After a year of virtual teamwork, the Full-Time MBA (FTMBA) Class of 2022 returned to Miller Hall in the fall of 2021 for in-person learning, which included an in-person Sprint Week event.
Sprint Week is an immersive experiential learning opportunity unique to the Raymond A. Mason School of Business during which first-and-second-year FTMBA students participate in a week-long multidisciplinary simulation. Sprint Weeks are held each year in the fall and spring in between the first and second sessions of the academic calendar, and the goal is to combine all of the knowledge and skills students have acquired throughout their tenure in the full-time program to test their business acumen.
Last year, members of the Class of 2022 overcame geographic separation to participate in virtual Sprint Weeks. But with the return to in-person instruction, the now-second-year MBAs tackled current, controversial business issues.
First-year MBAs participated in their own Sprint Week experience focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the health and human services sector.
“Sprint Week is designed to train our full-time MBA students for the real-world,” said Joe Wilck, Clinical Associate Professor of Operations and Information Systems Management. “Students show up on Monday morning at 8 AM and learn about their project for the next week. We replicate a true working environment because unlike many other situations in the program, they’re unable to prepare ahead of time, and they have a hard deadline at the end of the week to complete their objectives.”
Sprinting as Junto
Second-year MBA students divided into 5-person teams for their Sprint Week challenge and created presentations about their “Junto” or current, debatable, business topics.
The Junto format is derived from an idea established by Benjamin Franklin in 1727 when he founded the Junto Club with a group of tradesmen and artisan friends who were interested in discussing issues of morals, politics, or natural philosophy with individuals who held differing opinions. Junto Club members wanted to better themselves and society, so by evaluating topics using the different perspectives and opinions of other club members, they were able to arrive at reasonable resolutions to complex issues.
“Business leaders need to seek opinions that differ from their own rather than self-reinforcing confirmation,” said Clinical Professor of Finance and Economics Deborah Hewitt.
Hewitt was the faculty member responsible for organizing the event which included a variety of topics ranging from Big Data and ethics to increasing employee diversity to remote work. She explained that by self-organizing into teams and taking a deep dive into the pros and cons of their issue, students learned the importance of seeking multiple viewpoints, backed by research, in their decision-making process.
“In their final presentations, they were required to present a substantial amount of evidence on at least two viewpoints pertaining to each topic, and consider all dimensions of the issue in developing their resolution,” she said.
Wilck, who was a faculty advisor for the groups focused on the ethical considerations of Big Data and Robotic Process Automation, said students were also able to gain critical skills applicable to their future business careers.
“Oftentimes, you will get pulled in to work on a project that is already in motion. Sprint Week, particularly in the Junto format, trains our students to enter the real business world prepared to jump in, adapt to a new team quickly, and meet the deadline.”
First of Four
For the Class of 2023, the fall simulation exercise was the first of four Sprint Weeks they will complete over the next two years. Students were broken into small teams and charged to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) engagement strategies for a client in the health and human services sector.
Healthfirst, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health insurers, Hospice House of Williamsburg, and YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas were the three organizations that partnered with Sprint Week. Students were challenged to evaluate their assigned client’s current D&I landscape, and apply their interdisciplinary and professional strengths to create recommendations that would situate diversity, equity, and inclusion work as a significant part of the organization’s return to a post-COVID normal.
“Our primary goal was to create a space for our newest MBA students to explore more in the DE&I sphere,” said Phillip Wagner, Clinical Assistant Professor of Management Communications and host of the Mason School’s “Diversity Goes to Work” podcast.
Wagner explained that faculty and staff also wanted to provide a context where the students could further demonstrate their commitment to the ‘Own It’ curriculum, which is integral to the FTMBA program.
“Part of that curriculum asks our students to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you look at the skills most sought after in the world of work, you don’t have to look far to find ‘intercultural proficiency,’ ‘an inclusion-oriented leadership style,’ or some other closely aligned derivative at the top of many hiring managers’ wish lists. We felt Sprint Week was an appropriate outlet for students to demonstrate their leadership in a space that can be quite uncomfortable for some,” he said.
Throughout the week, the student teams engaged with their clients, faculty, staff, Executive Partners, and outside consultants to develop their recommendation strategies. Ultimately, each team delivered a presentation and a written report that incorporated current academic and professional literature, best practices, and formal recommendations for the client.
Krystal Merchan, FTMBA ’23 represented her team in the final round of presentations and said the key to their success was, “a balance of humility and confidence. Those were critical for each person to contribute at the highest capacity. It made us a team greater than the sum of its members.”
Ultimately, Wagner says, this Sprint Week was about teaching students about the importance of DE&I work and how to navigate the ambiguous space it occupies in the real business world.
“Our biggest hope is that students will feel empowered to keep engaging in DE&I work,” he said. “This Sprint revealed the landscape of that work goes far beyond the oft-sensationalized representation of DE&I. Our clients’ missions, visions, and day-to-day realities all directly map onto diversity, equity, and inclusion. We hope our students realize that this work is not a luxury – it is a necessity and an imperative for effective leadership in the modern world of work.