New Full-Time MBAs Arrive
“We want the students to get to know each other, hear new ideas, explore the city, and prepare for what lies ahead.” Those were the goals Assistant Dean Kathie Nolan of the Graduate Programs Office (GPO) set for the School’s full-time MBAs in Pre-Term, the two-week period before the full fall semester begins. From the looks of the student evaluations, the program was a sound success.
The full-time MBA class of 2014 and the International MBA class of 2013 arrived on campus Monday, August 13 and have been busy ever since. (In twelve weeks this summer, the IMBA students completed half of their core courses and will now be able to complete their MBA in just two more semesters.)
“It was probably our best-run program ever,” said Gail Justino-Miller, director of the GPO. “We put a lot of effort into it because it’s more than an orientation; it sets a tone for their whole two years. Emily Libby, assistant director of the GPO, led the effort and did a tremendous job.”
Team building was the first assignment of the program. Following lunch on their first full day, the faculty divided students into approximately 25 teams of six or seven students each for the GPS Urban Adventure. Each team was given an older generation GPS with several prefixed coordinates, a few pages of notes (with cryptic hints), and then assigned to go find locations in Boston and be back at 4 p.m. GPS Urban Adventure coordinator Paul Hutchinson, lecturer of organizational behavior, said, “The aim of the event is to help students begin recognizing the broad range of different strengths individuals can bring to a team. Along the way, when they get to each site, they also have to complete a small exercise. They start off as introductory assignments but build to become more reflective.”
Hutchinson emphasized that it wasn’t a scavenger hunt. It was about students observing each other in a non-competitive but goal-driven task. The team members were designed by faculty to maximize diversity. On Team B2 for example, were Ziad Abdelhafez of Egypt, Naid Alsedais of Saudi Arabia, Jonah Heilman of Israel, Jayanthi Selvaraj of India, and Americans Beth Haber, Cory Peterson, and Chris Tolles (all MBA’14). When the teams reported back in, the students and faculty discussed who took what roles and shared insights about what worked and what didn’t. “Who would hurry to volunteer to hold the GPS—to be in control?” said Hutchinson. “Who displayed better spatial abilities? Who was good at solving the language puzzles? This knowledge will come in handy later when they have team assignments in actual classes.”
The day ended with a cookout on BU Beach, where students shared origins, longer-term goals, Boston tips, and why they chose the BU MBA. Selvaraj was impressed with the MS•MBA dual-degree option. “The School has such a good reputation—I was accepted at several schools, but the MS•MBA plus Boston’s position as a high-tech business center made this the right choice for me.” Diego De La Mora (MBA’14) of Mexico chose BU partly because of Boston. He had visited the city before and loved it. “My wife and I wanted to attend an MBA program in the same city but different schools. I chose BU for its strong program; she chose Babson. We’re living in Chestnut Hill to split the travel difference.” He’s considering a concentration in operations management.
Pre-Term also includes an introductory event for spouses, partners, and significant others.
During the two weeks of Pre-Term, students learn about the curriculum, set up their IT requirements, meet advisors and financial aid personnel, and experience several team-building exercises. They also have a full briefing on the Academic Conduct Code, and meetings with Feld Career Center staff concerning interviews, elevator pitches, joining a career community, and more. During 16 hours of the second week, students take their first class, Ethics, Values, and Social Responsibility.
“Ethics does not equal morality,” says Rachel Spooner, lawyer and lecturer in the markets, public policy & law department, addressing the first-year MBA students in the first class. “An individual or organization can be ethical if it makes his or its decisions in alignment with his or its values.”
That may be a new definition for many, who feel no moral person can make an unethical decision, or that an immoral decision might simultaneously be an ethical one. Working through several case studies, the students wrestle with ethical dilemmas. “The point of the course,” says Spooner, “is to teach the skill of determining when decisions are ethical.”
Spooner began developing the course in December with Associate Professor Jack McCarthy of the organizational behavior department, who added, “What we wanted was to start everyone off with a certain mindset. It’s the first course for a reason: to help students lay a foundation for the rest of their lives.”
Nina Desai (MBA’14, HSM) of UCLA (neuroscience undergrad from Santa Monica, Calif.) says, “This material is really important—and necessary—to address. There are multiple aspects to address in many ethical situations. This gave us a way to ask if we are consciously acting in an unethical manner. Of course, as we discussed cases, we were not as definitive as you might think.”
One event was a discussion on cross-cultural relations, led by consultant and SMG lecturer Beth Rogers of Point Taken. Students from the International MBA cohort helped lead discussion sections, having already gone through a similar experience themselves. In 90 percent of the student evaluations, students wished there were more time spent on the topic, so it will likely be expanded next year.
Organizational Behavior Lecturer Jim French, who taught one of the Ethics sections, commented, “These students are very bright, and issues such as ethics and cultural sensitivity are top of mind for them, perhaps more so than in years past. I felt there was a sincere desire to be different in their career, to make better choices than the corrupt and criminal examples we discussed in some of the ethics cases.”
All the incoming full-time students participated in the community service project, spread over a dozen venues in the city. Students volunteered at Boston Food Bank, Cradles to Crayons, and Learning Ally, helped clean up the Charles River shoreline, and more.
The two-week program concluded with a day at the Warren Conference Center in Ashland, Massachusetts, where students engaged in a friendly competition and team-building experience in an outdoor setting. At the Warren Center, students were paired with others from different cohorts, to further expand acquaintances.
Marwan Kanafani (MBA/MPH’14) said, “The Grad Programs Office did a great job first getting us comfortable with each other, and then organizing events, which allowed us to build relationships before we dive into the intensive group projects coming this semester.” He added that the day at the Warren Conference Center perfectly capped off the experience. “After two weeks of cerebral work, they knew we must have been physically restless. So that day we were able to illustrate behaviors we learned in classrooms. And we let it all out.”
Other student-written evaluations of the day included comments such as, “It was a challenge, but it was appropriate.” And perhaps more tellingly, “I’m tired! Looking forward to regular classes.”
Justino-Miller described the events at the Warren Center as “fantastic.” She said, “It was possibly our best trip there in years in terms of student enthusiasm and satisfaction. The level of camaraderie and community building was just great.” Assistant Director of Academic Advising Betsy Dick added, “I loved that they took it upon themselves to synchronize just jumping off the dock together like little kids. At the end of an intense week, they were just so comfortable with each other. That’s what you hope for.”
As Professor Tim Hall, Morton H. and Charlotte Friedman Professor in Management, said, “It takes a lot of work to make something look effortless. Kathie Nolan and Emily Libby (and their committee) deserve a huge amount of credit for the success of the Pre-Term.” Diane Reamer of the Feld Career Center, Hall, Patti Cudney, assistant dean of Graduate Admissions, Spooner, and second-year MBA student Lili Emad (MBA’13) were all essential to the program’s success.
Following Pre-Term, during the week of August 27-30, the students completed a summer intensive in organizational behavior. Hall teaches one of the sections of the OB Intensive, and said the previous week’s introduction to ethics was evident in his class. “In areas where I used to point out to students (such as organizational values) that there was an ethical area, now students are bringing it up first. This is a new phenomenon. This will make it easier for faculty to keep these themes prominent in classes going forward.”
The full schedule began September 4.