A group of first-year Vanderbilt MBA students squeezed their way down the packed sidewalks of Wall St. The afternoon sunshine and warm autumn breeze gave the busy scene a festive feel as people poured out of tightly lined buildings. After a day touring trading floors and hearing boardroom briefings, it seemed fitting to head for a group photo at the famous “Charging Bull” sculpture at the corner of Broadway and Morris St. in lower Manhattan.
Wall Street Week is one of several learning immersions wedged into a break between regular classes each fall. While one group spent their time off exploring financial services firms in New York — and networking with Vanderbilt alumni in the industry — other students were observing real-life medical procedures for the Health Care Immersion. Still others were working with blue chip companies on special marketing projects as part of Brand Week, or navigating the twisted streets of Sao Paulo as part of a study trip in Brazil.
Intensive learning immersions, in which students plunge deep into an industry for a week, have become a hallmark of the Owen experience and represent a key element in our strategy to create a unique and personalized business education. Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria identifies immersive learning for management students as being nearly as important as the hands-on experience that medical students receive. “The clinical experience gained by fledgling doctors is an ideal example of how professional schools address the ‘knowing-doing gap,’” he wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review. Similarly, Vanderbilt’s recent Academic Strategic Planning document highlighted immersion learning as a key initiative, hoping to give every student “an opportunity to engage, to question, and to forge change.” From Vanderbilt’s one-year management programs to the full-time and Executive MBA programs, immersions provide a valuable, personalized simulation that balances real-world experience with insightful instruction.
In the same way that putting students in an environment where they eat, sleep, and breath a foreign language allows for a deep, accelerated learning experience, the same is true for business. For example, this year we launched a new entrepreneurship immersion that gave students an intense glimpse into the life of a start-up company. Rather than spend the week on campus, the students moved into Nashville’s new Entrepreneur Center where they could rub shoulders with many budding and veteran entrepreneurs while focusing on their own projects. Like Wall Street Week, traditional teaching methods like lectures and case discussions were coupled with many informal interactions in the context of live business. Likewise for the health care immersion, there is nothing like learning about emergency care business models while shadowing an emergency room nurse or climbing onto a life-flight helicopter.
Intensive learning immersions don’t simply accelerate learning. They provide context and texture for traditional classes, giving students real-world experiences on which to process and interpret other parts of their degree experience. At Vanderbilt, we develop immersions that combine four important elements:
- Single topic focus that provides intensive, deep focus.
- Projects and challenges that demand experiential learning.
- Unparalleled access to industry experts who provide instruction and coaching.
- Relevant physical context that opens numerous opportunities for indirect learning.
Listening to health care MBA students talk about their immersion week, all four of these elements become very clear. Some students witnessed births and surgeries. A few witnessed deaths. Others spent time in labs and health care business support organizations. All of them interacted with healthcare executives, elected policy makers, and thought leaders. And in the end, each one experienced a transformation in their thinking about the business of health care.