Interview with Vice Dean Howie Kaufold
Q: How did you evaluate current MBA curriculum and experiences? What was the result of the evaluation?
A: The last time I spoke to The Wharton Journal about this topic was one year ago – April 2011. That means that the Class of 2013, our current First Years, probably aren’t aware of some of the history of the MBA Review Committee (MBARC), and I want to make sure to share those details again here.
In July 2009, Dean Robertson appointed eight senior faculty members to MBARC and charged them to suggest improvements to the MBA curriculum content and structure that would produce a more rigorous, flexible, and innovative educational culture for both Wharton students and faculty – while enhancing the Wharton identity and brand.
Between July 2009 and December 2010, this committee solicited input from students, alumni, faculty, staff, employers, and board members, using course evaluations, surveys, focus groups, and interviews. It was an extensive review process — in all, some 4,000 people were consulted. The result was that MBARC concluded that Wharton’s core curriculum structure could be enhanced.
The principles driving those enhancements, as proposed by MBARC and approved by the faculty, are as follows:
- Rigorous: The new curriculum design should create a rigorous educational culture that embodies, in appropriate ways, Wharton’s emphasis on research.
- Innovative: The new design should create robust incentives for continuous innovation and curriculum accountability within our decentralized governance structure.
- Flexible: The new design should provide greater flexibility to exploit Wharton’s unique combination of program scale, faculty breadth, and student diversity.
- Brand-Strengthening: The new design should enhance Wharton’s identity and brand.
Q: “Rigorous” and “Brand-Strengthening” are pretty clear, but how is the new curriculum “Flexible”?
A: We’ve been telling the prospective students about the flexibility of the new curriculum during Welcome Weekend. I think it’s important for the Class of 2012 and 2013 to hear it described in the same way we’re communicating it to the Class of 2014 – after all, the 2012 graduates will head out to their full-time jobs this summer and will begin encouraging the next generation of prospective students to apply to Wharton. And the Class of 2013 will be helping the incoming students choose classes and navigate in fall.
So, the new curriculum is flexible in three specific ways:
1. Timing — Students can now move some required courses to Year Two, and take additional electives in Year One (subject to meeting elective pre-requisites)
2. Content – Students will be offered two pathways through required core areas, so will have more opportunity to tailor their course of study to their long- and short-term goals.
For example, the Management Department offers a track for those pursuing careers in established firms and another for those interested in emerging firms, teaching the same concepts, but offering different approaches in how to apply them.
3. Learning Style – A few of the required courses are now offered in different formats; students can choose the format they prefer.
For example, the Marketing Department offers a marketing strategy course taught through lectures and case studies, and another that will primarily use simulations.
Q: Flexibility around timing gives First Years the opportunity to take electives in Year One. That leads to the obvious question on student’s minds: how will this flexibility impact the auction?
A: Making sure that Second Years continue to receive the appropriate advantages in the auction system has continued to be a high priority. We want Second Years to get the classes they want – and need – in order to graduate. So there are a couple of important things to consider as we work on how best to do this:
First, we’ve been surveying students for a couple of years now on the courses they would select in the new curriculum. Those survey results help us to forecast demand for the new core courses, as well as for electives in Year One. What those surveys have told us so far is that most students are likely to want to complete their core requirements in Year One. That said, their core is smaller by one full credit, so there will be a slight increase in elective demand in Year One. We have worked with the academic departments to meet any extra demand.
Second, keep in mind that the opportunities for choice in the new core (which course, instructor, timing during the week) mean that core courses will be in the auction system for First Years. This wasn’t true for the Class of 2013. First Years next fall will need to use their auction points to bid not only on electives, but on core courses as well. That will likely serve to support the Second Years’ advantage when bidding on electives.
Finally, a committee of faculty, students and staff chaired by Professor Cachon in the OPIM Department has been working on a new system that would replace our current course auction. They’re targeting fall of 2013 for our first use of the new system. That means that WG14 students will only need auction points for the 2012-13 school year. Having recognized that, we’re discussing a couple of different solutions that will ensure that Second Years maintain their auction advantage. We may give the First Years a slightly reduced number of auction points. Or, we may open more auction rounds only to Second Years. We’re looking closely at these kinds of solutions to make sure that Second Years are getting what they want out of their course selection process.
Q: The Class of 2012 and the Class of 2013 won’t get to experience these new options directly, but they’ll be mentoring the Class of 2014. Any words of wisdom for the students as they think about their role in all of this?
A: At the Town Hall, a couple of students expressed this question even more keenly, and Kembrel had a very positive response to their concerns that I wholly agree with. He reminded students that the Classes of 2012 and 2013 have also gotten to experience things that the Classes of 2011 and 2010 didn’t have. The First Year Brunch that many of you went to over the weekend is a great example – it has become a favorite Wharton tradition, but it only started in 2009. Global Modular Courses have become a highlight for many students – those were just introduced in 2011. The Class of 2013 will be the first to have the option of spending a Semester in San Francisco. And there will be innovations that I’m sure the Class of 2014 will feel that way about when they graduate. If Wharton and the staff and faculty here are doing our jobs well, there are always going to be new programs and new options for students. This process ensures that Wharton continues to represent innovative, forward-thinking – and benefits all of us as a community.
Q: Speaking of Wharton’s community, we’ve heard that there will be a new focus on the Cluster beginning next year. Can you talk more about this?
A: We’re focusing a lot of resources at the Cluster level next year. Kembrel has hired four new Associate Directors of Student Life, one to oversee each cluster. An Academic Advisor will continue to be assigned to each Cluster. Career Management will also assign advisors to Clusters. The WGA has adapted its structure to ensure that there is strong representation at the Cluster level and that there is good communication between each Cluster and the Executive Council. We’re doing all of this to ensure that staff members know each student individually, and can help students feel even more connected to their Wharton experience.
Experientially, the Cluster will be the first community group that incoming First Years meet in August on day one of Pre-Term. This group will serve as the primary model for their professional and social networks not only throughout Year One, but into Year Two as well. Next, at the Learning Team Retreat, they’ll meet with their Learning Teams for the first time and get to connect with that group. The Learning Team becomes their model for the teamwork they’ll do here at Wharton. Finally, just before they begin MGMT 610 (formerly MGMT 652), they’ll be introduced to their Cohorts. By that time, they’ll already know many of these classmates: their Learning Teammates, as well as many people from their Cluster with whom they’ve experienced the first two weeks of Pre-Term. This group will continue to work together as a learning community for most of the core classes in the Fall term.
You can see that we’ve invested a lot of time and energy in thinking about our community next year, and we hope this new structure will further enhance the outstanding student community we already have at Wharton.
Kathryn Bezella is the Director of Strategy & Internal Communications for the Office of the Vice Dean, Wharton MBA Division