The University of Alabama Prepares the Next Generation of STEM Business Leaders

At the University of Alabama (UA), students interested in STEM and business can find the best of both worlds. The university’s STEM Path to the MBA program allows students to earn both an undergraduate degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) discipline and an MBA in just five years.

Students in the University of Alabama’s STEM Path to the MBA program
Students in the University of Alabama’s STEM Path to the MBA program

The program, which accepted its first set of students in fall 2011, is aimed at preparing graduates for careers in STEM-related businesses, specifically technology or healthcare.

“As time goes on, technology and business become more and more intertwine d, and all of our science, engineering, and healthcare types of organizations need more and better business understanding,” says Rob Morgan, director of the STEM Path to the MBA program.

Morgan — who is also a Phifer Fellow, professor of marketing, and executive director of Innovation Initiatives at UA — says they typically recruit high school students to the program who have already been accepted to the university. Recruitment efforts are focused on students who scored a 28 or better on their ACT, had a 3.5 or higher high school GPA, and indicated they intend to major in a STEM discipline.

While students must meet all three of these criteria in order to be admitted to the program initially, those who don’t still have the opportunity to apply later on.

Students admitted to the STEM Path to the MBA program take a STEM business honors course, which is 1.5 credit hours, every semester while pursuing their undergraduate degree. “They meet with us for 75 minutes once a week for four years,” Morgan says.

The undergraduate portion also includes in-depth projects; for freshmen, these include several five-week projects, and for sophomores and juniors, one 10-week project. Program participants typically take four years to complete their bachelor’s.

Students formally apply to the MBA portion of the program during the fall of their junior year, shortly after which they begin graduate courses.

“If they are admitted, that summer — between their junior and senior year — they take three MBA courses online, come back, and finish their senior year in the STEM discipline and graduate in May; then they take three more [MBA] courses that summer, five in the fall, and five in the spring,” Morgan says.

“What you see is that students have a lot broader career opportunities because of the combination. They’re better able to communicate with people, and I think it prepares them to be better leaders,” Morgan says. “It increases their value to the organizations they go to work for. And a lot of the companies that are interested in these students are really taken by their analytical skills and their ability to take the analytical skills they developed in engineering, for instance, and apply them to business problems.”

During the first year of the program, UA admitted 64 students, and this fall, the incoming cohort has just over 300. The first cohort will graduate in May.

Morgan says that the 2015-2016 STEM Path to the MBA cohort is 34 percent female, a fact he prides himself on. And while he says that a program such as this tends to attract diverse students, ensuring that women and minorities are represented has its challenges.

“I think that the combination of business and technology or business and science attracts women and minorities. They see more seats at the table for them,” he says. “But you really have to work at it. You have to work at trying to reach out to those folks and show them the value of the program.”