The TA’s Perspective
The Yale SOM Class of 2008 is the first to experience a series of completely redesigned courses and supporting programs. While many of the first-years have raved about the new curriculum, they can’t say whether it’s an improvement over the traditional business school curriculum.
But there is a small group of SOM students qualified to make just that judgment.
A number of second-year students act as teaching assistants in core courses. Last year they took traditional discipline-based courses, such as Finance and Marketing. This year they’re helping teach the new, integrated courses, like Investor and Customer. They get to see first-hand what business education looks like when the conventional silos are broken down, with the focus instead on multidisciplinary courses that cut across functional business boundaries.
Erica Thomas, a TA in the Operations Engine perspective class, said the new curriculum is particularly good at making business education fit real-world problems. “One thing I found going into the summer after my first year is that I had all these different silos of information, and I didn’t really know how anything overlapped,” said Thomas, who will be a product manager for Microsoft after graduation. “And when I started taking electives, I would look up in what I thought was a finance class and say ‘Oh, this is accounting! How do these things fit together, and why do they fit together?’”
Thomas noticed an immediate difference between the old and new courses.
“I think with the new curriculum, from the get-go, from the first day, they walk into their Customer class, and they are getting the marketing perspective mixed in with all sorts of other things that they’re learning. They’re building the skills and knowledge at the same time. I feel that, with the old curriculum, we were building knowledge first and then, only with the electives, developing our skills.”
Heather Stone, who helped in the Employee perspective course, found the most striking difference was the increased emphasis on human resources and managing people. “It’s important to take into account, because you’re probably going to be a manager to other people at some point in your career and you need to know how to motivate them and to design incentive structures that will attract and retain the best people,” she said. “In class last year, we talked about personal development and about designing and maintaining organizations, but not necessarily about the people in those organizations.”
It’s not just the over-arching themes of the courses that have changed. Last year, the core classes were mostly taught by a single professor and the coursework was heavier in academic readings than in cases. New courses often utilize multiple instructors with different areas of expertise, all working together. To implement the new curriculum, SOM hired a case-writing team, which has produced 24 cases designed to illustrate the new approach. One case, used in the Innovator Perspective course, particularly impressed TA James Arthur.
“The case was interactive, a role-playing exercise where they were broken up into three separate teams of two, and they were given an assignment to pitch a project to their executive board,” said Arthur, who will be working for a small New York consulting firm. “And then there would be three other teams of two that would be the executive boards that got to decide on each of these different projects. It was more real-world, which helped cement the learning from the lectures, whereas more of what we’d done through the old curriculum would rely much more on lectures and problem sets. This way, it became tangible.”
Arthur also went along with the first year students on the International Experience, a key part of the new curriculum. For nearly two weeks in January, he helped guide the group through meetings in London and Warsaw. “I thought it was an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s not the type of thing you can organize on your own. You couldn’t get the time with leaders of companies as an individual. And it fit so perfectly into the new curriculum. Not only are decisions not made in the traditional silos of marketing, finance, and operations, they're not made in these geopolitical silos either. We got to see all these different countries, with differing cultures and regulatory environments. Business is not the same in Warsaw as it is in New Haven. The trip was yet another way of expanding our learning.”
All three student TAs reported that there were some bumps in a few of the classes. As a work in progress, the new curriculum will continue to evolve. From what they’ve seen, all three say the result so far is impressive.
“I wish I could do this core,” Stone said. “I wish I was coming to SOM next year.”