Weekend immersions build skills and camaraderie
The tension in the room was palpable.
The negotiators—five in all, each with their own nuanced contractual requirements—were tired and hungry from what seemed like hours of intense bargaining on complex, intertwined issues.
The negotiations centered on construction of a nuclear power plant using a new fuel rod technology that could reinvigorate the U.S. nuclear industry. The issues spanned from selecting a primary subcontractor to a patent infringement lawsuit to prior nuclear regulatory violations.
The stakes were high. Hundreds of millions of dollars and, in one case, a company’s continuing viability were on the line.
And they only had 45 minutes to reach a complex, multi-party agreement.
The setting for this negotiation wasn’t a corporate boardroom, but a student lounge at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. The negotiators were students in the Online MBA program (sometimes referred to as the MBA@Denver) who had come together in person for a role-playing exercise. Each student represented a distinct entity and used a unique set of provided facts that became the basis for their positions.
This immersion was led by Cindi Fukami, a professor of management at Daniels, who brought an extensive background in organizational behavior and negotiation to the class.
Immersions and the Online MBA Experience
An immersion is the Online MBA’s practice of engrossing students in a single topic—in this case, negotiation—over a concentrated, weekend-long learning session.
Participation in two in-person immersions has been a graduation requirement for the program since it was launched in January 2018. They can take place at Daniels in Denver, in other U.S. cities or in foreign countries. According to Kenny Metcalfe, MBA@Denver program director, the focus is on building relationships and exposing students to relevant, diverse business topics.
“We believe it’s important to get students together in person,” Metcalfe said. “The goal is to facilitate relationship building, whether that’s cultivating current relationships or building new ones. When students graduate, they’ll have a rich and robust network of peers to lean on and depend on.
“The other important part of the immersions is exposing our students to relevant business topics,” Metcalfe added. “We select topics that will certainly help them in their places of business, but also might help in their personal lives. It’s about developing better and more impactful leaders inside and outside of the workplace. It helps build their professional toolbox and make them more competitive as MBA graduates.”
Online MBA students can select from several immersions that are scheduled during their program timeframe.
A June immersion in Seattle focused on building iconic brands and included on-site meetings with leaders at Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft. An immersion scheduled for early December will take students to Kyoto, Japan.
International immersions also take place over a weekend but are then followed by an optional four-credit extension course, an add-on elective that includes five additional days to travel and learn about local business.
The Value of Meeting Face to Face
The Online MBA is structured to meet the needs of working professional who need flexibility to meet demanding work schedules and, in many cases, family commitments. Most see the in-person time commitment as a benefit. Some believe that a topic such as negotiation is, in fact, better suited to an in-person learning environment.
“While the didactic portion of negotiation probably could have been taught online, the experience, the practice, was really more valuable in person,” said Tiffany Wilson, an OBGYN physician with Mary’s Center, a federally qualified community health center in Washington, D.C. Wilson is pursuing a custom MBA concentration in executive leadership and health management.
“As much as it was role playing, being able to read people’s body language and understand facial expressions, inflections and voice—all those different things that you might miss virtually—are very important,” she continued. “As we enter the post pandemic era, we’re going back to in-person meetings, so having those people skills, those soft skills, is very valuable.”
The professional diversity of an MBA setting produces other significant benefits, according to Steve Delp, a student who is the vice president of Sales with Kaseware, which provides investigative case management and criminal intelligence software to law enforcement agencies and Fortune 500 companies around the world. Delp is pursuing a specialty in executive leadership.
“Immersions provide the important experience that academic exercises cannot,” Delp said. “You can read books, you can read business cases, study and write papers all day. But that’s a very different form of learning than practicing negotiations for two days straight with fellow MBA students from different backgrounds.
“It can be hard in people’s careers to get exposure to other professionals from other industries, and with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Immersion programs provide that value. I negotiated against a social worker from New York and a debt finance banker from Colorado. Those are two people I would likely never come across in my professional setting.”
Meghan Rickel, senior financial analyst with Profit Planning Group, a benchmarking firm that helps organizations improve their probability, considers the immersions a critical educational connecting point.
“I see the immersions as intersections of learning and engaging,” Rickel said. “An underlying dimension of business and life is collaboration. The immersions help us apply academic concepts as they might unfold in real world interactions.
“This is especially resonant now amid the changing landscape of work, which calls for collaboration both virtually and in person,” she added. “These opportunities to engage with our peers and faculty are an important value add to working professionals and aspiring leaders like me who have chosen the online program.”