Please allow me a moment to hypothesize. If you are an active reader of business school blogs, you probably know quite a bit about business school. If you know quite a bit about business school then you probably know about the challenging time constraints of First Year students. You probably know about the demanding core courses, the job search, and the mixture of emotions that come along with meeting new people in a new environment during a new era of your life.
But here’s what you might not know about. You might not know about the transition that takes place between a student’s first and second year. It’s a transition that isn’t always tangible, and something that can’t be fully comprehended until you experience it. It’s a transition characterized by insight, questions, and decision-making. For many students it’s a transition of revelation: this past summer I did ABC, and I now know that I want to do XYZ. Above all, the transition that takes place between your first and second year revolves around inner reflection – thinking deeply about the type of person and leader you want to be.
Now allow me to be less vague and step off my soapbox for a minute. Here at Fuqua, we spend our first week as Second Year students participating in two activities: 1) Re-orientation 2) A leadership course known as ILE (Integrated Learning Experience). Re-orientation is simple and straightforward: Here’s what you should expect from your second year at Fuqua. ILE, on the other hand, offers a series of distinct experiences. For example, as a class we engaged in an activity known as “Interactive Theatre”, in which professional (and I might add…seemingly brilliant) actors performed a role-play in the workplace, portraying characters that teed up conversations for the audience about biases, discrimination, and perception. We engaged in improvisation – freeing our minds and unleashing our creativity in a safe environment. We role-played workplace conversations and commonly-practiced behaviors, attempting to recognize and maximize our strengths and to take note of / develop our weaknesses. Finally, we engaged in an activity known as the People’s court, where we, as a class, put ourselves on trial in a mock courtroom setting to evaluate our performance as a class on a number of counts. How effectively were we promoting and representing Fuqua? How were we doing as a team…as a community? These were the questions we sought to evaluate, and as a jury, ultimately judge.
As you can see, we experienced a lot!
Yes…AND…that’s not all. While these activities served as frameworks for engagement and self-reflection, ILE was more than a series of activities that we were forced to attend and consider. In my mind it represented an intangible wildcard that affected every participant in a different way. Many of us ended up in less comfortable territory, where we were then forced to step on the brake, look both ways, and re-evaluate the realities we see within ourselves: How do I behave in the workplace? How do I appear when engaging in conversation? Am I representing Fuqua in the best way I can? Am I representing myself in the best way I can? Am I being honest with myself? Am I achieving what I have set out to achieve at Fuqua? Am I courageous? And if so, will I one day be a courageous leader in the workplace, in my community, or with respect to my family?
Tired of the questions? Well…if you are then you might not want to go to business school. Because what I’ve learned so far this year is that as future leaders in the business world it is imperative that we ask questions and never become complacent. It is imperative that we act and think prudently, do the right thing, and always consider what is at stake when we make decisions – for our co-workers, our company, our community, our customers, our family and friends, and then for ourselves.
I stroll down this philosophical path because as you enroll in business school and encounter these “soft” courses or experiences you’ll find a divergence of opinions about how to engage. Many will discount these moments believing it is easier to shrug them off than it is to confront them. But, as you can probably tell, I would argue that these courses or experiences offer the greatest opportunities to grow.
On a personal level, ILE placed me in a different mindset for my second year. It set the tone for a year of emotional stimulation – one built on indulging in “soft” experiences, helping others develop, and repositioning the bigger picture that places Fuqua and friends above my own personal ambitions.
Most importantly, ILE made me pause. It made me think. It put me back in touch with who I am and what I want from my MBA experience – a challenging environment, good friends, and to constantly learn and grow for the better – during my second year of business school and beyond.