When she came to the master’s program in Information Systems at Stevens, Nidhi Thind had a very varied background — in corporate communications at Opto Circuits, as a systems engineer for InfoSys, even as co-owner of the startup Yum Crumb Co. — but nothing that involved complex presentations to high-level managers in the private sector.
Thanks to her Stevens coursework, Thind, who graduated in May 2016, looked like she was born in the boardroom, as she confidently walked executives at Wiley through a website she and her teammates built as part of an Industry Capstone Program project for the international publishing house.
“Stevens classes really immerse you in industry — in every class, professors push you to read case studies, articles and journals that really expose you to the problems being faced in the real world,” Thind said. “And we do a lot of presentations, which taught me to better connect with an audience, focus on what’s important to get across and lead with confidence.”
An integral part of the graduate business curriculum at Stevens is the Industry Capstone Program, which gives students real-world work experience with one of the university’s many corporate partners in the New York City metropolitan area. Managers orient the students to the corporate culture and explain a problem or opportunity being examined; students then work in groups to design a solution or prepare a strategic recommendation, which is then presented to the company at the end of the semester.
For Thind, it was a reminder of the value of courses in project management and business processes that were part of her Information Systems coursework.
“Every assignment has emphasized how to apply what I’ve learned — so I haven’t just learned these concepts, I’ve been taught how to use them at work.”
Managers at Hoboken-based Wiley — one of the largest publishers in the world and a market leader in academic publishing — were impressed with the work and enthusiasm of the students, who worked in four teams to develop websites hosting content on some educational themes around which Wiley does business, including healthcare, data science and cybersecurity.
Aligned to Wiley's strategy
“The recommendations provided by the students were not only well thought-out and sound in strategy, but they each aligned with our bigger business strategies and initiatives,” said Greg Finkelstein, senior vice president and managing director of Education Services at Wiley. “It was clear the teams grasped the values and cores of the new industry upon which they were focused.”
Part of that grasp was clearly the result of Wiley’s direct engagement with the students, as Dinesh Panchal pointed out.
“I didn’t expect the kind of resources the company provided to us, like experienced managers to meet with us and teach us what’s important to them and the company, and how we can get there effectively,” said Panchal, a student in the Master’s in Technology Management program. “That level of support really kept us on track.”
Classroom lessons also were tested as students sought creative ways to address the challenges they encountered.
“The biggest lesson for me was not falling in love with the initial idea,” said Shalini Verma, an Information Systems master’s student. “The more we met, reviewed surveys, worked as a team, and got input from Wiley, the more we changed the look and the content. We found so much value in challenging those initial assumptions.”
Managing projects, expectations
Another crucial lesson for students on the projects was the need to manage expectations, said Jasmine Mina, who graduated with an MBA in May after earning her bachelor’s degree from the School of Business in 2015.
“We wanted to do it all,” Mina said. “But we had to be realistic, especially when technical challenges and other urgent matters came up. It taught us how to identify priorities, work together and make tough decisions. We learned about overcoming challenges with websites and technology, but we also learned about leadership and teamwork.”
Peter Marney, senior vice president and chief product technology officer at Wiley, said the mix of technology and leadership skills is what made Stevens an attractive candidate to work with on the project.
“Every business today is a technology business,” Marney said. “I’d be hard pressed to think of a company that can afford to ignore the critical role of technology in achieving success regardless of their industry. The Stevens students are at the cutting edge of marrying technology with a traditional MBA.”
Finkelstein said he was particularly impressed with the students’ drive to take the projects to the next level, despite a very aggressive timeline.
“The students from Stevens have an extraordinary motivation that is contagious,” Finkelstein said. “They were able to own their mistakes, adjust while in motion and work collaboratively toward the goal of the project.”
“Stevens students are at the cutting edge of marrying technology with a traditional MBA.”
Dr. Gregory Prastacos, dean of the School of Business, said he was impressed with both the students’ work and the support from Wiley leadership.
“The amount of commitment and time the Wiley group gave to our students was really tremendous,” Dr. Prastacos said. “And that really showed in the presentation of the projects. Our students delivered exactly what Wiley managers wanted, a testament to their hard work, but also the guidance from leaders at the company.”
Wiley managers said they were equally impressed with Stevens, and would be eager to collaborate with the School of Business again.
“If you’re looking for a group of students who will deliver a fresh, innovative perspective that provides value to your products and to the business, you have found the perfect partner,” Finkelstein said.