From Classroom Concepts to Real-World Application
By Jennifer Stewart-Burton, Purdue University
When Lisa Tronchetti was wrapping up her undergraduate studies at Iowa State University, she thought an immediate transition to graduate school was on the horizon. Life had other plans.
An internship with Gavilon Group, a commodity management firm that connects producers and consumers of feed, food and fertilizer through a global supply chain network, led to a full-time career opportunity that Lisa couldn’t refuse. A handful of years later, this dairy products merchandiser from Omaha decided it was time to pursue the advanced degree that she always knew she wanted.
Lisa is now just a few months shy of completing not one graduate degree, but two. Late this summer she will finish the MS-MBA in Food and Agribusiness Management program from Purdue and Indiana universities. This 27-month dual-degree program is designed for working industry professionals. Students earn both a Master of Science in agricultural economics from Purdue’s College of Agriculture and a Master of Business Administration from IU’s Kelley School of Business.
Each cohort consists of up to 30 food and agribusiness professionals who participate in online coursework and five in-person residencies while working full time. Two residencies are at IU, two at Purdue, and one international residency, currently in Brazil.
From classroom to real world
One of the many benefits of the program, according to Lisa, is the way classroom concepts are immediately applicable to what she does for Gavilon each day.
“What I have liked about this program is that the coursework and concepts have been immediately applicable in the workplace,” she says. “The data analytics courses set me up for future leadership roles. Learning to read data sets and understanding what other people within my company are saying when using data analytics has made a huge difference.”
According to director Allan Gray, Purdue professor of agricultural economics, one of the main goals of MS-MBA program faculty is to offer relevant and practical tools and subject matter that students can use.
He says faculty don’t mind being challenged if students think a classroom concept doesn’t practically translate to the professional world.
“As instructors, we work really hard to make sure all of the concepts we teach are immediately applicable to industry,” he says. “We spend time in the in-person residencies discussing the challenges students face in an effort to keep the classroom relevant to business. We use case studies so the students can practice concepts before they take them back to the office. We want what they learn in the classroom to make an immediate difference for them and the companies who are investing in them.”
One of the ways the program benefits both students and their employers is through a capstone project that students complete in lieu of a master’s thesis. Each project focuses on a problem or decision the student’s company is facing. These high-impact projects are similar to what companies would hire consultants to do.
Lisa has seen her capstone project as a way to benefit Gavilon Group and to stretch herself.
“The capstone project is a really great way to pull in pieces of all of the coursework to address a problem within the company,” she says. “I took on a project that is outside of my expertise because I knew it would give me more exposure within the company and I would have the opportunity to learn more about other business units.”
A cohort of colleagues
Each MS-MBA cohort kicks off the program with a one-week residency at IU’s Bloomington, Ind., campus. They meet one another for the first time and start to get to know the people they will study alongside for the next 27 months.
Throughout their time in the program, they work together on projects and help each other with homework, but the bonds go beyond classroom work. Students form a network of people throughout the diverse food and agribusiness industries that serves as a lifelong resource.
“I’ve been so impressed with how varied the job titles and industry segments are among my classmates,” Lisa says. “I have gotten to know people with similar interests, but with such different viewpoints. The diversity of perspectives has been invaluable.”
That diversity allows students to challenge one another and to keep them from becoming singular in their thinking.
Investing the time
Lisa knew all along that she wanted an advanced degree and says that Gavilon has supported her every step of the way—both in finances and in the flexibility to attend residencies. That support, combined with the primarily distance-delivered nature of the program and encouraging and accessible faculty are what have made the experience achievable and enjoyable for her.
“The way the MS-MBA program is structured makes doing it while working full-time manageable,” she says. “The key is being flexible, but committed to the program. The professors are very aware of the amount of time the program takes and the fact that we’re all working. They communicate with us and they work with us to make sure we have every opportunity to succeed.”
For Lisa, the “why” is clear: She has long-term aspirations of leadership and eventually executive-level roles in food ingredients, risk management and supply chain. She knows that having two advanced degrees is preparing her to tackle the decisions and challenges she will face throughout her career.
“Over the last two years, I have increased my analytical skills and have reframed my way of thinking about management and human resources issues,” Lisa says. “I have learned about change and strategic leadership theory, which is something I hadn’t been extensively exposed to in the past. I have been able to apply all of this to situations in our business.”
When Lisa started looking for the right graduate program, she had many options in front of her. The food and agribusiness focus, program setup, cohort network and residency abroad are what convinced her, as well as her company, that the MS-MBA in Food and Agribusiness Management was the right choice.