A Summer Abroad
As an aerospace engineer for defense contractor General Dynamics Corp., Jonathan Bohlmann became interested in the management side of the process — combining innovation and the business opportunity that drives it.
Bohlmann, a Poole College marketing and innovation professor since 2008, shifted his focus from cutting-edge ideas for aircraft materials and design to product development innovation and design thinking for consumers.
I tell my students that if they want to learn how to advertise shampoo, I’m not that kind of person. But if they want to understand how to think about customers’ needs to innovate something better, that’s how I approach my research and what I’m teaching.
Bohlmann took his experience developing advanced aircraft design for U.S. military fighter jets and applied it to his innovation and marketing courses.
Teaching is “a nice challenge because you always need to stay ahead of the game, so you can make the connection between the ideas and practical applications,” says Bohlmann, interim head of the business management department.
His forward-thinking approach helps students make connections that reinforce NC State’s think-and-do emphasis. “We offer them project-level applied learning in a context where they understand the big picture and what they’re ultimately trying to do,” he says.
That means providing opportunities for hands-on experiences with impactful practicums and projects that use real data and business simulations.
“If you want to help students get better at making their great ideas a value-enhancing reality, you have to give them ways to dive into the complexities of what’s behind that in terms of implementation and execution,” Bohlmann says.
His courses also offer students a grounding in best practices and key innovation principles, as well as widely used techniques and tools, such as demand forecasting and frameworks for thinking.
In making the change from engineering to academia, Bohlmann wanted “to stay grounded in some of the technical side but broaden the scope a bit,” he says.
In broadening the scope of his career, he has spent years opening up minds — and options — for students.
That’s yielded rewards for him, too.
I enjoy walking with students through different kinds of innovation journeys, helping them connect some of the dots and figuring out how to apply what they’re learning
“The best part is getting notes from students saying, ‘I’m applying this now in my job’…Those reflections of how they’re utilizing some of these things are always great to see.”
Another great part of teaching for Bohlmann?
The week-long, study-abroad trip he has led to Munich each spring since 2010 — aside from pandemic interruptions — for his innovation and marketing systems MBA course. The trip focuses on visits to a variety of companies to talk with senior executives, including BMW, Siemens, Intel, Texas Instruments, Hyve, startup Celonis, and many others.
“There’s a benefit to being in a place for a week and divorcing yourself from the 80-hour-a-week job you’re trying to do to get a broader picture,” Bohlmann says. “Students get new insights on what it means to have a global perspective on business and the challenges those businesses have.”
Whether in Germany or in the U.S., what impresses him most about his students is “how well-grounded they are…They have a good perspective on what they want to learn and get out of it plus the effort and diligence they’re willing to put in,” says Bohlmann, who enjoys traveling and tailgating at football games when he’s not working.
One thing he’s proudest of in his academic career is students’ achievements in their careers after they graduate. Their success is his success, too.
“What the students have been able to accomplish has been great to see,” he says, “seeing what they end up doing with what they take away from here.”
This post was originally published in Jenkins MBA News.