Extracurricular Planning

Wharton’s new MBA curriculum launched this August after a lot of logistical legwork in its implementation.

When it came to planning the courses at the new MBA curriculum’s core, the big question was how to estimate demand for classes that did not yet exist from people who were not yet Wharton students.

To meet that challenge, the Curriculum Implementation and Review Committee, chaired by Ernst & Young Professor Christopher Ittner, embarked on a multiyear plan to determine future demand. The committee surveyed more than 900 current students, asking them what classes they would take and when they would want to take them. After two rounds of surveys, this data was matched up to classroom and faculty availability, and a functional schedule emerged.

The student demand-driven approach creates “a market mechanism that promotes this ongoing innovation where people can speak with their feet,” says Ittner.

The new curriculum seeks “to introduce more flexibility into the program and to foster more ongoing innovation than we’ve had in the past,” he adds. In practice, this means giving students the option to take a wider variety of classes at different times, in different sequences and with different professors. Students will also be surveyed extensively throughout the year to gauge ongoing reactions to the new offerings. Fewer classes will be locked into the cohort structure, and departments will offer more choices for students to meet each core requirement.

Art credit: Daniel Hertzberg

The change also lets faculty bring more of their personal style to each class and to make changes as they teach.

“We’re allowing for a lot of fast creativity,” says Peggy Bishop Lane, vice dean of the Wharton MBA for Executives Program.

Yet the constraints of available space and faculty teaching loads will continue to be an issue as the flexible curriculum calibrates itself over time. Course offerings will be adjusted in years to come based on student demand.

As mentioned earlier, the new curriculum removes much of the influence of cohorts on class scheduling. Students are now grouped into four clusters—containing three cohorts each—for social and extracurricular purposes. To support new initiatives in student life and to provide better advising, the Graduate Division hired four new staff members—one for each cluster. Several departments have hired additional faculty to accommodate expected student demand for classes.

The new curriculum also included the rollout of the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program, headed by Director Lynn Krage of the Wharton Graduate Leadership Program. The program offers executive coaching sessions to all interested first-years. Krage piloted the program last year with a group of two executive coaches and 50 students, although 243 students applied to participate. Based on collected data, Krage forecasts that the full program will attract 350 to 400 students and require as many as 40 coaches, all of whom are vetted through a rigorous application process.

“We have the best coaches in the area working with us,” she says. (Learn more about the coaching program in our article about leadership on P. 70.)

Overall, the curriculum’s implementation has been a Schoolwide effort. “It’s always great to see how people cooperate across groups and to see the faculty embrace all of these new ideas,” Lane says.

—By Paul Richards, C’10 

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