Rising From The Ashes, Thunderbird Breaks New Ground

Have you gotten much feedback from students about the curriculum and how they feel about it? Because I know you’ve made a lot of curricular changes, and the response in terms of applications and enrollment seems very positive.

Yeah. Virtually all of our numbers are going up, whether that’s enrollment, internship rates, employment rates, incomes six months, 12 months after graduation. And so we really have been executing that very ambitious plan that I shared with you back in January with, really, a fervor. Partly because we have a great team and a lot of support from the broader ASU, but partly we really have just, I think, hit on a really nice chord of what Thunderbird can be going forward. So we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished.

So that was a big part of the transformation. One more point that I share with everyone internally and externally is that we’re doing a turnaround and a transformation. We’re about 80% through the turnaround and 50% through the transformation. The curriculum was a major part of that. So with the MGM, you know, the students that we’ve gotten really are excited about it. And I’ll give you three key portions of that.

One is that the multidisciplinary options in terms of concentration has drawn a whole range of students that wanted to have our “magical triangle”: global business, international studies, culture and language. That’s been the hallmark of Thunderbird. But these concentrations, where they can do global business, global marketing, finance, and so forth and so on — but they could also do global affairs, global entrepreneurship, digital transformation and a whole range of other ones with our sister schools at ASU — has drawn in a bunch of students. And as you know in the marketplace, a lot of corporations and others are really excited about that combination of deep technical, substantive skills with the global management leadership, business skills overlay. So that’s number one.

Number two is, we’ve really embraced this concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So all of our courses, in addition to the specific concentrations, are really advancing our students to be able to lead and manage, and be professionals in this new world of AI, Internet of Things, so forth and so on. And then third, you know, is our applied learning, which is a sort of Global Challenge Lab that we call it, six credits. It’s embedded in the program now and it’s included in the price of the program and so students don’t have to pay anything else. It’s a really exciting project with partners all around the world. It really gives students what employers want, that practical experience.

So those three have really been a great thing. I add one more. We’ve launched our 4+1 program at ASU, so students from virtually any department or school at ASU can apply in their junior year to do 12 credits in their senior year. They’re applied learning experiences in the summer, between their senior into fifth year, and they can finish the MGM in their fifth year. So that’s brought in a whole set of students that are real overachievers.

Can I ask you to talk about the new degree out of Washington, D.C., and maybe some of the other planned offerings along those lines at some other locations? 

Basically we have two new degrees launching in January. The first one is the Executive Master of Global Affairs and Management in D.C. Basically it’s a one-year, 30-credit degree, January through December. It’s in partnership with ASU’s school of law, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Watts School of Public Affairs at ASU. It’s an immersive week at the beginning in January, an immersive week at the end and then alternating weekends through the year. It’s for working professionals in the D.C. area and the Northeast. After seven courses and 21 credits of common sort of content, basically students can specialize in one of these tracks: global business, which Thunderbirds will do; marketing, accounting, global policy, which Watts will do; and global law, which Sandra Day O’Connor will do. That is launching in January and our goal in the medium term is really to have a cohort of about 20 to 25 every year. Over the years, we have had lots and lots of folks from various different types of D.C. organizations, particularly the public sector, that came to Thunderbird. And when we talked to alums and said, “What if we launched from there?” they said, “Oh if we had had that option to stay and work and do it here, I would have taken that.” So that’s one degree.

The other one is our sort of top-of-the-pyramid degree, the Executive Master’s in Global Leadership and Strategy. And it’s a one-year degree starting in January. Again, 30 credits. It’s for folks heading family businesses with global responsibilities. And it basically is delivered in six immersive eight-day sessions in six different cities around the world. We start January in Phoenix and L.A., then it goes to Nairobi in March because we have a center there, a hub there in the heart of emergent Africa. Then to Geneva in May, where we also have a center. Then to Shanghai in August, Sao Paolo in October, and then it ends up in Mumbai. In between, there’s leadership coaching, personal coaching, online content, and so forth. This is for the folks with 10, 12, 15 years of experience who are really running their family businesses and they have global responsibilities. There’s a whole flipped classroom where they’re out in the regional business environment, they’re engaging in market changes and political changes, digital policy changes, really getting a sense of different markets around the world. But again, there is this very important focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution: How are new technologies, digitization, transforming companies and governments around the world?

Artist renderings of the new building look fantastic. What do you think of how the plans look now? And what are your hopes for this nice new building?

We brought the world to Thunderbird in our heyday. Everybody came out to Glendale, that sort of global village out there in rural Arizona. That was the magic, the secret sauce in some sense, as much as anything else — that campus. For a whole host of reasons, we’ve moved to downtown Phoenix, the fastest-growing city in the country, and now we’re taking Thunderbird to the world. We’re doing that with our online programs, which we are growing dramatically with the support of the broader ASU muscle, but a big part is these regional centers of excellence around the world.

We’re practicing what we preach. We’re a global multinational business school. We want to be the first and best global multinational business school. And so this is our global headquarters, and we have our 20 centers around the world that we’re building and developing and launching. And it’s really that. It’s the heartbeat of this global network. And so when you walk into that first floor, you know, you enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

You walk into that Global Forum with a ribbon of 20 screens connected to each of those hubs around the world, and a digital globe. As you walk up the five floors, you go back in Thunderbird’s history. And every floor takes you back to our origin, all the way to the very top, which you know is a very important part of the heart and soul of Thunderbird: our Pub.

It’s a $75 million building and the city of Phoenix has contributed $13.5 million. So this is also part of our contribution to Phoenix becoming a global city. We have an incredible partnership with the previous mayor, now Congressman (Greg) Stanton, and with the current mayor, Kate Gallego. Our goal is to be a global catalyst from the local level at Phoenix, state level, Arizona, obviously in the United States, and then globally through our regional centers around the globe.

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