In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the site’s founding, Poets & Quants looked back at 10 shake-ups they’ve covered throughout the years—from virtual classes to test-free admissions and beyond.
Coming in at No. 6 on the list was WashU Olin’s MBA reboot, featuring a 38-day global immersion semester that takes students around the globe to gain business experience and entrepreneurial expertise.
“At the heart of the reimagined Olin MBA is a required global immersion that takes the entire class of newly arrived students on a 38-day, round-the-world learning experience,” the article explains.
“What’s more, Olin did not increase its MBA tuition to pay for the immersion or the extra semester. Instead, the school ate all costs.”
Last year, the MBA reboot experience landed WashU Olin the title of MBA Program of the Year by Poets & Quants, who then called the new MBA program “one of the boldest and most innovative program changes any business school has made in many, many years.”
While Olin’s global immersion semester typically takes place at the very beginning of the MBA experience, the coronavirus pandemic has moved the 2020 immersion to spring 2021. And while what the future holds is unknown, Poets & Quantsencourages readers to “watch for other B-schools to imitate the Olin model.”
Economists often characterize events that rock financial markets as either “heat waves” or “meteor showers.” The former is regional—a weather event that disrupts trade or slows commerce in a confined area.
In contrast, “meteor showers” are wide-spread, global events, creating long-term disruptions for international supply chains and economic systems. Now, a dozen weeks into the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic, we are all perhaps more familiar with metaphorical meteor showers than any of us would like to be.
As I noted in my previous Desk of the Dean column, the effects of this crisis have brought into stark relief the ways we will need to approach business education going forward. The need for a global perspective on business is more imperative than ever. The way we provide that global perspective for our students will likely change—and that change is reflected in a new approach we’ll soon introduce for Olin undergraduates.
A global school—in the heart of the US
Since arriving at Olin, I’ve been keen to ensure 100% of WashU Olin students have a global experience. We took an extraordinary step forward for MBAs in 2019 by launching our three-continent global immersion.
Undergraduates starting in the fall of 2021 will benefit from our latest innovation: a “global mindset” degree requirement for Olin BSBA students, a framework designed to ensure every undergraduate can gain international business experience—whether or not they travel abroad.
Paige LaRose, associate dean and director of undergraduate programs, spent more than a year spearheading the planning for this new degree requirement, which faculty approved on February 10. She has been tremendously skilled at navigating the barriers to implementing such a requirement.
To be sure, a high percentage of our undergraduate students already participate in global experiences through Olin’s comprehensive menu of more than 20 programs including study abroad, international internships and experiential learning projects. More than 60% of BSBA students go abroad as part of their business school experience.
Accommodating various needs
For many students, traveling abroad is not an easy task. Health concerns, student athletics and other issues present challenges, we must acknowledge, that some students cannot overcome. Indeed, our approach perhaps anticipates concerns the pandemic has wrought, while still stressing the importance of that global perspective.
“It’s really about the difference between having a global experience and gaining a global mindset,” Paige explains. “What’s the learning outcome? At graduation time, what sort of competency do we hope our BSBA grads have?”
Focusing on forging a global mindset for our students opened opportunities for us to accommodate students for whom traveling abroad was impossible or inadvisable. Options include independent study coursework focused on global business issues, credit-bearing independent research, and a second major or a minor in a foreign language.
The variety of options fall into two categories: One focuses on academic and professional exposure to global business issues. The other exposes students to global cultures, people or philosophies through volunteerism with immigrant communities, experiential learning projects or new courses still in development.
“There was a recognition that we had to do more,” Paige said. “We had to do more to promote a global mindset. We’re just doing it in some innovative ways.”
In an event livestreamed to the audience of Poets & Quants, Editor-in-Chief John Byrne praised WashU Olin for boldly reimagining its full-time MBA program, interviewing four students, two career center representatives, two faculty members and Dean Mark P. Taylor.
The event today, February 20, 2020, in Frick Forum was the capstone event after P&Q named Olin its MBA Program of the Year last month. In an article at the time, Byrne had written that Olin’s faculty and staff had basically broken the mold for full-time MBA programs with the three-continent global immersion at the outset of the first-year student experience.
Today, addressing a crowd gathered for the livesteam in Frick Forum, Byrne remarked that he visits a lot of full-time MBA programs and sees a lot of tinkering around the margins as educators work on improving their programs.
“It’s highly unusual for somebody to take out a blank piece of paper and reimagine what an MBA experience can be,” Byrne told the crowd. “There are precious few schools in the world that would bring their entire student cohort out on a 38-day learning experience—around the world—and then pay for the entire trip out of the school’s budget.”
His remarks came in the midst of a post-livestream celebration featuring internationally inspired finger foods, T-shirts for students, faculty and staff and tables adorned with beanies and berets—a takeoff on the Poets & Quants‘ logo. Visitors were offered the chance to record a video testimonial about the program or take selfies with Byrne-approved John Byrne masks.
Byrne came to campus specifically to highlight Olin’s program in an hourlong livestream broadcast live on the Poets & Quants website and into Frick Forum. He broke the hour into three 20-minute segments.
First, he focused on the overall experience by interviewing Dean Taylor along with Olin professors Sam Chun and Andrew Knight, who taught during the global immersion. Segment two focused on the student experience with first-year MBAs Zach Frantz, Jennifer Lanas and Lungile Tshuma. The final segment focused on career outcomes with Jen Whitten, director of the Weston Career Center, career coach Chris Collier and first-year student Kendra Kelly.
“We were all outside of our comfort zones—but safely outside of our comfort zones with the help of the program,” Tshuma told Byrne during his segment, explaining in part why the program was so important to his development as a business student.
Focusing on the student experience
Byrne focused many of his questions on the core experience of working on projects and experiencing the business world in the very earliest stages of their MBA experience. Chun, professor of management practice, spoke of the importance and depth of field excursions to Barcelona vineyards, for example.
“These are meaningful trips—not just going on a winery tour,” Chun said. “We’re thinking about how a family (at the vineyard) thinks about wine and thinks about their values.”
“We learned business by actually doing business,” Lanas said.
Pictured above: John Byrne, editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants, interviewing Dean Mark Taylor, Sam Chun and Andrew Knight for the livestream broadcast today.
Jennifer Desai, MBA ’21, speaks to the ways WashU Olin’s 38-day global immersion bonded the class of 2021—first-year MBAs who opened their program with a ’round-the-world trip from St. Louis, to the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, to Barcelona and finally, to Beijing and Shanghai, before returning in early August.
Creating a tight bond among members of the nearly 100 students who began the program in late June 2019 was among the goals of the global immersion. “My classmates and I are never in competition with one another, rather we genuinely want the best for each other,” Desai said. See below as she reflects on the experience its affect on her work at WashU Olin.
Can you describe how the global immersion influenced your approach to class?
One of the most impactful takeaways from the global immersion program for me was that it expanded my capabilities in thinking of business in a global context versus only here in the United States. During the core classes (especially economics, strategy and marketing) this fall, I often thought about the differences in values, culture and governments in the world when discussing a case study or when thinking of a solution to a problem.
How did the opportunity to bond with your classmates affect your experience in class and moving forward in the program?
From study groups to interview preparation to discussing career goals, I have found support from virtually everyone in my cohort from the beginning. I never imagined traveling the world with these wonderful people for five weeks would have created a bond and support system that I will have throughout my life.
The thing that has surprised me the most is that my classmates and I are never in competition with one another, rather we genuinely want the best for each other. My classmates truly do feel more like my family rather than just my peers.
Also, I guess I should say, we are almost never in competition with one another. Every now and then, we may secretly hope that someone’s fingers can’t move fast enough, or they lose their Wi-Fi connection during class registration time. This was especially true when the opportunity to travel to Israel, for a Venture Advising class that was sponsored and paid for by the school, arose.
Most of us wanted one of those coveted 43 spots to serve as a consultant for a startup! I initially did not, but the classmates I talked to encouraged me to seek one because of my career interests and the opportunity in general. Having secured one of those spots and just completed travel, I am beyond grateful for their encouragement to pursue such opportunities.
Have you been able to use the global immersion yet in any preparation for your career next step? If not, do you envision ways in which you might?
As a first-year MBA student, balancing core classes with finding a summer internship is kind of the way of life. The WCC traveled with us during the global immersion and we had a variety of sessions on resume building, interview prep and networking. They also provided us with ideas on how to incorporate the global immersion experience into our conversations or interviews.
Returning to the states, during interviews, I was able to use the global immersion experiences to discuss projects that I have completed and are vastly different from anything I have ever worked on before. This has led to a variety of conversations with interviewers, as it sparked interest from them. Additionally, the global immersion program has helped solidify my desire to work with a global company.
Any global business leader understands that international events drive opportunities and influence decisions. Agile business leaders pivot quickly when unanticipated events arise. Business goals remain constant. Strategy and tactics may have to change to meet the unexpected. These are lessons WashU Olin students learn day in and day out. Today, the team at Olin is putting those lessons into practice.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, my Olin colleagues have confronted the challenge admirably. We’re retooling our celebrated global immersion for the next class of full-time MBA students—while accounting for an unanticipated public health crisis.
The result: The MBA students in the class of 2022 will span five cities across three continents in their global immersion, beginning in St. Louis and continuing to Washington, DC; Barcelona; Paris; and Lima, Peru.
Our inaugural class covered St. Louis; Washington, DC; Barcelona; Beijing; and Shanghai, all the while taking classes, consulting with business professionals in-country and creating solutions for real-world business problems.
Given today’s headlines, and because the health and well-being of our students is paramount, we had to make decisions now. We had to pivot, while preserving the important global experience that has quickly become a cornerstone of the WashU MBA—so much so, in fact, that Poets & Quants named us the program of the year for our work.
From the start, we’ve pressed the opportunity for students to gain global business literacy in a variety of economies and markets. We’ve spoken about the agility today’s business leaders require when operating in cultures different from their own. And our students have bonded tightly in a unique and united global experience.
Class of ’22 students will take virtually the same courses their predecessors took, gaining similar outcomes. This time, however, students will experience even more diverse business perspectives.
As well as adding a major European capital and world business center to the itinerary—Paris—we are adding a stint in Lima, the capital city of Peru’s emerging economy, with opportunities to study sustainability concerns and startup opportunities. An economy with local production in textiles and ecotourism. A culture risen from a tumultuous history, where economic development is a priority.
For students who were deeply committed to the possibility of an experience in China, we haven’t left them behind either. When the current crisis subsides, we plan to offer an elective residency in Shanghai—along with other residencies in Tel Aviv and Berlin.
WashU Olin is a global business school. We’ve invested in the program and in our students in order to develop globally mobile business leaders who are nimble enough to confront challenge dynamically.
To be sure, we didn’t anticipate this challenge. But in confronting it, we’re creating a new and exciting version of our global immersion.