Today, we finished up a four-day MIT Sloan orientation, during which we met the non-LGO portion of the MBA class of 2012. It was a bit reminiscent of moving up from kindergarten to first grade in that we were separated from most our LGO (kindergarten) class and dispersed among a new and unfamiliar group of people (first grade). As we did back then, we stuck close to those we knew and carefully examined those we didn't to make sure they were all right but all the while sought comfort in those familiar faces around the classroom, at lunch time, and on the ride home from school. Going into the week, I was excited to meet the rest of the class, but also very curious about how the LGO students would (or wouldn't) fit in among the larger group.
Before going into detail about this week's events, I want to quickly summarize what happens to us this fall. Sloan divides first-year students into six "oceans" or cohorts (I am in Ocean A, also known as "Atlantic," which, as a lifelong East Coaster, makes me feel right at home). The 48 LGO students are evenly distributed among the oceans; our ocean assignment is based partly on avoiding conflicts with our Fall semester engineering courses. We end up taking all of the core MBA courses with our ocean.
Within the ocean, we are divided into teams of 6-7 people, which are intentionally made to be as diverse as possible. For instance, my team has two international students, one American minority student, backgrounds ranging from finance, to consulting, to real estate investment, to engineering, four of us are married, two are female, etc...you get the point. As part of ensuring diversity within each group, no two LGO students are on the same team.
The agenda this week was quite scattered. We spent time getting to know our new teammates, particularly on Tuesday when we went to a place called the Warren Center and engaged in a day of team-building activities. We were introduced (or re-introduced, in the case of the LGOs) to the Case Method of teaching. (This was a burdensome introduction, as it required reading 60+ pages of dense material in preparation for the discussion). The reward of the case discussions was a pair of plenary sessions in which we got to ask questions directly to the case protagonists. It was absolutely incredible to see the cases come to life during these sessions and really made me appreciate being at a school that could provide these experiences. More details on this in a bit...
We spent a lot of time talking to our new Ocean-mates and classmates in forced (through games) and unforced ways. (I am getting good at small talk, though I'd still rather scratch my eyes out of my head than do it.) We also got exposed to the type of help we'll be getting from the Career Development Office during our time at MIT Sloan through a presentation and with a session devoted to teaching us how to better tell "our story."
Two short lists follow, summarizing my thoughts at the end of the week.
Orientation Week highlights:
- Plenary sessions with case protagonists. The first was with Victor Reinoso (MBA '97) and Michelle Rhee, Deputy Mayor of Education and School Chancellor, respectively, in Washington, D.C. They were extremely impressive speakers, and their dedication to implementing unpopular but necessary changes in the D.C. school amazed me. The second session was with the ex-CEO of Veridian Corp., a former defense company. He spoke about running a company in which a values-driven mission was given priority over financial metrics.
- Getting to know my new team. So far, so good. My team seems like a great group with lots of different experiences from which we can draw during our work together this semester. Most importantly (to me, that is), there aren't any overly strong or confrontational personalities in the group, something I feared encountering in the MBA crowd.
- The general Class of 2012 personality. I had made all sorts of assumptions about typical MBA students. Aggressive, obnoxious, demanding, arrogant, ostentatious -- just a few words that came to mind. Apparently, I was wrong, at least within the class of 2012. I was happily surprised with the modesty, sincerity, honesty, and self-deprecation I observed among of the vast majority of the students I met.
- How the LGOs will fit in among the Sloan population. There seemed to be a mixture of approaches taken by the LGO students this week. A few threw themselves into the Orientation experience as if they were new students themselves. A larger number (myself included) gently and cautiously stepped into the experience, attending all sessions, trying to meet new people, but also seeking out fellow LGOs for company during awkward mingling sessions. There were also quite a few LGOs who put minimal effort into meeting others and skipped many of the orientation sessions. As relaxing as it would've been to be in this last group, I want to really take advantage of the limited time I have here in school, and that means meeting as many people as I can, learning from them about different industries, functions, cultures, geographic regions, etc. I will gladly subject myself to as many awkward conversations as it takes to get out of this experience everything I want to get out of it.
- What the Sloan population expects of us. Over the summer, I felt I learned a great deal about working in a team of peers. With a new team this fall, I would like to use my summer experience to help navigate some of the difficulties we will inevitably face. However, I want to avoid coming across as the know-it-all LGO guy. I also realize that allowing the team to figure things out for itself could have more long-term benefits for each of the team members. Some of my LGO classmates have expressed similar concerns about their roles in their new teams. I am quite curious to see how things play out.
- My comfort level in the Sloan classroom. Despite getting experience with the case method this summer, I was back to being my mute self in the two discussions this week. It turns out that the MBA class is filled with eloquent, knowledgeable speakers who thrive on extemporaneously voicing their opinions in front of complete strangers. This intimidates me. I hope that as I get to know more of my classmates, I will also get more comfortable speaking/mumbling in front of them.