03 Nov 2023

Weekend Sprints: A New HBS Signature Event?


by Shona Simkin

This weekend, Harvard Business School (HBS) is launching its second session of a new pilot program for MBA and doctoral students: Weekend Sprints. Inspired by the highly-successful January SIPs program, Sprints are an opportunity to engage in smaller, subject-focused classes—but in one day, flanked by social community-building events. And, unlike any other academic programs at HBS, Weekend Sprints are open to students’ partners.

Students in Klarman Hall, senior lecturer Reza Satchu stands on stage
Photo courtesy Evgenia Eliseeva.

September 29 and 30 marked the debut, with a Friday community gathering on Schwartz Pavilion to celebrate Harvard President Claudine Gay’s inauguration that afternoon, followed by a Saturday community breakfast, 12 academic classes, and a dance party in the Shad Hall basketball courts.

With 860 MBA and doctoral students and partner participants, the experiment was an exciting success. This coming weekend looks to be just as popular, with a fall harvest gathering at Schwartz Pavilion on Friday afternoon, breakfast and 16 class offerings on Saturday, and a closing celebration with a DJ and R&B band in Spangler.

Conversations about offering more voluntary academic programs had been percolating among MBA Program Delivery staff since the excitement around SIPs began in 2018. “At the coldest time of the year in Boston, our students enroll in these no-fee, no-credit courses—it’s clear they want more academic opportunities,” said Thomas Finan, assistant director in MBA Student and Academic Services. “I've worked on SIPs every year, and there's always been a question of how we could introduce them at another time in the year.”

The organizers also wanted to capitalize on and activate the unique HBS residential campus by creating an event that would be accessible to the entire community regardless of socioeconomic status. The Student Activities team suggested kicking the weekend off with a “ToGather” event, which debuted last year to bring together MBA and doctoral students, staff, and faculty. Then, a celebration on Saturday evening would cap the two-day program.

The team sent a request for proposals to faculty, asking for short, topic-based classes—an opportunity for faculty to experiment with a new format or subject, and for students to have a session with a faculty member whose class they couldn’t work into their schedule, or on a subject of personal interest that didn’t neatly fit within their curriculum. And, since the classes were shorter in duration, they could be opened up to a wider audience, allowing student partners a glimpse of the classroom experience.

“We’re realizing that we can get our student community to come together to learn even more,” said Mike Murphy, director of student activities. “My concern was that after a full week of classes, would students want to be back in the classroom on a Saturday? But we’ve heard from students that being able to engage in these special topics and passion projects of our faculty was really appealing, and being able to do that with their partner was even better. It’s the most inclusive thing we’ve done in the program around the curriculum.”

Courses run the gamut: John Beshears’ Closing the Gender Pay Gap: Lessons from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and Other Leaders; Ashley Whillans’ Time Management Strategies for Personal and Professional Success; Carrie Elkins’ The Business of Ideas; Mike Parzen and Iav Bojinov’s Leading with Generative AI.

For Reza Satchu, whose Founder Mindset class drew upwards of 500 attendees in Klarman Hall on September 30, it was a chance to efficiently engage with, and deliver his message to, a wider student community.

“Those two hours were interactive and productive, and enabled me to effectively share the key elements of the founder mindset,” said Satchu. “I’m a big believer in exercising judgement with imperfect information because it’s in those points of uncertainty where you learn about leadership. I rip off the band aid and encourage students to more fully explore their upside nodes—it is unfortunate to have a trajectory that is extremely steep to get to HBS and then it flattens by taking safe jobs that only serve to protect their downside.”

Tyler Grim (MBA 2024) appreciated the condensed format of the classes. “Weekend Sprints gave me an opportunity to experience some of the courses that I wanted to take but didn’t have time to in a full semester,” said Grim. “I also appreciate the chance to take classes on topics that aren’t full term courses, like the Business of Running for Office, which I’m looking forward to taking this coming Saturday.”

Grim’s partner, Sydney Falle, said that it was exciting to participate in HBS classes more fully. “I loved getting to debrief with Tyler after the Founder’s Mindset because I know that starting a company is a possibility in our future, so aligning on how the class influenced us felt important,” said Falle. “I also enjoyed getting to learn more about how HBS runs—like where tuition dollars go—in the Business of HBS session.”

Gregory Fortier, manager in MBA Student and Academic Services, is looking forward to improving and iterating on the Sprint pilots. “We saw lots of good footings for success in September, are looking forward to more in November, and to figuring out how to harness that and let it grow,” said Fortier. “The students we engaged in planning and those who attended all had good things to say—even that it has the makings of a signature event for the School.”

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