In today’s competitive job market, companies seek candidates who not only possess theoretical knowledge but also have practical experience to tackle complex business challenges. Recognizing this demand, Westcliff University created the Strategic Management of Applied Research and Technology (SMART) program. This unique capstone experience provides MBA students with the opportunity to work as consultants, gain hands-on skills, and greatly enhance their employability prospects. The SMART program aims to connect students with executives, foster creative thinking, and deliver real-world experience.
The SMART program at Westcliff University facilitates partnerships between MBA students and executives from diverse organizations, including global powerhouses, regional brands, non-profits, and startups. By directly engaging with industry leaders, students gain valuable insights into complex organizational issues, refine their communication skills, and develop the adaptability that only comes with experience. The program offers a level of intensity and practicality that sets it apart from other academic programs. MBA student and former SMART program participant, Sneha Deshmukh, spoke to this saying, “I not only was able to apply and improve my technical skills but also soft skills, like presenting ideas, communicating progress, and working in a team. This program definitely added value to my career prospects.”
To maximize learning and collaboration, SMART program participants work in small teams of no more than five members. This structure allows for close interaction with faculty mentors and company executives, ensuring ongoing support and guidance throughout the project. The emphasis on teamwork enables students to enhance their collaboration skills, develop leadership capabilities, and build a professional network that opens doors to future employment opportunities. The success found in this collaboration between students and companies has been well known. Ethan Norof, marketing communications director at Champs Charter School, a participating SMART company, said, “I couldn’t have been happier with the way my project turned out. The Westcliff students were highly structured and committed to the timeline and action items of the project. Every action was designed for a specific purpose aligned with the mission and vision of the project.”
The transition from the classroom to the boardroom that the SMART program provides comes from immersing students in real-world scenarios, where they analyze complex problems and devise innovative solutions. Recent projects demonstrate the program’s diverse range of opportunities. For example, during a recent program, students collaborated with Jedi Robotics, a leading AI robotics company in the medical sector, to conduct competitor analysis, field research, cost evaluation, and more. This experience not only provided students with valuable industry exposure but also allowed them to make meaningful contributions to a rapidly growing field.
Another exciting collaboration involved Westcliff University students partnering with The Smooth Team, a Finnish company specializing in research-based simulations for improving team dynamics in professional settings. The students supported The Smooth Team’s expansion into the U.S. market by developing a detailed marketing plan, conducting customer research, and providing product development insights. This mutually beneficial partnership allowed students to gain practical experience while helping the company achieve its ambitious goals.
Westcliff University thrives on innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, which the SMART program embraces and fosters. Ongoing projects highlight the program’s interdisciplinary approach, such as the collaboration between the College of Business and the College of Technology and Engineering to develop and launch an app from scratch. This project not only combines different areas of study but also fosters a sense of entrepreneurship among students.
SMART Students Develop Nonprofit E-commerce Website
The SMART program extends its impact beyond business boundaries by engaging in philanthropy and social outreach through e-commerce. For an ambitious ongoing SMART project, Westcliff University has established an e-commerce website, providing practical entrepreneurial experience and applying classroom knowledge. The online store, PurposefulBuying.org was created entirely by SMART capstone students from scratch, doing all the website creation, design, networking connections, and logistics. In this concept students will sell Nepalese products on the platform, with all proceeds benefiting the nonprofit organization, Pahar Trust, who have been working for more than 30 years to help improve living standards and bring education to remote communities in Nepal.
This initiative contributes to positive social change while enriching students’ learning experience with real and evolving experiences growing a business. Dr. Assaf, Westcliff University associate professor and SMART program manager explained, “The e-commerce website will provide students with a practical platform to apply the concepts and theories they learn in their business classes. They will have the opportunity to experience the entire process of running an online business, from product sourcing to customer service.” SMART capstone students will continue to run Purposeful Buying as it grows and expands, bringing forth new challenges for students to learn from, such as international shipping procedures, marketing initiatives, supply chain management, and more. Director of Entrepreneurship Education, Dr. Barry Sandrew said this, “This project is a lab, a living lab that will continue to flourish through future students.”
Westcliff University’s SMART program bridges the gap between education and practical experience, equipping MBA students with the most up-to-date skills sought after by today’s employers. By connecting students with executives, fostering teamwork, and engaging in real-world projects, the program provides a fantastic platform for students to excel and make a tangible impact in various industries. Whether it’s robotics, market expansion, app development, social entrepreneurship, and countless other avenues of business, the SMART program empowers students to unlock their potential and become future leaders in their chosen fields. Stay tuned for more updates on the exciting ongoing projects and achievements from Westcliff University’s SMART program.