Reform Business School? The Class of 2018 Has Some Ideas

Georgetown University’s Erika Studt


The Best & Brightest wouldn’t just promote diversity inside the classroom. If Georgetown University’s Erika Studt replaced Dean Paul Almeida for day, she’d make a week-long international trek mandatory – noting that “nothing bonds people better than travel.” The University of Minnesota’s Ashley Ver Burg Soukup has even cooked up an idea so every class member could enjoy a global experience: Create a scholarship fund

“I traveled to the UAE and Oman for a two-week course and spent a partial semester as an exchange student at the Stockholm School of Economics. In today’s world, all business is global business. There’s no way to understand this better than studying outside of your home country.”

Scholarships aren’t the only solutions, says the University of Illinois’ Brandon Byers. As dean, this Best & Brightest would focus on boosting the numbers of African Americans in business schools. To do this, he would forge partnerships with institutions like historically black colleges and universities. “This program would be similar to our early admit program, where college seniors receive early admission based on the condition that they work for two or more years, achieve a certain GPA, and have a competitive GMAT score. Reaching this students early on will guarantee a strong African American population for our MBA student body.”

Byers’ plan may attract students, but Ivey’s Jay Kiew would be looking to make life easier for his classmates – namely international students and their families – once they arrive. His big idea is beefing up support for this vulnerable population so they can focus on being students instead of completing paperwork. “We had some classmates who went eight months without seeing their young children, which I imagine is really tough as a parent,” he admits. “Having an immigration consultant on standby for a month or two would really help decrease stress as international students settle down in a new country.”


How else would the Class of 2018 improve their MBA programs? The University of Maryland’s Erin Moore believes she gained the most valuable skills through case competitions. That’s why she champions every student being required to compete in one. “Through my experience in case competitions,” she stresses, “I enhanced my presentation and storytelling skills so that I am confident in my presence and thoughts in front of a variety of audiences. I learned how to navigate difficult conversations and conflict within teams to achieve outcomes and recommendations that everyone can support. I built my analytical skills to solve business problems with strategy and creativity. These are all skills that successful MBAs need on the job and in life.”

Emory University’s JP Ortiz

Such competitions also introduced Moore to new people in the full-time program – and beyond. That “beyond” is what many Best & Brightest MBAs are seeking in building a deep and powerful network. For Emory Goizueta’s JP Ortiz, that would mean greater interaction between full-time MBAs and the school’s 1-year, evening, and executive MBAs (and even undergraduate business majors). To do this, IESE’s Jieqiong Xu suggests a regular channel where the whole business school community could come together to “exchange ideas and potentially business and job opportunities.”

Some would even expand this beyond the business school confines. In the never-ending searching for finding peers who can bring fresh ideas and serve as mentors, some 2018 Best & Brightest members reached out to the entire university community. One way to foster that across the board, says Duke Fuqua’s Page Swofford, would be to require MBAs to take a class outside the business school.

“As a dual degree student, I’ve benefitted from having the opportunity to take classes at other graduate schools within Duke,” she says. “It has expanded my appreciation for how interdisciplinary perspectives challenge and expand your way of thinking and approaching problems.”


For some, even the university itself was too small. At the University of Oxford, Elly Brown calls for experiential learning to step back from the flashy projects with big name companies and high level executives. In their place, she urges MBA candidates to step forward in their adopted communities and engage with people from all walks of life.

University of Oxford’s Elly Brown

“One of my biggest concerns about my generation is that we don’t spend enough time out in the community, meeting and working with people from different organisational levels and backgrounds,” she explains. “With the decline in membership of churches, unions, and community groups, so many of us are now more segregated by class and job type than ever. We are in danger of detaching from the reality of how people live, work, and what they want. Graduate schools have a real opportunity to connect their students with worlds they may have drifted away from, or may not have explored yet. They also have an obligation to remind their students that leadership should never be divorced from the community one aims to lead.”

To better immerse MBAs in their communities, the University of Wisconsin’s Linda Liu suggests that schools sponsor more volunteer opportunities for students. “I would take one full day at the end of the MBA experience for students to volunteer,” Liu says. “We do this at the start of the experience, during orientation, but I would like to add one at the end, to bookend our time here and as one final act of gratitude to the community that has been our home for two years.”


Alas, some Best & Brightest posed suggestions that some might consider heretical (or hysterical). Exhibit A: Northwestern Kellogg’s Kathryn Bernell. Her game-changing concept? No classes starting before 10:30 a.m. Before dismissing her as a late night slacker, consider the method behind her supposed madness.

“I am surprisingly a relentless morning person,” she stresses. “I wake up most days at 5:30, workout, eat breakfast, read the news, and then dive deep into the work ahead of me. My mornings are my most productive time of day and I really dislike having to cut short this window with class if I can avoid it!”

Think 10:30 is a stretch? Just wait until you hear from Georgia Tech’s Declan Nishiyama. “I would allow dogs on campus,” he proposes (apparently mistaking Georgia for Google). “After the initial distraction of them going around sniffing everyone, I imagine that dogs would help relax us from the long days of classes, group meetings, and presentations.”

Notre Dame’s Kyle Verash

While Lassie lazing in the lecture hall is probably a non-starter, Kyle Verash makes a pitch that’d stand a great shot at sticking at Notre Dame…since it’d probably attract a new crop of MBAs. “Although the program does a great job of including the spouses and significant others of students in extracurricular activities, I would expand the outreach by allowing spouses to audit classes.”


Of course, some ideas might be anathema to students themselves. Think 21 months is a long time for an MBA? Well, the University of Virginia’s Catherine Aranda would extend it to three years. Sadistic? Maybe, but her reasoning is hardly an excuse to pore over another 200 Harvard cases. “[Another year would offer] the flexibility to interweave core academic classes with more inspiring, self-selected elective seminars,” she outlines. “The third year will feature an experiential learning component that enables all students to develop consulting skills within a start-up company. The 10-week summer internship will be replaced with a mandatory global business immersion experience. Also, every student will have a thoughtfully assigned academic advisor and career mentor.”

Sound overwhelming? Well, the two-year and one-year programs can be pretty nerve-wracking too. That’s why Indiana University’s Gregory Toupalik helped to launch a Resilience Week to spotlight mental health issues related to eating healthy, reducing stress, staying in shape, and keeping perspective. If Toupalik were dean, this is the area where he’d devote greater resources. Make no mistake: he wasn’t alone in viewing this as opportunity for improvement among business schools.

“An MBA comes with the intensity of classes, recruiting, and extracurriculars,” adds Dartmouth Tuck’s Sravya Yeleswarapu. “Often times, we as students, forgot to take care of ourselves in the midst of this intensity—I know I am definitely guilty of that. I think every MBA experience in some way should help promote better personal living as part of the program.”

How would you improve the business school experience? We welcome your insights in the comments section below.






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