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KNOXVILLE—The full-time MBA program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Business Administration is breaking educational ground. The program gives students the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills into practice while adding to the long-term value of social cause organizations in East Tennessee.

Innovation in Practice, first offered in spring 2011, is an applied-learning course now required for all first-year, full-time MBA students. Student teams partner on real-world consulting “engagements” for regional nonprofit organizations; they develop the critical skills of seeing things others miss, leading transformational change, managing projects, collaborating, and “walking in the footsteps” of executives and board of directors.

“Other MBA programs have applied-learning courses, but UT’s program is the first to pair sixteen student teams with sixteen different nonprofits as a required learning experience for all MBA students,” said Amy Cathey, executive director of the full-time MBA program. “To my knowledge, there is no other MBA program in the world that makes this level of investment in applied learning and no other MBA program that can document the outcomes in terms of hours contributed for the benefit of the local community.”

In the Innovation in Practice course, each MBA team is paired with a faculty mentor, a nonprofit organization, and a defined scope of work for the upcoming project. Unlike many classes where multiple teams work on a similar project, each team is solely responsible for executing the scope of work for its nonprofit.

Example focus areas for these projects included aligning value propositions, increasing earned income, managing receivables, acquiring new properties, and evaluating information technology architecture.

“Our experience with the students and professors was nothing short of tremendous,” said Daniel Watson of Restoration House, an organization dedicated to providing support and housing for single, unwed mothers. “We would have had a hard time paying someone to receive the same level of results as we did through this partnership.”

Innovation in Practice is an outgrowth of community outreach that the full-time MBA students have been doing with nonprofit organizations since 2004. Since that time, there have been fifty-two applied-learning experiences with social cause organizations that have involved 247 students and more than 19,000 donated hours. The MBA Class of 2011 participated in sixteen of these engagements and provided more than 5,600 of the outreach consulting hours.

Student feedback about the course has been positive.

“The consulting project was an eye-opening experience,” said Chris Andrews, a full-time MBA student who worked with Historic Rugby. “It allowed us to tackle the real challenges that the organization faced and make recommendations that will impact its future in a way we could never have imagined.”

Glenn Swift, faculty co-leader for the course and former AT&T executive, said the applied-learning program helps graduates “enter the workplace with confidence” because they are “experienced and ready to serve as value creators.”

Faculty co-leader Pat Richardson echoed that:

“We’ve seen them excel at innovative thinking,” he said. “Working on a real problem with no ‘right’ answer was tough for the students to wrap their arms around, but it forced them to increase their technical skills, enhance their personal leadership development, and become stronger analytic thinkers.”

For more information about the UT full-time MBA program, please visit

Innovation in Practice faculty mentors include:

Joy Fisher is a lecturer in the College of Business Administration and director of marketing and business development for the UT Research Foundation. Fisher’s industry background includes experience at Accenture, where she was involved with several start-up businesses and alliances, including Accenture’s alliance with Microsoft. She also worked at Motorola in several capacities, including the New Ventures Group, where she had responsibility for developing new market opportunities, market entry strategies, and business plans. Fisher holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing from Florida State University and an MBA from Northern Illinois University.

Neil Fischer is director of business development for The Insite Group LLC, which manages exterior signage needs for retail and corporate locations. He has more than thirty years of corporate experience managing business profit centers, building organizational teams, managing complex projects, and implementing change. Fischer holds a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Northern Illinois University.

Sherman Jones is a career educator who holds academic and administrative positions with Knoxville College, Tuskegee, Clark Atlanta University, Fisk University, Tennessee Wesleyan University, and the Southern Normal School Foundation. Most recently, he has served as director of development for the Knoxville Urban League and as a business analyst/consultant for IPA. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Williams College, an MBA from the Harvard Business School; and an EdD from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Austin Lance, a retired executive and officer of International Paper Corp., spent thirty-eight years in the forest-products industry. At IPC, he led several divisions, the most recent being a global foodservice packaging division. He currently is principal and president of Lance Associates LLC, a management consulting business. He is active in Rotary, East Tennessee Economic Council, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, the Oak Ridge Literacy Council, and the Oak Ridge Planning Commission. He has a bachelor’s degree from UT Knoxville and an MBA from the University of Dayton.

Pat Richardson joined UT’s College of Business Administration faculty in 2007. Prior to that, he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and held various executive positions at Motorola. His areas of interest include entrepreneurship and early-stage, technology-based businesses. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University.

Raymond Stark is a retired executive of Honeywell Specialty Materials, most recently its chief technology officer. Prior to joining Honeywell, Stark was director of technology for Dow Corning Asia. Stark is now CEO of Innovation by Design LLC. He holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.

Glenn Swift joined UT’s College of Business Administration in 2003 after spending more than thirty-five years in the corporate environment, including executive positions at AT&T. His areas of interest include entrepreneurship and innovation. At UT, he is a leadership coach to full-time and executive-level MBA students. He championed the full-time MBA’s new entrepreneurship and innovation secondary concentration. He received his MBA from Georgia State University

TK Wright spent twenty-six years in community bank management, retiring from NationsBank in 1995 as its president and CEO. Since then, he has given back to his community as a high school teacher for seven years, an adjunct instructor with South College, and a lecturer for the UT College of Business Administration. Wright has a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and an MBA from Xavier University.

C O N T A C T :

Cindy Raines (865-974-4359,