First-year Wharton MBA curriculum to be more flexible

The new curriculum puts greater emphasis in developing student presentation skills

· September 9, 2012, 10:56 pm

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Wharton’s MBA Class of 2014 will be the first to experience a newly redesigned curriculum for first-year students.

The new curriculum, which was implemented at the start of this year, is designed to offer greater flexibility and a more customizable educational experience.

According to Management Department Chair Nicolaj Siggelkow, the previous curriculum for first-year students was more rigid, as all students took virtually the same set of fixed core classes — including ones in economics, marketing and operations — that fell in line with certain requirements. Now, students have the opportunity through a set of “Flexible Core Classes” to fulfill the same requirements as before, but with more options.

“There is still a somewhat fixed core, [but] the rest of the requirements are now more like field requirements,” he said. “Each department offers at least two different ways for the students to fulfill that distribution requirement.”

Although Wharton faculty and administrators played a large role in creating these changes, the school also took student input into account.

“The committee surveyed a number of students and also relied on course evaluations and surveys that we do annually on student satisfaction, and there was a lot of work done with alumni to try and get a feel for the long-run impact of these educational outcomes,” Wharton MBA Vice Dean Howard Kaufold said.

Additionally, the curriculum was changed in part due to the variety of students in the MBA program.

“We have students with many different backgrounds, people coming from investment banking and people from the military,” Siggelkow said. “They have different skill sets and forcing them through the same curriculum the first year was not the most efficient way.”

Siggelkow, a member of the committee that focused on redesigning the new curriculum, also noted that greater emphasis will be placed on developing students’ presentation skills.

“Communications and presentation skills are really important,” he said. “It’s one thing that quite often is lacking, so we doubled the amount of required time that students spend working on that.”

For first-year Wharton MBA student Jack Sarvary, the restructured curriculum will enable him to further develop his interests in a specific area of business.

“It can help us focus on what we’re really trying to do here,” he said. “I have an interest in social entrepreneurship and it helps me focus a good amount on the classes that are particularly interesting that I want to take.”

Chelsea L’Ecuyer, another first-year Wharton MBA student, described how this applies to other Wharton classes, such as accounting.

“The one change I appreciate the most for accounting is you can take all financial accounting or you can take classes in managerial and financial accounting,” she said. “Students can cater their classes to what interests them the most.”

The new curriculum is not only intended to benefit students, but also to allow professors to focus on their specific interests in the classroom.

“It gave faculty the ability to choose from a greater variety of courses they could teach, and given this they could link their teaching more closely with their research and interests as well,” Kaufold said.

Although greater flexibility is one of the main highlights of the new curriculum, Sarvary is concerned about the potential impact this could have on smaller academic communities within the cohort system.

“Some of the smaller communities like the cohort system may not be as strong because you’re taking fewer classes with your cohort,” he said.

The MBA curriculum was last redesigned more than a decade ago. Looking to the future, Siggelkow said the new curriculum provides more room and flexibility for change than it did before.

“The overall structure of the first year was pretty static,” Siggelkow said. “With this new design, we will be able to update the curriculum much more frequently.”

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