Towson 'Associate' program drops job prize

The Baltimore Sun

on the job Since Towson University's The Apprentice-like competition began four years ago, it has provided the winning contestant a full-time gig with a Baltimore-area employer.

Executives playing the Donald Trump role have included Ed Hale, chairman and chief executive of First Mariner Bank; Frank Bramble, a director at Bank of America; Jonathan Murray, senior vice president at The Murray Group of UBS Financial; and John Tolmie, president and CEO of St. Joseph Medical Center.

When Towson's contest- known as The Associate - begins its fifth year Wednesday, organizers will introduce a big change to the program because of the slumping economy.

Instead of offering the winner a job, the prize will be tuition worth $4,000 for two courses counted toward an MBA degree offered by Towson and the University of Baltimore.

As Laleh Malek, director of professional experience at Towson's College of Business and Economics who first pitched the idea of replicating The Apprentice, explains it: It didn't make sense to lock an employer into providing a job amid rising layoffs in a deepening recession.

"We have seen a decrease in open positions, therefore ... we felt it was better that we not put a company in a situation where they have to guarantee a position," Malek says.

The winner has up to two years to use the offer, so that the student could gain some work experience before deciding to go back to school.

Besides a job offer, Malek designed the competition to provide networking opportunities and show students that their classroom knowledge can be applied in the real business world.

The contestants are broken up into two teams and assigned tasks, such as crafting marketing and business development plans for participating companies, which in the past included toolmaker Black & Decker, Laureate Education and public relations firm MGH. A member of the losing team is then "fired" until a winner emerges.

In many cases, though, the fired contestants also have ended up with jobs after the competition. In the first year of The Associate, Hale not only chose two winners, but he also hired two more students who were fired earlier in the contest.

Even though a job is not the ultimate prize this year, Malek expects students to network with business leaders and find opportunities.

Also this year, instead of having one executive playing the Trump character, there will be five, each one firing a candidate before a winner is named.

The identities of the companies and executives are a secret until they reveal a case study for the six contestants. The contest ends April 15.

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