One of SHIFT’s significant components is Tepper Reads, in which students are encouraged to see the world through the eyes of a written story’s characters. The goal, Meyer says, is to get as many students as possible to read the same work of literature together over the course of a year, with the project culminating in an author visit and discussion. “There are some fascinating studies that say that the best wy to teach empathy is to read fiction,” she says. “If you’re reading a book of fiction, you identify with the characters and that really teaches you to get inside someone else’s head.”
A love of reading is how Jillian McCarthy got involved in SHIFT. McCarthy is an academic advisor in the CMU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a student in the Tepper part-time MBA who will graduate in 2021. Her introduction to SHIFT came via the program’s book club, in which students read and discuss a book over the course of a semester.
McCarthy, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native who just finished her first year of the part-time, on-campus MBA program, found out about SHIFT and the book club via school email. Despite being in the minority as a part-time MBA student among 30 to 40 overall participants, most of them full-time students, she loved the experience.
“I am a big reader and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, a book club at a business school, I had no idea they would have these kinds of things here.’ I really enjoyed getting involved with it,” McCarthy tells Poets&Quants. The book they read: What We Lose by American author Zinzi Clemmons.
BENEFITING FROM EXPOSURE TO DIVERSE OPINIONS
At the beginning of the book club, students met for a kick-off lunch, picked up copies of the book and had an initial discussion. A key note of flexibility in the book club, McCarthy says, is that each session was stand-alone, meaning “you didn’t need to be at one for the next one to make sense to you. They made it very doable for MBA students in that there were a lot of options for events. You didn’t have to go to all of the events. They had some events at night, which worked well for part-time students. They had some lunchtime events and you could stream them if you weren’t on campus.”
Throughout the semester, SHIFT held events focused on different aspects of the book. There were podcasts. There were in-person meetings. “One that I went to that was maybe my favorite was a panel with Leanne Meyer, who is South African. The two other panelists one was from Nigeria, one was from Zimbabwe. And they and and Leanne talked about their experiences immigrating from various parts of Africa to the United States, that was a really cool one.
“And then we had sort of a wrap-up lunch at the end of the semester where Zinzi Clemmons, the author, came in to speak and we got to have a discussion with her,” McCarthy says.
How did the experience help her as a future business leader?
“The biggest thing to me is that business leaders need to be able to exercise empathy, and you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of other people in order to make good and ethical business decisions,” McCarthy says. “One thing that I have really noticed from getting to know my classmates is that in the context of the discussions we were having, I would go into a room with people who I didn’t really know all that well and talk about all kinds of issues. You know issues of immigration and class and race and how the intersections of those things play out. And within the context of this book where people can really identify with various characters in the book, I just came out of those sessions with so much of a better understanding of my classmates. We weren’t working through one problem to get to one specific decision. We were sort of creatively exploring different ways of thinking about an idea.
“In that sense, I think that this book club and SHIFT helps develop a lot of those critical-thinking skills, particularly as they affect human decisions in terms of people who you’re working with and working with all kinds of diverse people.”
‘A PRETTY FUN AND ALSO ESSENTIAL THING TO DO’
SHIFT is supported by funding from philanthropists Robert and Cindy Citrone, whose son, Nick, graduated from the Tepper School’s undergraduate business administration program in 2016. Tepper’s embrace of the paradigmatic shift represented by SHIFT comes in the first year of its new home, the Tepper Quad that opened last fall — a dramatically modern, $201 million building that itself symbolizes a turn away from the way business education has been done. When it was officially unveiled in September the 315,000-square-foot structure became the largest building on campus — and it also became a magnet at the center of the university for non-business students and faculty to come and collaborate with the Tepper School. Among its many inhabitants on five floors that are each more than an acre in size, the Quad houses the university’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, a 15,000-square-foot space where students from across campus collide and collaborate to explore new ideas and create new startups; and the university’s Welcome Center, where all visitors come to begin their campus tours.
In fact, as much as 40% of the space in the Quad will be used by non-business students and faculty, part of Tepper’s embrace of cross-disciplinary study. Which makes SHIFT a natural fit.
“The Tepper School experience is rooted in our community of individuals who are able to work across disciplinary, functional, and cultural boundaries to find innovative solutions to complex business problems,” Dean Robert Dammon said in a news release. “The SHIFT programming is coming at an exciting time for the Tepper School. The Tepper Quad has enabled us to expand our academic offerings, particularly those that are interdisciplinary in nature. This new program demonstrates why cross-disciplinary collaborations are so vital for a world-class business education.”
Adds McCarthy: “I don’t know what exactly is coming up next year, but I know that there’s going to be more than was offered this year and I will definitely be doing more of this. You’ve got all kinds of great, critical-thinking opportunities and classes, but this is a different kind of critical thinking. It’s one that is about people, so it feels a little more complex and nuanced in different ways than some of the problems that we’re looking at in class.
“In all honesty, from everything that I’ve heard and studies that I hear faculty reference in class, the skills that SHIFT programming is developing are the skills that people rely upon more and more in the higher positions that they attain in their industry or in their career. So if leadership is what you’re going for, I think that participating in something like this is a pretty fun and also essential thing to do.”