Rotman Puts New Spin On Back-to-School

Week one of pursuing a MBA for these Rotman School of Management students means working with Scadding Court Community Centre to help reduce gun violence in Toronto. Photo by Eugene Grichko

As Summer 2018 winds down, B-schools are filling up with a fresh crop of MBA students. For most incoming MBAs, the start of first-year is marked with newcomer orientations, team-building activities, and networking over fancy cocktails. But for Courtney Manning and others who arrived at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management this week, the scene is much different. Her second day of school, Manning sat not in a classroom but under a basketball hoop inside a local recreation center, mulling the issue of gun violence in Toronto.

A new partnership between Rotman, global consulting giant McKinsey & Company, and the city of Toronto brought Manning and others here. COMPASS is a five-day immersive experience giving Rotman’s incoming full-time MBAs insight into the life of a consultant. Even if consulting is not in students’ planned career trajectory, the purpose is to gain skills that are universal to just about any business path. Students are immersed into strategy, solutions crafting, working with clients, and more, all while tackling live challenges that support the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy — a 20-year plan to revitalize communities throughout the city.


Manning, a Rotman transplant from Los Angeles, California, is working with Scadding Court Community Centre in Toronto’s Alexandra Park focusing on systemic change. Specifically, to curb the increase in gun violence and gun-related deaths the city has seen over the past few years.

Rotman MBA students walk the streets of Toronto discussing systemic issues causing poverty in the city. Eugene Grichko photo

“To be able to move to a new city and have the opportunity to be entrenched in the community upon arrival and challenged with one of its most pressing and complex issues is something rare and unique. I feel honored and included. Not only that, but it was enlightening and pleasantly surprising to hear about tenant rights in this country. I could only imagine what progress could be made in the U.S. if our legislation allowed for that.”

Being born and raised in L.A., Manning also says the issues she’s working on aren’t foreign to her. “The challenge of poverty and gun violence in a prosperous big city is something I am very familiar with, as it is very prevalent in Los Angeles, particularly downtown.”


Manning is one in a group of 70 students tackling gun issues as others from Rotman’s incoming class of 350 are dispersed throughout 12 other sites. Altogether, the Class of 2020 is doing work for a total of five different clients: Toronto Shelter, Support, & Housing Administration, Scadding Court Community Centre, Free Geek Toronto, Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre, and Toronto Employment and Social Services.

Each client group is working on Toronto Poverty Reduction pillars which address housing stability, services access, transit equity, food access, the quality of jobs and incomes, and systemic change. At the end of the immersion, micro teams within each client group will give an 8-10 minute presentation followed by one single presentation to the client with the strategic approach they perceive will make the most impact.


The new approach Rotman is using to welcome incoming students is the school’s way of providing community building, as all MBA launch weeks do, but with added benefits of getting to know the city in which they’ll live and work, contributing to that city in a meaningful way, and most importantly self-development.

On the self-development front, each student receives feedback and coaching throughout the experience. In this regard, Rotman’s director of student life and international experience, Neel Joshi says what Rotman is doing is different than the case competitions that a lot of other schools deploy when they welcome MBAs.

“The case competition model is incredible in many ways, but it doesn’t bring out the behaviors we want to cultivate,” Joshi says. “We wanted to do self-development, not competition.”

Professional development feedback is rendered from several McKinsey associates and partners — all Rotman alumni — as well as Rotman staff. McKinsey members will also offer additional follow-up at the end of the experience, providing each student with a feedback deck for further personal development.

Says Joshi, “Everyone wins as a result. It’s a win-win all around instead of, ‘I win, you lose.’”

First-year and second-year Rotman students come together for a communal dinner. Eugene Grichko photo


Of course, kickoff week is not all work and no play for Rotman MBAs. All sections wrap up their COMPASS field component alongside second-year students who volunteer to help design and prepare a communal meal with them.

Second-year Rotman MBA Bianca Brooks says, “These communal meals at Scadding Court Community Centre, allow our students to better understand their own privilege. It’s a great way to get them outside of the B-school and help them see the connection between their roles as future business executives and being of service to society. We’re also happy to know that the funds for hosting this experience go directly back into supporting the community centre.”

Dan Gerharts, another second-year student and president of Rotman’s culinary club says,  “Nothing builds community more than preparing a meal together. The experience is an equalizer and removes any barriers. It helps students build authentic relationships.”


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