Experiential Learning: Real Skills for the Real World (Interview)

Explore how a Concordia MBA alumnus pivoted into consulting with case-based and experiential learning at John Molson School of Business.

Experiential Learning: Real Skills for the Real World (Interview)

Experiential learning immersed Jean-Simon Castonguay, MBA Class 2019, in a world beyond his previous reach.. Currently Strategy Consultant at Melka Consulting, prior to joining the MBA programme at the John Molson School of Business (Canada), he had worked in banking for five years both as an advisor and credit analyst for a large Canadian bank and a fintech company. He completed his undergraduate studies in Economics and Politics at the University of Montreal (UdeM).

How did you decide to pursue an MBA degree programme?

After a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Politics and five years of working in banking, I wanted to see what other opportunities existed for me. Pursuing the MBA seemed like the best way to not only advance my career, but also to open doors to other experiences and networking. It gave me a solid knowledge base to enter or move up in the business world. I believe an MBA would be a great addition to any academic background or work experience.

What were the most important aspects you considered when choosing the programme and the business school?

Without having to relocate, I wanted to join a reputable MBA and business school that was recognised all over the world. I also wanted a programme that allowed me to take part in extracurricular activities in order to gain real life experience. To me, the MBA was an opportunity to realise the kind of career I wanted to pursue and it led me to my current position as a Consultant for Melka Consulting, which I secured as soon as I graduated.

What was your most valuable experience during your studies?

Two experiences come to mind. The first one was the MBA programme’s Community Service Initiative. I had the chance to be a consultant for the non-profit organisation Nova Montreal. I helped them develop an integrated marketing and communication plan with clear objectives and a roadmap to increase their presence in the community. It was a very rewarding experience as I had the chance to contribute to a great non-profit organisation and see the direct impact of my work.

The second one was the MBA International Case Competition. Organising the competition was a challenging yet rewarding experience. We invited 36 teams from 20 countries to compete in an intense one-week competition. As the executive assistant for volunteers, I was in charge of recruiting and training 400 volunteers to ensure the competition could run smoothly. It was not an easy task, but it helped me develop and demonstrate my leadership skills.

Do you feel that your MBA experience made it possible for you to thrive in an ever-changing business world?

Absolutely. While the programme did help me realise the specific area of business I wanted to pursue, it also gave me the tools to become a generalist and be agile in any working environment, no matter the industry or business environment. Even with the upheaval that Covid-19 brought to the business world, I feel like my training and education have prepared me to adapt to the new and unique challenges presented. I was not the only one seeking this. Some of my peers came from a non-business background such as nursing and kinesiology and are now working as consultants for Deloitte or working for some of the largest Canadian banks. The MBA programme enables people from various backgrounds to come together, adapt to a variety of challenges and then achieve their career goals, no matter the industry. It enables you to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing world.

How would you describe the learning environment at the John Molson School of Business?

The John Molson MBA programme offers a cooperative learning environment where students are very open about sharing their opinions and experiences. This gave me the opportunity to learn from a very diverse group of classmates. The case method helped me understand real business problems, encouraged problem solving, and fostered meaningful discussion throughout the course. For me, this was one of the most successful ways to apply and test the knowledge I was learning in class.

The programme is composed of a strong core offering of courses, which gives students well-rounded business knowledge, as well as multiple experiential learning opportunities to gain valuable experience outside the classroom, like participating in the MBA Case Competition or as a consultant for the Concordia Small Business Consulting Bureau. Students may also choose to pursue a specific specialisation such as finance, marketing, strategy, data analytics, among others, through their electives.

In what ways have topics such as sustainability and climate change had an impact on the programme or university as a whole?

Concordia is a leader in sustainability in Canada, and has been working on developing its first-ever Sustainability Action Plan. Overarching goals include helping the university reach carbon neutrality and elaborating a roadmap for sustainability in the areas of food, waste, climate, research and curriculum. Even our own Molson building, where the John Molson School of Business is housed, is LEED certified at the silver level.

The MBA programme starts with a responsible manager class where we tackle subjects like corporate social responsibility. The class gives students a different perspective on sustainability and how it can be applied in business.

Do you feel satisfied with your investment?

Absolutely. I funded my studies through savings and scholarships as the tuition at John Molson School of Business is significantly more affordable than other options in Canada. The MBA was actually rated number one in Canada for return on investment (ROI). Personally, the programme allowed me to pivot and advance my career in a field that was not accessible to me previously.

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