Each year during Spring Term 2, after the student organization presidents and cabinets are selected, many of these organizations go on group retreats to discuss goals for the year, share ideas, and bond. The MBA Association (MBAA) is one of these student organizations and the governing body that oversees all matters regarding club affairs, student life, and builds a bridge between the student body and administration.
I’m co-president of the MBAA, and for our retreat, we decided to make the trip to Surf City, North Carolina. We thought that leaving the Fuqua bubble would allow us to fully disconnect from our lives in Durham and focus on building relationships that go beyond our academic experience.
After Friday classes at Fuqua, a supply run to Costco and Walmart, and a few hours on the road, we arrived at our beach house in Surf City. We checked in at 10:00 p.m., unpacked, played some board games, and headed off to bed.
We woke up fresh and excited for the day. Jeanette, my fellow co-president, and a few other cabinet members cooked the gang breakfast and we headed out to the beach to start our bonding and goal-setting exercises.
Exercise 1: Tell Us About Your Name
For many, names carry a significant amount of meaning because they represent where we come from. Each member had the opportunity to share the history behind his or her name and why it’s important to them. I found this to be one of the most personally satisfying bonding exercises I’ve encountered because it allowed people to open up and share the most important aspect of one’s life—family. I genuinely appreciated how thoughtful people were during this exercise. We learned how our classmates’ relatives sacrificed for their families, their journeys to the U.S., and the relevance of one’s name in different international cultures. This helped people take down their guard and better prepare for the next exercise—constructivist listening.
Exercise 2: Constructivist Listening
As an organization that oversees the budget and leadership for 60-plus student clubs, effective communication, both listening and speaking, is absolutely essential in making sure the individual voices of the collective student body are heard. We paired off into groups of two, one listener and one speaker, taking turns discussing various prompts. With each prompt, the speaker would open up for two minutes without pausing and share his or her feelings regarding the prompt while the other listened without gesturing, speaking, or making any emotional response.
This presented two challenges. First, most people, without knowing it, change their style and content of speaking based on the listener’s reaction. People were forced to allow themselves to feel awkward and vulnerable to the point of over-sharing. Oftentimes we feel insecure about the way in which we speak, and this was an opportunity to briefly work on and be more cognizant of that weakness. Second, it’s extremely hard, especially as curious students, not to ask questions, nod our heads, or outwardly show our feelings while conversing, so this required one to give their undivided attention and really comprehend what the other is saying.
After each person had the opportunity to speak, we swapped teams and paired off with someone we were not yet close with. Each prompt was simple yet different. Two examples include, “tell me what it’s like to be you right now” and “if you could have a conversation with anyone, dead or alive, right now, who would it be?” Seemingly simple and perhaps cliché, the communication aspect of this exercise once again, forced people to feel uncomfortable (on both sides) and open up.
Exercise 3: Goal-Setting
When Jeanette and I discussed our vision for the MBAA cabinet retreat, we wanted to focus on three key aspects of Fuqua life during our goal setting discussion—to reduce clutter and confusion in MBA life, build a culture of active engagement and cohesion across the Daytime MBA community, and empower students to be the change they wish to see at Fuqua. With a cabinet that is fully representative of the Fuqua community, we are confident we can make it all happen.
We gave each cabinet member a stack of sticky notes to share ideas regarding how they envision improving the three key aspects Fuqua life we previously mentioned. Twenty minutes later, everyone would place their individual ideas, both big-picture and tactical, on a poster board that represented each of the three aspects. All 10 of our cabinet members individually presented their ideas and discussed how they fit into the overall vision and would improve life at Fuqua.
Everyone was incredibly thoughtful and shared some great ideas, such as refine communications delivery so information is more easily consumable, collect more student data so we can generate more well-informed decisions regarding events like Fuqua Friday and attendance at events or conferences, and increase frequency of cross-cultural events to support ally education. Four hours of deep discussion later, this became the highlight of our retreat. Witnessing the motivations and passions of each member reassured the entire team that we aren’t just here to have our pictures in Breeden Hall, but to leave a lasting impact on the Fuqua community. We were pumped to make 2018-2019 an amazing year.
Exercise 4: By-Law Amendments
The MBAA follows a constitution and by-law procedures to make sure we are consistent with our leadership practices and the way in which Fuqua operates. At times, some of these by-laws need to be changed to accommodate the evolving needs of students. For example, Jeanette and I decided to split the role of Vice President, International & Diversity, into two distinct roles. One would solely focus on enhancing the experience for international students and the other would focus on underrepresented student groups. Finalizing this decision required a vote and it was unanimously passed.
When the day was over, we threw around the frisbee and football on the beach. Running around like little kids, laughing and smiling as we kept accidentally throwing frisbees into bushes and footballs into the water, I felt a deep sense of happiness and gratitude for the team we built. After dinner, the night ended with even more laughs, card games, a vicious game of Heads Up, and a great sense of optimism about our team and the upcoming year.