Student Experience: Variety in the Program

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Just days past one year into my MBA, and I’m already more than halfway done.

Some of my classmates and I were discussing our progress at our most recent in person session. All of us remember our previous school experiences, and we recall how everything seemed to go on and on. Weeks dragged into semesters dragged into years, and it just felt never ending.

That is not at all what the semesters (referred to as terms) are like here, but going into my first nine week course, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

It has turned out that nine weeks is close to the perfect length; just when you’re ready to move on and learn a new subject, the next term begins. Each term is divided between online and in person sessions, which allows for different pacing from week to week, helping to keep things fresh.

Each professor also has some leeway to structure their course within the nine-week frame. The two courses this term felt very different in their execution. In Financial ManagementProfessor Bill Bennett built the course in a very foundational way. Learn X so we can learn Y and so on.

For example, during one in-person weekend we learned how to calculate three different measures of project valuation. The Excel spreadsheets grew relatively enormous (at least to my financial neophyte eyes) and nearly everyone walked out of class with new knowledge and skills, but certainly thankful for the rest of the weekend to mentally rest.

That week, I worked with my team to practice the concepts we’d learned in class in the homework. Professor Bennett discussed the assignment at the next online session, helping smooth out some of the confusion and kicked off a simulation for our next week’s assignment

During the simulation, we applied what we’d learned, using the new techniques to value various capital campaigns for a company and received a score at the end. The simulation put us in the position to understand how the concepts we learned in class work outside of the vacuum of the classroom. All of us walked away with a fundamentally better understanding of valuing projects.

In contrast, Professor Ian Stephenson divided the Management & Ethics course into three distinct sections dedicated to three different broad topics. If the structure of Finance could be summarized by the phrase “and then,” the structure of Ethics could be summarized by “but also.” Each three-week section built on itself, but they were distinct from each other.

One of these larger topics was organizational culture. In person, Professor Stephenson shared how the culture of the companies he’d either run or worked for had shaped their productivity and students presented their own views on Uber’s corporate culture. In our online time, he dove deeper into how this culture could be affected by how a company handles their employees’ social media. To wrap up that section,  he invited a consultant who had worked directly with Jack Welch at GE to share how Welch created a culture of simplicity and productivity at GE.

These differing styles help add a layer of variety that keeps things your mind fresh as you dive into new content. It also keeps things moving very quickly. There’s never a moment to be bored with your courses, because you’re always moving on to the next topic.

For me, that’s Decision Models, the follow-up to Statistical Models, which I took this fall. Finance, Ethics, and Decision Models could not be more different, adding another level of variety to help break up the routine of school. So far, I haven’t been in a term where the two classes were similar. It’s usually a conceptual course (like Ethics) paired with a more mathematical one (like Finance). Term to term the type of math and the type of concepts are moved around to keep it fresh as well. The math in Decision Models is vastly different from that in Finance, and the concepts in Operations Management (the other course offered this term) are vastly different than those in Ethics.

As my classmates and I spoke this past weekend, we all mentioned how fast the program seems to be going by thanks to this various factors. We’re bidding on our electives now. We’ll begin submitting capstone ideas by the end of this oncoming term. The end is in sight.

It feels amazing to be halfway through. Time to buckle down for three more terms, then it’s time for that capstone project.

Jack O’Connell

Midland MBA, Class of 2017

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