Thunderbird Emerging Markets Lab – Past, Present, and Future

By, Jessica Knutzon

“The one thing I want more than anything else is the opportunity to use what they [the students] are learning in class, apply it, and to change their lives,” Professor Michael Finney shares as he leans back in his chair. The Thunderbird Mystique, which Finney describes as “a special mix of isolation and deep friendships,” is radiating in the room as he gets settled to tell Das Tor about the Thunderbird Emerging Markets (TEM) Lab.  This program is in its sixth year and is the most popular capstone project on campus because of the extraordinary experience it gives students.


This one module program (one week of preparatory work on campus and five weeks on the field, followed by debriefing on campus) is the one of – if not the – most impressive of its kind. TEM Lab boasts over 45,000 cumulative hours of 260 students’ work in 30 emerging markets and 54 organizations – not including current teams placed abroad. TEM Lab is a well-developed program that allows students to, “make a real difference in an organization or community,” Finney shares. Ultimately students learn what it means to be a service provider but also what it means to be a consultant on an administrative level. The organizations and projects vary from year to year.


Charles Reeves ’09, the program director, works full time to keep the TEM Lab at its prestigious level and continues to expand the program every year, adding new locations, organizations and finding the finest student teams to send abroad. There are three large moving pieces that Reeves and Finney work on for the program to come together: projects from client systems, funding, and students. Within these three pipelines there are several challenges for Finney and Reeves, but the “best” challenge they experience is having too much talent to choose from here at Thunderbird. When Thunderbird students are sent to the field, they face drastic learning curves head on and go for it – he has yet to be disappointed.


In 2008, two students created a report for Thunderbird administration on how to strengthen Thunderbird’s efforts on student engagement. The two Thunderbird students, Joel Montgomery, ‘08 and Laura Clise, ‘08, recommended that Thunderbird increase opportunities for students in emerging markets. After this impressive report was turned into President Ángel Cabrera, students and alumni were surveyed about what mattered most to them. There was an overwhelming response from Thunderbirds that they wanted to see the school expand emerging market experiences around the world. President Cabrera asked Finney to design a program to place students in active learning and the rest is history. Many Thunderbirds are passionate about TEM Lab and will be happy to know that with the Arizona State University merger, the program will continue to grow.


There are TEM Lab teams in Chad, Peru, Tunisia, and Thailand. They will return in early December and will wrap up their programs on campus with final debrief presentations.


There are students preparing for TEM Labs next trimester and there are several exciting opportunities coming down the pipeline for next summer and fall. Students who are interested in participating in TEM Lab should keep an eye out for announcements and begin assembling their teams. Finney’s excitement for the future of this program is contagious and as the conversation comes to a close, Finney reiterates, “I love my job.” And it definitely shows.

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