While many other business schools offer behavioral skills training through experiential learning, these trainings are often disconnected from other aspects of students’ curriculum, according to Christopher Myers, an assistant professor who co-teaches the school’s Leadership Development Expedition.
“As faculty and staff, we are aware of what students are doing and experiencing at Carey. We are able to integrate the experiential learning with other elements of their curriculum so that we can pick up where they left off in their leadership development and help them practice and apply the skills they started developing in the classroom,” Myers says.
Carey’s experiential learning staff and course faculty work lockstep with each other and corporate partners to deliver a student experience that translates into skills for the professional world.
Dan Sheats, director of curricular experiential learning, says, “Carey’s experiential course sequence allows faculty to collaborate with corporate partners to increase project complexity as students build new skills over time. Students apply new frameworks and strategies involving teaming, critical thinking, and creativity, coupled with new analytical skills, to address increasing complex business problems. By practicing these skills in a supported, sequential structure, students build the knowledge, experience, and confidence to take on opportunities throughout their careers.”
From Classroom to Field
Branden Anderson, Flexible MBA ’19, was looking for his next career move as he neared the end of his degree program. He was in the middle of the interview process for a senior human resources business partner position while kayaking through Belize’s waterways in the Leadership Development Expedition course.
In this popular course, students put their leadership skills to work when forced into challenging outdoor environments and out of their comfort zones.
Anderson’s cohort kayaked through Belize for nine days, with the students alternating responsibilities for navigation, cooking, and setting up camp.
Anderson, who served in the Army for over 20 years, says he was ready physically for the challenge but wasn’t expecting to come away with an entirely new set of “soft” skills.
“I was able to translate the experience and show that I gained leadership skills, feedback, awareness, empathy, and compassion – all of the soft skills that are actually really hard,” he says. “Most people don’t take opportunities to develop these skills. But it’s like exercise, and we can’t say we did it once and are good for the year. You have to do it extensively, or those muscles go to waste.”
He credits honing these soft skills on the Leadership Development Expedition as one of the final factors that helped him land his new position.
“You really learn about your resiliency,” he says. “Every Leadership Development Expedition has its own curveball. Half of our people got sick after drinking bad water. Others who hadn’t stepped into a leadership role yet really had to step up. That level of vulnerability when you’re already psychologically and physically vulnerable is a real test of your resiliency. I was able to take that experience and translate it into a business setting during my job interviews.”
The course was so influential for so many students that a group of Carey alumni started a Leadership Development Expedition alumni Facebook group. The Facebook group evolved into a weekend camping excursion in the Shenandoah Mountains in 2019, completely organized by the alumni, including Anderson.
The trip featured the typical outdoor accoutrements and activities of an alumni reunion. But this trip stood out as more than just an opportunity to reminisce. The alumni invited Doyle, the director of experiential learning, to incorporate curricular components into the weekend. The group reviewed a business leadership article in advance of the trip and then discussed the article and their personal leadership challenges and successes during an evening campfire.
Creating Lasting Connections
As the students at Hopkins Bayview can attest, Carey students don’t need to travel far to benefit from Carey’s experiential learning offerings.
Andrew Lyle, a Flexible MBA student, used experiential learning to connect with the funding and resources to launch a new company – without leaving the Carey campus.
In December 2019, seven teams and individual Carey Business School students competed for initial funding for their startups through the Student Startup Challenge. The challenge, hosted by the Office of Experiential Learning, gives students the opportunity to pitch for initial seed money in the fall, meet monthly with industry mentors as they develop their businesses, and pitch for a second round of funding in the spring.
Lyle took home the top purse in the first round of funding, securing $5,500 with his pitch for a website and app, Sifter, that helps consumers navigate and compare telemedicine options.
“It’s the wild, wild West in telemedicine. It’s a free-for-all trying to get patients’ attention any way possible,” Lyle says.
Lyle’s website works to change that, aggregating telemedicine options at various price points so that consumers can compare options just as they compare travel options on Expedia. He used his initial round of funding to hire a web developer. The experiential learning opportunity was the push he needed to take his idea to market. But no matter the results of the second round of funding, he says, he is committed to the company and will continue bringing Sifter to market.
For some students, connectivity across the Johns Hopkins ecosystem means meeting their classmates face to face for the first time. For the 89 percent of Flexible MBA students taking courses online, experiential learning is one of their best chances to capitalize on building a strong network of colleagues, the hallmark of all good MBA programs.
Flexible MBA students can take all their courses in-person, online, or in a mix of both formats. Students taking courses mostly online travel to Baltimore for three one- to two-day residencies. Otherwise, they interact with their classmates and professors entirely online. Experiential learning courses offer a condensed, immersive way to build and strengthen relationships with classmates.
Vipul Kella, an emergency medicine physician in Rockville, Maryland, and a Flexible MBA student, enrolled in Global Immersion, an experiential learning course that took students to Peru for seven days over the 2020 January intercession. The class met with Peruvian business school professors and representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce and corporations such as L’Oreal and a Peruvian health care provider to examine Peru’s trade opportunities and challenges on the macro, micro, and human levels.
“Networking, collaboration, and exchange of ideas with colleagues is a necessary part of business school education. It’s where you interact with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, learn new ways to solve problems, and challenge your own way of thinking,” Kella says. “The real-world experiences serve as idea incubators and spark creativity and innovation.”
Experiential learning, Myers explains, has many “official learning benefits.” “But you’ll also grow from the unofficial benefits,” he adds, “whether that’s traveling out of the country or kayaking for the first time. It’s your chance to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.”