2016 MBA@UNC Global Immersion: Chapel Hill Day One

MBA@UNC Global Immersions are offered four times a year as unique opportunities for students to travel to major domestic and international business destinations with their fellow classmates, participate in engaging discussions with their professors and elite industry leaders, as well as apply what they have learned to real-life problems. 

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — “Management would be easy if it wasn’t for the people.”

That’s how Professor David Roberts greeted about 50 MBA@UNC students in one of four leadership development tracks on the first day of the 2016 Chapel Hill Immersion.

Roberts’s line got a laugh, of course. While these students had traveled to campus to learn about management strategies from Roberts, many said an equally important motivation was … people. Specifically, meeting and interacting with their virtual classmates.

“I just want to get to know people a bit better,” said Jim Crowell, director of business development for a global fitness company based in Scottsdale, Ariz., who was attending his first Immersion. “I was less focused on the session topics than the fact that I’d be in a room with a lot of really smart people.”

Before the sessions began, Mary Ryan, with UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Career Management & Leadership Services for MBAs, gave the students some statistics to chew on. The MBA@UNC program began in July 2011 with 19 students. Today there are 902 students enrolled in the program, half of whom were on campus this weekend for the Chapel Hill Immersion—the largest yet.

In the track’s morning session, Lisa Mashburn, Associate Director of Leadership Development at UNC Kenan-Flagler, walked the students through a class called “Connecting with Strengths.” The class walked through ideas surrounding strengths and weaknesses, and debated questions like whether it was better to focus on building upon acknowledged strengths or shoring up weaknesses.

The conversation moved on to an analysis of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of “flow,” or what others might call being “in the zone.” Students considered how the concept, with roots in athletics, might apply in the business world. The idea circled back to strengths and weaknesses, with people more apt to be totally immersed in something they’re very good at.

Mashburn said in an interview that she hoped the students “increase their capacity as leaders and take what they learn here today and apply it in real life.”

That’s a lesson Kate Shippey learned during her first Immersion, in Detroit in June, and was a motivating factor in her decision to attend the Chapel Hill Immersion this weekend.

“I’m most looking forward to the the little nuggets of information that I take away from each session that I can apply immediately back at work,” said Shippy, who lives in Toronto and manages consumer products company Braun for Canada. “I took three to four ideas from the Detroit Immersion and they’ve now become habits. I’m interested in the soft skills I learn at the Immersions.”

Jim Crowell had a similar Immersion mission: “I haven’t worked in big companies, so I’m hoping to learn real processes and real systems to put those into practice in my small company,” he said.

For Pat Simon, an active duty Marine Corps officer who was also experiencing his first Immersion, the mission was broader. Simon has been in the military for 26 years, and is considering his business options after he leaves his position at the Pentagon sometime in the next few years.

“I don’t know what I want to do when I leave the military, so this is a networking opportunity for me,” he said. “I want to cast the net wide and really understand what all of my classmates do, understand the private sector more, and where my career might lie.”

In an interview, Roberts, Assistant Professor of Marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler, said he hoped to offer practical advice for the MBA@UNC students. “I hope they get some approaches and ideas, if they have management responsibilities, in order to get proactive buy-in to their strategies.”

In order to get that message across, Roberts asked the students to assess their own work activity ratios: how often were they architects of ideas and strategies, how often did they translate the ideas of executives for lower level employees, and how often did they execute the ideas? Finally, he asked the class to think about how their ratio should change, and how they would make it change.

Kevin Queja, an asset manager in New York City who was attending his first Immersion after starting the program this fall, said the initial sessions had been helpful. He was most excited about meeting his colleagues “for the first time, and interacting with them.”

“I was worried about how the dynamics would work in a virtual classroom,” he continued. “But seeing [my classmates] here, and how easy it feels, reinforces the comfort level of the last 10 weeks.”

Veronica Stecker, who works in sales operations and tech at a Cincinnati firm was at her second Immersion, but was visiting Chapel Hill for the first time.

“I wanted to feel like I was part of the campus and culture of UNC—I wanted to walk around and see this family I just joined,” she said. “This seemed like a good way to see the heart, where the blood comes from.”