Traveling Across the Globe: The Story of Our Intrepid Program Managers
Traveling Across the Globe: The Story of Our Intrepid Program Managers
Up Close: People have long been curious about what it’s like to be a student at Harvard Business School, and increasingly they are also interested in how the best-known school of management manages itself. This is the latest installment of a new series called Up Close, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.
11 Oct 2017   Zeenat Potia

The FIELD Global Immersion (FGI) is a required Term II course for first-year MBA students at Harvard Business School. During FGI, students work in small, diverse teams to help solve customer challenges for Global Partner organizations in a wide range of global markets such as India, Vietnam, Peru, Turkey, and others. Using the design thinking method, each student team completes a project to develop or improve a product, service, or experience for a segment of their Global Partner's customers.

During the spring 2018 semester, Required Curriculum (first year) students will learn about innovation and the design thinking method on campus, get acquainted with their Global Partner and its business, and begin to brainstorm ideas. In May, they will travel to their Global Immersion location for eight days, where they will meet with their Global Partner, spend time with local consumers testing preliminary ideas and developing new ones, and present their findings to senior management at the Global Partner organization.

One of the key foundations of the FIELD Global Immersion and Immersive Field Courses (second year Elective Curriculum courses with an off-campus component) are the Program Managers (PMs), selected from HBS staff via application, who serve as the face of HBS and the Global Experience Office (GEO) in-country. Program Managers, assigned in pairs, support faculty and students, while collaborating closely with local travel providers to ensure the success of the immersions. Since 2012, more than 170 staff members from 14 departments have served in this crucial role.

While the position has no shortage of challenges, including managing complex logistics in an unfamiliar setting, assisting sick students far from home, and reinforcing HBS policy, staff also find the experience to be extremely rewarding through learning about a new culture, witnessing student creativity and drive, and forging lasting relationships with faculty and fellow PMs.

Josh Nupp, Associate Director of GEO, says, “Without our flexible, proactive, and detail-oriented Program Managers, we wouldn’t be able to manage the inherent complexity of our immersions taking place across the globe every year. We’re very fortunate to have the full support of the HBS community behind this incredible program.”

We asked several past Program Managers to share their experiences with us.

Phillip Andrews, Corporate Relations Director, Career & Professional Development

You show up in an unfamiliar country, likely jetlagged, and have to hit the ground running with in-country partners you’ve never met before to deliver a seamless program. GEO gives you everything you need to succeed, but stepping out of your comfort zone and daily work routine to rise to the challenge is incredibly rewarding. Plus, by the end of the immersion, it is likely you’ll count your co-PM as a new friend.

In 2016, when I was a PM in Manila, a community service day was added as a new component of the FGI. Our global section visited a local primary school, where we spent the day with about 100 kids playing games and repainting classrooms. This was by far the highlight of the Immersion for me, and for many of the HBS students as well, and really one of the most rewarding and fun experiences I have had in all of my HBS travels.

Margaret A. Mitropoulos, Assistant Director, Financial Operations and Travel Reimbursement

I have been a PM three times, beginning with the FGI in 2012. My first trip, the first year of GEO, no one knew what to expect. We encountered sick students, lost students, lost luggage, etc.; yet with the great support of GEO, we were able to resolve all issues. It was very satisfying to be part of the first year and setting the way for the future years.

My first trip was to Poland, and most of the students were not overly thrilled when they discovered that’s where they were going, especially since some of the other global sections were going to warm climates. By the end of the trip, the students were very happy and said that the experience was above and beyond what they had imagined. I found working closely with the students and faculty very rewarding, since I don’t experience that so much in my position. To watch the students work throughout the week and come up with their final product was really interesting. I saw them go through their trials and tribulations. I had the opportunity to see how they worked with their teammates, and how they interacted with the accompanying faculty member. It was nice to see the relationships that developed in such a short period of time.

An experience that has been etched in my mind is the community service project in Lima, Peru. We were taken to a remote village on the side of a mountain, where we helped build some stairs. The villagers worked alongside us and were so thankful for our help. Having been to remote villages myself, I was not surprised at what I saw. However, some of the students had never been out of the United States or visited such remote villages and their reactions were very touching.

Allison Petrone, Senior Program Manager, Executive Education

There are almost too many rewarding aspects of the experience to consider, but for me it was the connection that you build with the faculty and students. I work in Executive Education, and my contact with MBA students is very limited. I also work with a small portion of the faculty, so it’s wonderful to get to know other faculty members through this experience. It makes me feel more connected to the School and its larger mission.

I love that HBS and Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi find it important to visit the Fukushima High School every year on the Japan Immersive Field Course (IFC). Seeing the MBA students engage with the high school students and encourage them in their ideas and ambitions is priceless. Those kids light up, and they feel empowered to take on the world. They sang at the end of my visit, and it briefly started to flurry outside during the song – huge cartoon-like white puffs of snow. The song ended and so did the snow, and it was magic.

Jan Pianca, Assistant Director, Educational Programs, Europe

The most rewarding aspect of being a PM is the unique bond that you develop with the students, the professors, and your fellow PM. Sharing this incredible experience together makes for some very strong relationships that often last well beyond FIELD or IFC.

As for the one standout experience as a PM, I must say it was a private meeting with the president of Indonesia, together with the faculty and only a dozen students. It was just after the Paris attacks of January 2015, which affected me a lot, since I live in Paris. There was space for only one PM to attend, and my co-PM offered me her place for the meeting with the president to cheer me up a bit. It was so thoughtful.


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