EMBA Spotlight: At UMN Carlson, A New Curriculum & Hybrid Option

The Executive MBA program at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management launched a new curriculum this year. Courtesy photo

Over the course of his 20-month EMBA program at Carlson School of Management, Darrin Hubbard sampled a variety of delivery formats: in-person, online, and virtual live via Zoom.

Not by choice, necessarily. The pandemic closed the University of Minnesota campus for parts of his term and, for a time, remote class was the only option. The experience taught him two things: One, the flexibility of a multi-channel delivery is particularly valuable to executive students who are juggling so many commitments. Two, the real-time, in classroom interactions are among the most valuable aspects of the degree.

“Accessing how the subject matter manifests itself throughout the cohort was really valuable to me – hearing from peers on how their organization was dealing with supply chain issues during the pandemic or from human resource leaders about how their organizations are handling the changing workforce,” says Darrin Hubbard, EMBA ‘22.

“Coming from a small employer, I was interested to hear how some of the same challenges were being addressed at some of the Fortune 500 companies in the area. In some ways this was reaffirming that we are all working on the same macroeconomic issues. I was able to borrow some ideas and bring them back to our company.”



While adding a new hybrid option to its delivery was a necessity born from the pandemic, UNM Carlson has permanently added the flexibility to its EMBA program. Students can now choose to attend classes in person and on campus (which most do), or they can log in remotely via Zoom when circumstances warrant.

It is one of two significant changes to its Executive MBA this year. The school also launched a new EMBA curriculum with emphasis on leadership, strategy, and decision making tailored for executive students, Robyn Wick, Carlson Executive MBA director, tells Poets&Quants.

“The new curriculum launch was a labor of love. I've been through curricular tweaks here and there, but this was a scrap-it-and-start-from-the-bottom approach. That's been our big push, and our program looks different and feels different now, even on paper, from our full-time and part-time programs. It's been a differentiator already,” Wick says.

“That and the hybrid option are big, big deals for us, especially being a very traditional school.”

Carlson was an early adopter of the EMBA format, launching in 1981. Today, it offers its flagship 20-month program in Minneapolis along with two Global EMBAs with its partner schools in Vienna and China: Vienna University of Economics and Business and Lingnan College of Sun Yat-sen University.

Its flagship ranked 23rd in Poets&Quants’ 2022 EMBA ranking, falling from 10th the year before. Our composite ranking is based on U.S. schools’ performance in the three major EMBA rankings – U.S. News & World Report, the Financial Times, and The Economist – and schools that don’t participate in all three are penalized by our methodology. Carlson ranked 31st in U.S. News’ latest list and 14th for U.S. schools in the Economist. (The Economist, which announced this summer that it was killing its MBA ranking because of withering criticism, did not release an EMBA ranking in 2021.) It wasn’t ranked by the FT.


Hubbard, 39, is vice president of business and portfolio development at Ewald Consulting in Mendota Heights, Minn. It was a new role created for him, thanks, in part to his EMBA training.

Darrin Hubbard, Carlson EMBA '22

When considering an MBA, Hubbard looked at the myriad of options on the market, including online, traditional two-year residential, and part-time formats. As a husband and father of three, the executive format worked for his family while offering the deep networking opportunities he was looking for. The Carlson EMBA also offered him a chance to study the global implications of what he was learning and to travel abroad with its international residency.

“I wanted first-hand access to the University of Minnesota network, reputation of the program, and the talented individuals that this program has graduated in previous years,” he tells Poets&Quants. “For me, access to research and instruction from world-class faculty set Carlson apart. The professors challenged us and encouraged us to challenge them based on our experience which lead to robust discussion and
learning opportunities.”

This week, Poets&Quants is diving into the Executive MBA program at The Carlson School of Management as part of our EMBA Spotlight series. Below, we speak with Wick about Carlson’s new EMBA curriculum, hybrid option, and opportunities in the changing EMBA market. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s begin with an overview of the Carlson EMBA format and the new hybrid option for students.

We have a pretty traditional EMBA format – every other weekend – but we became a synchronous hybrid program during COVID, and we're keeping that option. During COVID, we stayed live online even though the school was shut down and everyone was sent home. We later had to make adjustments for social distancing, so we were doing one cohort at a time with about half of their program being online synchronous. We got some really great technology upgrades in the classrooms that we use today. It's worked out really nicely for our students to have that option to log in remotely when they're traveling, or sick, or what have you.

Explain the basic format.

We follow a traditional academic calendar year pretty closely. We start at the beginning of September, have our fall and spring semesters, and summers off. The students are here on campus every other week, approximately, with classes all day Friday and all day Saturday.

So, on class day, they just kind of let us know whether they're going to be in-person or on Zoom. All the classrooms have big screens, so whoever's on Zoom is right there in the room and talking. I would call it more remote. I know when it's online we think more about asynchronous learning, but this is live.

What is the split, generally? Are there more in-person students than those on Zoom, or is it the other way around?

Robyn Wick, Carlson EMBA director

Predominantly in person. I hear, being that I'm interviewing candidates and talking to them, that the in-person experience is a big draw for this kind of program. They want that network and person-to-person experience. On a typical class day in each cohort, I'd say we have a handful of students who are remote.

That being said, we're just starting now, to look at putting this out there a little more broadly, geographically: You could attend classes almost exclusively via Zoom. We've had some students who said that was their intention when they applied, but they come for their Immersion Week at the start of the year and then decide they want to be here. For us, we're seeing it as just another way to provide more flexibility.

In the past, we used to record the classes, and they could go back and watch them, but they couldn't interact. Now that they can interact, it's been a pretty big game changer.

How many people are in your cohort?

In a typical year, about 35 to 40. We're a little smaller coming out of COVID right now. We have 25 in our first year and 39 in our second. I call this year an anomaly in terms of size. Our cohort sizes were actually not too far off normal during our COVID years, but I think that's because everyone kept thinking it was going to end. Now people are like, "I don't trust anything anymore."

We had a few people come back in the second year who took a year off during COVID, so they're coming back.

I think the job market has also played a role. We live in a really great location in terms of headquarters and companies. The job market is really, really great. I think we see a little more when people have an impetus to go to school. The students we have are here for very specific reasons. They have wanted to do their MBA, and in a typical year, companies want their people to have it. Right now, the companies aren't there. They need their employees there. So, I'm interested to see what next year brings because I think everything post-COVID is nothing we've ever seen before.

Carlson Executive MBA students. Photo by Tony Nelson

What residencies are required in the program?

We start with our orientation in mid August; They get their computer and meet their classmates. With a few exceptions, the students are in person for that.

Then the very first week of classes, which for us at the University of Minnesota is the Tuesday after Labor Day, is Immersion Week, and that is a piece we want them in person. We have a few special events, but it's also about not just getting to know their cohort, but getting to know the cohort above or below them. We have them at a hotel that's walking distance to campus, and they're really diving into being a student.

At the end of the program, we have their international residency, which is required in person. We do a project throughout the second year with our two global partner schools. We have an global executive MBA program in Vienna at Vienna University of Economics and Business, and in China, we partner with Lingnan College of Sun Yat-sen University. Students from all three of our EMBA programs work together on their capstone project. So, they have a truly global team they're working with for most of their second year.

Those students come here to Minneapolis from China and Europe for that final presentation. We have faculty from all three programs, and we bring in some alums from our EMBA program to be on the panel and grill them.

NEXT PAGE: Carlson’s new EMBA curriculum + EMBA trends

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