Putting your skills to the test: Corporate consulting projects pair Kelley Evening MBA students with real-life clients

On any given day, Jameson Smith, MBA’20, can be found working as a product design engineer at Cummins. But on this day, he’s donning safety glasses and gear to observe a process at Mays Chemical, a national distributor of chemical and raw materials.

The data Smith and his Kelley Evening MBA classmates capture will be used to identify opportunities to reduce the time and cost for this particular blending process at Mays Chemical.

This is all part of an intensive, immersive corporate consulting project through the Kelley Evening MBA Program – an experience that takes students out of the classroom and out of the industries in which they’re comfortable – to push the limits of their professional comfort zones. They work with global companies like Mays Chemical to solve executive-level problems and offer consulting expertise, strategy opportunities and, in this case, process improvement recommendations.

MBA students present to leaders at Mays Chemical.

“When we are in class, we look at a lot of case studies, and we learn to crack those case studies on paper,” said Mukta Kulkarni, MBA’19, an applied controls projects engineer at Cummins. “This is our chance to do a case study all by ourselves – and not only crack that case study all by ourselves, but we get to see a company implement our recommendations.”

“Until you’re on site watching what people do while they’re in this process, you’re not going to understand what kinds of hurdles they’re encountering or what kinds of problems they’re seeing,” said Smith. “We provide fresh eyes to the process, and what seems obvious to us may not be observed by those who do this day in and day out. All the students on our team have worked in some form of manufacturing, and we’ve all had outsiders look at our work. So we take those learning experiences and apply them to this real-life project -- using our own daily experiences in our own careers to help this company.”

At Mays Chemical, Evening MBA students worked to identify opportunities to reduce the time and cost for this particular blending process.

From process improvement solutions to whitepapers

Another group of Kelley Evening MBA students consulted for the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association. They were tasked with an entirely different issue: Consider the role manufactured housing could have in solving the workforce housing shortage in Indiana.

The students crafted an economic whitepaper that focused on the housing industry and barriers that may limit certain kinds of housing across the state.

During one project, Evening MBA students created an economic whitepaper that considered the role of manufactured housing in solving the workforce housing shortage in Indiana.  

“There are not enough affordable homes in Indiana to attract and keep talent in both rural and metropolitan areas,” said Jose Mitjavila, MBA’19, a resident physician at IU Arnett. “We were tasked to analyze the housing shortage and consider if the manufactured home industry could fill that gap and help the state solve this issue.”

The Kelley Evening MBA students compiled data from across the state and spoke with city leaders and industry experts about their observations and recommendations. After analyzing the data, they condensed it to a narrative format for their whitepaper.

“Getting real-life work experience is one of the reasons that people do a part-time MBA instead of a full-time MBA. It’s the expectation that during our time in the program we will be integrated with companies around Indianapolis,” said Mitchell Turnbow, MBA’20, business development manager with RouteOne.

With any complex problem, there isn’t a single solution, the students pointed out. They learned some Indiana counties, cities and towns have regulations that impact the use of manufactured housing. The team’s main goal was to quantify data in a way that could help policy makers in forming future regulatory decisions.

 “This project is an example of what the Kelley School of Business does every day. We use research and scholarship to empower students to solve problems that hold back Hoosier businesses,” said Phil Powell, associate dean of academic programs and clinical associate professor of business economics at the Kelley School on IUPUI’s campus. Powell oversaw these consulting projects.

Evening MBA students crafted an economic whitepaper that focused on the housing industry and barriers that may limit certain kinds of housing across the state.

A new lens and focus outside of the classroom

“There’s a completely different set of pressures involved when you’re sitting in a room with the president and vice president of an organization, as compared to presenting a case study in class,” reflected Turnbow. “These executives are leaning on us for new expertise or a new way to innovate, and to be able to provide that for them is extremely fulfilling but also challenging in a whole different way.”

 “It’s refreshing to tackle a new subject for a while and to meet new people you otherwise really wouldn’t have,” added Mitjavila. “This project gave me another lens to think through after we worked through some of these problems.”

Outside of a professional comfort zone

“I am an engineer during the day and solve problems on the engine,” explained Kulkarni. “This corporate consulting project gave me a better understanding of what actually happens on the floor -- and in a very different industry. I learned that different industries often have very similar problems. I also learned the process of asking questions: What questions do we need to ask in order to understand what the issue is? And how do we get that vague, intangible problem consolidated into words? How can we boil it down to determine how to solve this?”

“Also, the connections you make and the network you create while you’re in this program – particularly this project – are amazing,” said Paramvir Sawhney, MBA’19, a senior product development engineer with Ambu A/S, who worked with Mays Chemical on the process improvement project. “The Kelley Evening MBA Program has given me a platform to expand my network, meet new people and make new friends, as well.”

It's about taking the things I learn in the evening and applying it to the real world in the morning. It’s about helping business and helping society.

Paramvir Sawhney, MBA’19, senior product development engineer