Wharton MBA Alumnus Reflects on Value of Independent Studies

When Jim Smith entered Wharton’s executive MBA program in 2005, he also launched the Digital Network Group, an IT and management consulting firm with a mission to create economic and social value for local communities. Wanting to work with professors on his particular interests outside of the core classes, he sought out independent study projects that would help him develop his business.

As a first-year EMBA student, his initial project was with Prof. Terry LaPier on leading social change through the application of information technology. “That experience provided me with an opportunity to develop a framework that effectively leverages the business, government, nonprofit and academic sectors in a cohesive, systematic and repeatable fashion,” he says. “Through that study, I came up with an idea to build a computer assisted mentoring system for students, as well as a platform to help nonprofits improve their own capacity to provide services – both of which are key elements of my business today.”

Smith’s first independent study project subsequently led to additional projects with Prof. Eric Clemons and Prof. William Tyson. Working with Prof. Clemons, he focused on the development of a technical capability model for nonprofits. During the independent study with Prof. Tyson, he established a nonprofit organization, Digital Network Community Development Corporation, to continue his research and to promote service programs to youth.

After graduation, Smith achieved his first significant breakthrough when he landed a five-year contract with one of the largest school systems in the country to provide mentorship throughout the district utilizing his Computer Assisted Mentoring System. Having recently hit another a big milestone – five years in business – Smith says his success is owed in part to his experience at Wharton and support from Wharton alumni.

“My Wharton education has been a fundamental part of my achievement,” he says. “In the core classes, I acquired business tools that I use every day to run the business and the independent studies helped me crystallize a specific opportunity in the marketplace.”

Smith adds that the Wharton network, both within Wharton’s EMBA program and the broader Wharton community, has been invaluable. “I continue to leverage my relationships with classmates, professors and alumni. It’s been great to find good people to work on our team, but also people who can provide feedback, guidance and support,” he says, noting that he’s been a guest lecturer for Prof. Ian MacMillan’s Societal Wealth Venturing course.

Congratulations to Jim on his continued success!

Related Knowledge@Wharton article: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2095/.

Related blog: http://www.whartonexecutivemba.com/whartonexecutivemba_blog/2008/08/learning-how-to.html