Tulane’s New STEM-Focused MBA Curriculum Prepares Students to Excel in Business

A year into its new, data-focused curriculum, Tulane MBA students say they're getting valuable real-world experience.
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Published on June 17, 2024
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  • The Tulane A.B. Freeman School of Business launched a new MBA curriculum with a STEM focus last year.
  • Tulane MBA students told BestColleges that the curriculum brings a heavy focus on real-world experiences.
  • Tulane's curriculum, which incorporates both sustainability and an emphasis on data, mirrors students' and employers' demands.
  • A growing number of business schools are emphasizing STEM in their MBA curriculum.

Esther Frempong and Shafi Munir come from vastly different backgrounds.

Frempong was born and raised in New Orleans and worked for years as a mathematics teacher after graduating from college with her bachelor's.

Munir is originally from Bangladesh and after pursuing a bachelor's in chemical engineering worked as an operations and production manager for British American Tobacco.

Frempong and Munir, however, have something big in common: They are both part of the inaugural cohort of the Tulane University A.B. Freeman School of Business' revamped master of business administration (MBA) curriculum, which is focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Tulane announced its new data and STEM-focused MBA curriculum last year. That innovative program includes a heavy focus on data-driven decision-making, as well as environmental and social inequities.

Those topics are among the most sought-after areas for prospective MBA students. And a growing number of business schools are launching majors and concentrations in those high-demand fields as demand from employers and students alike grows.

Munir and Frempong both have a background in STEM. They told BestColleges that they chose Tulane because of both its innovative curriculum and the focus on leadership.

"I was basically an operations guy, so I worked in manufacturing, supply chain," Munir said. "I wanted to actually learn more about business, more about the financial aspects, the marketing, and other functions."

Tulane drew Munir in with its heavy focus on data analytics — a key skill in the area of supply chain management — as well as its focus on real-world learning.

Frempong said Tulane's long-standing reputation of excellence in her hometown of New Orleans drew her to the school. She also added that the curriculum incorporates key tech skills that business leaders will need to excel at going forward.

"They really thought about what the future of a business leader looks like, especially with the evolving technology space," Frempong said.

STEM Focus

A number of institutions have incorporated STEM into their MBA curriculum in recent years — but Tulane's includes an infused data-heavy focus throughout the student experience.

Data-driven decision-making is a vital skill for future business leaders, and Frempong said Tulane's curriculum has helped her interpret data to see the big picture and apply findings to a business.

She said the curriculum underscores the breadth of data in business and its countless applications.

"What has stood out to me is just the impact that data has in business decisions these days," Frempong said.

Melissa Lightell, the assistant dean of graduate admissions at the Freeman School of Business, said adaptability and critical-thinking skills are key parts of the new MBA curriculum alongside technical training.

The new curriculum incorporates current, high-demand technologies, but it also includes a focus on ethics and analytical thinking to prepare students for future business developments.

"Our classes do incorporate, as much as possible, a lot of the technologies that we currently have at our fingertips today. But a lot of it is also thinking about the ethics around it, thinking about the human component, and where the gaps are," Lightell said in an interview.

Munir said the program has covered coding languages like R, SQL, and Python, as well as data management techniques and visualization tools.

He said that heavy technical focus will help prepare data-literate future leaders, especially with artificial intelligence (AI) being run on coding languages.

"Understanding this stuff in a good manner actually positions us better to interact with these AI tools," he said.

Real-World Experiences

Frempong has a strong background in STEM but said she wanted to learn more about finance and other business-related fields when she came to Tulane's MBA program.

The program's varied class offerings with real-world, client-based aspects helped Frempong embrace those new fields.

"I knew finance is the language of business, so I knew it was important for me to get that knowledge, but I didn't realize how much I would love strategy," Frempong said.

Her coursework included working as a consultant with IBM for AI technology. Those in-class experiences informed Frempong's experiential learning opportunities in summer 2024. She said she'll be doing internships both in finance and tech.

"I wanted the opportunity to be able to gain some hands-on experience in different areas," Frempong said.

Munir said projects from companies are built into the curriculum. He worked with the Southern Rail Commission to work on data analytics, consumer demand mapping, and promotional opportunities. He's currently working with Dell Technologies in an internship.

Another key benefit of the program is its diverse cohort model. Even in Munir and Frempong's small cohort, more than a dozen nationalities are represented.

"It creates a very diverse learning environment," Munir said, noting that his classmates come from across the globe.

Frempong said the MBA candidates come from all backgrounds and walks of life, from education to engineering.

"Not everybody took a cookie-cutter route, and that helps the most when it comes to just diversity of thought," Frempong said. "We all have different backgrounds. We're all pulling from different pools."

Lightell said the Freeman School of Business has a long history of diverse, global cohorts and added that a broad cohort helps boost cross-cultural understanding and networking opportunities.

"We're in a very global world right now," Lightell said.

Shaping the Future of Business Education

Tulane's new curriculum overwhelmingly mirrors what students and employers alike are looking for in a business education.

AI took the top spot for prospective MBA students' most important topics in the consulting firm CarringtonCrisp's 2024 Tomorrow's MBA report.

Most prospective MBA students in the survey — 53% — selected AI as an important topic to be covered in their business curriculum, with data analytics, technology management, and other tech topics following close behind.

The vast majority of respondents, roughly 82%, were also interested in embedded diversity, equity, and inclusion content within an MBA program — and sustainability was another key topic of interest for students.

A growing number of top business schools are embracing AI, STEM, and technology in their curriculum.

The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School recently announced it would ramp up AI investments, and the American University Kogod School of Business plans to integrate AI throughout its curriculum.

University of California, Davis Dean H. Rao Unnava previously told BestColleges that STEM and related skills are key to a modern business education.

"We felt that the conventional business, which was more of a liberal arts education, will not cut it," Unnava said. "We need to provide the ability to use the thinking power that you get from liberal arts education in interpreting high-tech outputs."

Tulane's early focus on STEM and experiential learning is already bringing in major results for the school.

"Our confirmed students are, for the next cycles, kind of up by 80%," Lightell said, adding there was still plenty of opportunity for students to join the next cohort.