The University of Rochester's Simon School of Business has an idea to attract students to its executive MBA program-a "Hunger Games"-style contest that pits them against each other in a contest to make a successful simulated business.
The Simon Games offers potential students the chance to become CEO of their own firm. They are responsible for business decisions, including market entry, operations and marketing, and are asked to make six key decisions during the seven-week game.
The competition is modeled loosely after the movie and book "The Hunger Games," which pits contestants against one another in a fight to the death. The Simon Games has them compete instead to create a business, with the top four being selected as finalists.
On the line is a full-tuition scholarship to the executive MBA program, valued at more than $89,000, as well as two partial scholarships for the runners-up. But for the Simon School, the contest also has a bigger goal: connecting the school to a new audience and expanding recruitment circles.
The precursor to the Simon Games started years ago as a recruitment effort for the school's full-time program. Though that did not hit the intended market, Simon School officials saw great potential for using the idea for the executive program.
"Two years ago we decided to take this initiative and market it nationally," said Kathleen Harris, director of executive programs administration at the Simon School. "The last two years we did a business simulation as a grassroots effort, and this year we launched the Simon Games. Already we've tripled our inquiries and we're looking at 40 registrants for the game."
The game also helps students prepare for the executive MBA program, Harris added. In the first three weeks they are taught concepts such as business strategies.
"This is very helpful because it can help identify gaps or things that the students thought they knew but maybe need more work on," Harris said.
Because the students spend six to eight hours a week on the simulation, it also gives them an idea of the time commitment necessary to complete the program, she added.
The Simon Games also helps the school connect with an audience that has been more difficult to reach, Harris said.
"There are a lot of people who have difficulty getting companies to sponsor them through the program, so this opens up another option," Harris said.
The Rochester Business Alliance Inc. also offers scholarships to individuals from companies of 500 people or fewer as well as non-profit organizations, she added.
The Simon Games are part of a larger effort by the Simon School to expand its audience, Dean Mark Zupan noted. Part of this effort is a push to gain a stronger foothold in New York City, where the school recently introduced a master of science degree in finance. The program originated from a student-submitted idea and allows the school to establish a stronger presence in New York City with alumni and potential students.
Building on the success of the finance program, the Simon School plans to offer a second program in New York City beginning in August. The new course will be a master's program in management, targeting working professionals in the downstate area.
New York City is the biggest source of applicants to the Simon School after Rochester, Zupan said. As it revamps its strategic plan this year, expanding in New York City will be important.
"This is opening up recruiting channels for us in New York, and it's a good way to broaden our alumni family as well," he said.
This expansion fits into plans for the broader university as well, Zupan noted.
"Things have gone very well for us in New York, and we're part of a universitywide effort applying for branch campus status in New York," he said. "There's already a master's in health care education leadership that is being run by the Warner School of Education and the schools of medicine and nursing, and they're offering a program like that in August in New York."
Zupan said he sees all the Simon School's efforts, from New York City expansion to programs like the Simon Games, as part of a larger push to benefit the university.
"We have a big push under (UR president) Joel Seligman to promote Rochester and ramp up advancement efforts, doing more high-profile things and even just the elite publication of accomplishments of the University of Rochester," Zupan said.
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