted by what happens in today’s emerging markets.

The Core
Curriculum
Extended

The Global Field Experience isn’t an elective — it’s a core curriculum component of the Rice Business learning machine. Here, the premise is simple but profound in its implications; students take their classroom learnings from the first year and immediately put them to the test in a real-world international setting, acutely discerning the socio-economic and cultural tremors that affect business operations daily.

The projects undertaken during these global field experiences extend a diverse spectrum. By shading the consulting experience with the kaleidoscope of international scenery, these MBAs have to decipher market intricacies that would be irreplicable domestically. The insights offered are organically nuanced, and the solutions are not one-size-fits-all but tailored: the epitome of strategic consulting.

Program Structure

Students start working on projects around 1-3 months before their travel (timing varies by program). This allows ample time for students and companies to connect online, collaborate, and prepare before coming together in-country for a culmination week.

Screenshot 2024-04-01 at 21.29.17

“Months before the program begins, our experiential learning team gets a briefing on the project scopes from Rice Business Faculty and the GFE team. We source projects tailored to their needs by talking with local entrepreneurs and business owners. Our goal is to find companies that have interesting strategic challenges that can be formed into a meaningful project for the students.”

Melissa Holland
Education and Community Engagement Director

logo aus

6 MONTHS PRIOR TO PROGRAM

Team engages with TM/Uni to understand need and then campaign launched

5 MONTHS PRIOR TO PROGRAM

Austral Group to identify shortlisted projects for Faculty consideration

3-5 MONTHS PRIOR TO PROGRAM

Faculty connect with preferred company project liaisons to do last vetting of preferred projects

4-8 WEEKS PRIOR TO PROGRAM

Faculty assign student teams to their company projects

1 WEEK PRIOR TO PROGRAM

Student team engage fully virtually with the company liaisons and carry out initial research

What makes a
great project?

Empowering MBA students to provide free consulting services in crucial areas such as new market entry, go-to-market, international strategy, and market expansion is pivotal. These projects not only equip emerging business leaders with practical skills but also instill a global mindset and strategic acumen for both the student and the company. Navigating challenges in these critical domains fosters a deep understanding of market dynamics, preparing future leaders to drive innovation, growth, and sustainable success in diverse business landscapes.

Austral Group focuses on finding  specific types
of projects for Rice Business programs, primarily:

Go-to-Market Strategy

Globalization/Internationalization Strategy

New Market Entry or New Product Strategy

Market Expansion

Marketing Strategy

Here are the top 3 things we’ve identified through the years
of collaboration as the leading indicators for success:

Client and student experience:

When the client is available, attentive, engaged, and open-minded, the students have a great experience and deliver the best results. 

Repeat companies:

are precious in these types of projects as they recognize the value that students can deliver and tend to be highly engaged. It also allows for project continuity and a legacy of Rice Business students to be very present in the particular company.

It is best when projects have multiple functions:

(i.e. market entry and marketing or growth strategy and operations). This gives the students more flexibility with their approach and creates a better outcome for the realistic pathways forward.

Travel week 

Students have a productive travel week! The time in the country is structured, allowing ample time for students to have touchpoints and get feedback on their progress with their clients, make adjustments, and collaborate with their teams. Throughout the week, students meet multiple times with their clients to delve into project details. In addition, there are key briefings offering economic and political insights and business meetings with leaders from various industries. This immersive experience helps students grasp the local context of their client’s needs and goals.

DAY 1

Face-to-face interactions
with company leaders

DAYS 2-4

Student teams work
on their projects

DAY 5

Project presentations
by the students

The Ripple Effect:

Rice Business students are making a huge impact on businesses through consulting engagements. They work closely with internal teams, offer valuable insights on key projects, and leave a positive mark on a global scale. Some of the biggest impacts we’ve seen through the years can be grouped into 2 categories:

Igniting Innovation in Established Organizations

Established businesses often find themselves stuck in the inertia of their success, making it challenging to foster an internal culture of innovation. Enter the MBA consultants whose fresh eyes and unbiased views can spark creative solutions to longstanding challenges. Through their assignments, these student teams can introduce disruptive thinking, encourage the exploration of untapped markets, and reframe existing problems to find novel solutions. Thus, the ripple effect begins, as these insights often lead to implementing strategic initiatives that can transform an organization’s trajectory.

Fueling Growth in Emerging Markets

The ripple effect of global MBA assignments is most evident in emerging markets. Through these collaborations, businesses in developing economies access consulting services that might otherwise be out of reach. The result is an accelerated growth path not only for the companies themselves but also for the communities they serve, driving economic development and social progress.

Measuring impact

No educational endeavor is complete without a rigorous evaluation of its impact.
At the conclusion of each project, Rice Business and Austral Group collaborate to evaluate the recommendation’s implementation and its impact. Student surveys, alumni feedback, and corporate project sponsor evaluations all play a crucial role in understanding the program’s strengths and identifying areas for improvement for the international consulting component, leading to repeat companies participating in future GFEs.

Equipacare - Brazil

D&E Global - Peru

Linguatracks - Spain

Nurturing Cultural Intelligence

Perhaps the most salient takeaway from these global escapades is the cultivation of cultural intelligence — the capability to comprehend and operate within any cultural context. In an era where businesses have transcended territorial boundaries, leaders equipped with such understanding are indispensable. Students develop an adaptable and astute cross-cultural toolkit through engagements in vastly different markets, fostering a worldview that permeates all aspects of their professional development and growth.

Embedding ESGs into the GFEs

The inextricable link between business and societal interests has never been more evident than it is today, and integrating ESG into curriculum delivery has gone from being just buzzword to a need. This transformation is not just about doing good—it’s about future-proofing the business landscape by fostering corporate sustainability and societal well-being. 

Integrating ESG into GFE programs compels students to redefine business success metrics. It shifts the emphasis from short-term financial gains to long-term, sustainable value creation. By doing so, it aligns business education with the values and demands of a new generation of students who are clamoring for careers with purpose and principles.

Crafting a Curriculum that Reflects ESG Commitments

The successful integration of ESG principles into the GFE starts with a curriculum and Field Experiences designed with intention.

From business visits and consulting projects to delivering a sustainable travel experience, every aspect of the GFE program planning and execution offers opportunities to embed responsible business practices. 

Content:

We take a step back in the collaboration and assess the overall picture.

– Are we including a diverse range of companies and industries?
– Are ESG topics being discussed with companies?
– Do we have adequate representation of female leaders and minorities in our program?

Every aspect we showcase this week is significant and impactful, so we’ve established KPIs to ensure our programs remain well-rounded.

Projects:

Rice Business, carefully chooses to include projects that have the potential to leave a lasting impact on society. Given its location in a hub for Energy transition, there’s also a big focus on projects on this topic to provide students with industry experience for their future careers.

Operations & Logistics:

At Austral Group, making travel more sustainable is a key objective. Along with our University Partners and through partnerships with Moss Earth and One Tree Planted, we are taking steps to measure, reduce, and offset our carbon footprint to benefit communities while protecting the environment.

Some key initiatives we implement with Rice programs

– Eliminating single-use plastics from our programs
– Planting a tree for every travel program participant
– Collecting carbon footprint data from all hotels in our portfolio

GFE programs immerse students in various global business contexts, encouraging them to think critically, apply their knowledge creatively, and develop an international mindset.

Director, Global Programs and Experiential Learning

Abbey Hartgrove

Director, Global Programs and Experiential Learning
rice bcla

In cultivating the thriving ecosystem of our educational initiatives, the significance of a long-term relationship grounded in shared values, goals, and outcomes cannot be overstated. Our commitment to setting strategic visions with a specific focus on long-term success has propelled us beyond the limitations of year-to-year thinking.

Through the harmonious integration of expertise in curriculum development, logistics, safety, and impactful outcomes for all stakeholders, we have not only met but exceeded our expectations. The ability to think strategically about our impact on the students and the communities they engage with on a global scale has allowed us to create a transformative experience that rises above the ordinary MBA global curriculum.

As we witness in real-time, our forward-thinking approach and collaborative efforts to enhance our programs continually generate magic for our MBA students and the international clients we serve. By constantly pushing the boundaries and iterating on our successes, we are creating an environment that fosters growth and positive outcomes for their growing businesses.

Central to this success is the deep understanding of who Rice Business is at its core within our partnerships. Without this foundational understanding, the level of collaboration and synergy required for such unprecedented achievements would be unattainable. Our long-term commitment to shared values and strategic planning not only defines our present excellence but also lays the groundwork for a future where our impact continues to shape the educational landscape on a global scale. The future is based on a simple, but powerful vision, to continue to innovate in this space and a strong commitment to our mission; Developing principled, innovative thought leaders in global communities.