From the outside, education may seem like a transactional relationship. If you earn a degree and land a high-paying job, you’ll support the school…simple as that.
But there’s another side to the equation. And it can be summed up in a famous quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”
At Wharton, that sentiment is epitomized by Kembrel Jones, the school’s dean of student life. Jones has a simple, yet expansive role. He is responsible for keeping students happy.
Happy? Shouldn’t Wharton students find solace in knowing they’re virtually guaranteed a job at graduation – at an average salary of $142,574, no less? Wharton students may endure what Jones calls “champagne problems” – fending off recruiters or completing projects – but they can be overwhelming too. And Jones focuses on building relationships and developing programs and events that help Wharton students stay engaged and connected.
In fact, you could probably dub Jones as the proverbial heart and soul of Wharton. In a 2010 interview with Penn Current, Jones described himself as the “the “director of internal marketing.” For some students, he is a sounding board who brings fresh ideas and clarity. For others, he is the warm father figure, the confidant who listens and understands.
“I think maybe one of the things that I bring to the table is empathy,” Jones told Penn Current. “Sometimes, we think these kids go to Wharton and everything’s perfect and they can figure it out themselves. And what the kids told me was they need someone, basically, that they can talk to. I end up being the unofficial Dr. Phil of Huntsman Hall. Out of 1,650 kids, things happen in people’s lives. I think people know that I will listen, and there’s a sense of trust when the door’s closed that it won’t go any further. They’re human beings and we have to remember that. They are talented, high-achieving, Type-A people, but they still are human beings. … If they’re hesitant to share with each other, then they know they can come and share with me.”
However, Jones is more than just a friend in need at Wharton. For most, he is the man who makes things happen on campus. Since leaving Emory to join Wharton in 2009, Jones has launched a renaissance that has burnished the school’s brand and increased student interaction according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Here are some of his accomplishments to date:
- Boosted school merchandising to better project the Wharton brand across campus.
- Increased yield of admitted applicants to over 90 percent by empowering current students to run the MBA welcome weekends
- Leased a building in a nearby neighborhood to act as an off-campus work space and lounge for Wharton students.
- Created student clusters, modeled after Princeton University’s dining clubs, to facilitate learning and community.
One example of Jones’ philosophy in action is the tradition of holding a soiree for first years after they complete first quarter finals. “They were exhausted,” he tells Penn Current, “and they had five tests in five nights but I was like, ‘Let’s celebrate, you finished Q1,’ and we turned a moment that could have been not a good memory into a great memory.”
Such events advance Jone’s underlying and inclusive philosophy. “You should open big, you should have three points of true contact and then you should close big. That’s what I’ve been working on these two years, to be sure that we welcome people, that we show people that we care and that we’re happy that they’re here; that we look at certain points that could be low points that we should turn into high points.”
However, this age-old concept of “delighting the customer” also has a serious business function: Increasing donations. For example, in a 2013 email campaign, Wharton featured Jones in the pitch. And donations jumped from $8.8 million to $12.6 million dollars.
And Wharton isn’t alone in working to make MBA students feel special according to Bloomberg Businessweek. For example, Yale Dean Ted Snyder invites students to his home for dinner (which often includes the school’s senior associate dean for alumni relations dean). Thanks (in part) to efforts like these, 770 recent graduates have pledged $1.3 million dollars to the school. At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Senior Associate dean Madhav Rajan holds a role similar to Kembrel Jones. His job description includes implementing student suggestions. During his five year tenure, Stanford has reduced class sizes, added several startup courses, and reduced required courses. The result? Students reciprocated with $14.7 million dollars in gifts to the school’s fund.
Zig Ziglar was fond of saying, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” For many business schools, enhancing the student experience is a strategy that ultimately harvests both goodwill and big bucks.
“I tell the students on day one, it’s a privilege to be at Wharton,” Jones adds. “I mean you worked hard to get here and I applaud you for that, but sometime in your life, somebody helped you get here, and you’re privileged to have had great parents, great teachers, to be given these abilities. I want to create a way that we sort of are reminded of that more on a daily basis, and [to recognize] that we have a responsibility to give back to the world. In a place this big, it’s hard to have shared experiences with everybody, but I think we can have a shared belief system if we all believe that we’re all privileged and with privilege comes responsibility…It’s not all about us. It should be about other people, as well. And the student body wants that.”
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