The Second Year of SIPs

Here is the latest installment of the Up Close series, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.

31 Jan 2019  

Boston in January isn't the most appealing of locales. By the time this is published, the city will have seen freezing rain, hail, snow, sleet, and one day's high temperature of 7 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s reasonable to think that one might not leap at an opportunity to visit, or that those already here might eagerly grab an opportunity to escape. But that’s not what upwards of 700 MBA students and dozens of alumni and executives chose for the week of January 22–25. They opted to engage in Short Intensive Programs (SIPs), no-credit, no-fee elective courses now being offered for a second year.

The 2019 SIPs curriculum comprised 10 courses and included such classes as Africa Rising: Understanding Business, Entrepreneurship, and the Complexities of a Continent; Building Sports Businesses; The Life and Role of the CEO; How to Talk Gooder in Business and in Life; and HBS Startup Bootcamp, a precursor to SIPs that is now integrated into the program. The classes ran over four days (Bootcamp for nine days), and included at least one dinner and evening program.

Professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee conceived of the SIPs idea several years ago when he was the faculty chair of the MBA program. As HBS reexamined the MBA curriculum and shifted FIELD Global Immersion to the end of the second semester, there was open space in January for an additional educational experience. “I wanted to offer students a different perspective on a topic that they could choose,” says Oberholzer-Gee. “I also wanted to mix first and second year students, and to engage alumni and executives.” He sent out an exploratory survey to students, and to his surprise, hundreds responded. “I thought maybe 40, 50 students might be interested,” he laughs.

Reaction from alumni and associated executives was similarly enthusiastic. “We're often in conversations with people who would like to give back, to interact with students, but it's relatively hard to do in practice,” says Oberholzer-Gee. A one-week course represented the perfect vehicle to bring together faculty, alumni, experts in the field, and MBA students.

“Alumni and practitioners like myself who can't easily take months off to teach an entire course can do all the preparation at home and fly in for a week,” says Hakeem Belo-Osagie (MBA 1980), who co-teaches Africa Rising with Prof. Caroline Elkins. “We're meeting with the next generation, hearing how they're thinking about things, and how they're reacting, and that is invigorating,” he says. “It's sentimental, too, remembering what it was like 30 years ago on the other side of the classroom. Being on the teacher's side is a little intimidating—it’s fun.”

“HBS has this ability to convene,” says Prof. Elkins. “This is effectively a whole EC class in four days—20 sessions—with 8, 10, 12 alumni and practitioners here in the classroom, listening to each other, participating with the students. We're training industry experts to do a live case; we're teaching alumni how to do the cases that they once learned from. It's Harvard magic at its best.”

Professor Suraj Srinivasan, who teaches Creating Value Through Activist Investing, agrees. “The advantage of this format is that you're able to pack a lot into a short period of time and give students a very complete picture, which allows for a lot of transfer of understanding across sessions,” says Srinivasan. His class, both last and this year, featured more than 15 financial practitioners—including hedge fund managers, CEOs, board members, investment bankers, and proxy advisors—all at the forefront of their field. “It offers an opportunity to engage. I've never had an alumni say no to an invitation. It's fantastic to see and a fantastic learning opportunity for me and for the students.” His class proved so popular that students are re-enrolling this year, a “total surprise” for Srinivasan. “The group is almost entirely different, the material has evolved, and the environment has changed, so they wanted to do it again.”

“One of the things that was most gratifying for me was that last year, several students said it was one of the most impactful courses they had at their time at HBS,” says Prof. Elkins. “In part because of being able to engage with the protagonists themselves, but also because we set a real ethos of inclusion and of seeking an unvarnished version of success. We want these young MBAs to see that these towering figures really wrestled with failure, with success, with thorny experiences. And they impart pearls of wisdom.” Elkins and Belo-Osagie are already eagerly planning next year's curriculum.

“Sometimes as a school, we plan the lives of students in quite some detail, and it's nice to see, with the SIPs, that so many students are intellectually curious,” says Oberholzer-Gee. “If they're given an opportunity to engage, it doesn’t matter that there's no grade, no credit, and that they're with people they won't necessarily interact with later. They're at HBS to learn, and if you create new and meaningful learning experiences, they will flock to them.”


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