MBA Traditions: Creating Bonds that Last a Lifetime

Skipping school to attend a Cubs game as part of an annual Ferris Bueller's Day Off-inspired day-long class cut. Participating in a mustache-growing competition or a cutthroat wheelbarrow-pull event. Donning suit jackets and boxers for a pub crawl or bidding on a dinner party with a favorite professor. Attempting to play ice hockey or learning to box when this skill set suddenly matters. Being served mimosas by faculty members. For many MBAs, these types of school traditions are just as much a part of the B-school experience as classes or case competitions. They represent an opportunity to bond with classmates and be a part of something. Unlike undergraduate programs, where the differences between students are minor and bonding comes easily, connecting with fellow students in an MBA program can be maddeningly difficult. Students range from recent college grads to midlevel executives, some are single, but many are married with families, and a large number typically come from overseas. So it can be difficult to forge connections without a little help. Many traditions tend toward the unusual, even the bizarre. Drinking games and crazy costume-themed events are big favorites. Some B-school traditions provide international students with an opportunity to share their culture through performance, dress, or even a global-themed potluck dinner. Annual athletic events pitting different class sections against one another are another popular way to get students from out behind their desks. Some of the most successful traditions aren't just for students, like the annual faculty auction at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business (Kelley Full-Time MBA Profile). Professors auction off items like a Super Bowl party or a dinner party. "It just brings the students and faculty together and really builds a stronger network for the school when we have those events," says Minling Chuang, a 2007 Kelley grad, who helped organize the auction as a second-year student. The proceeds were donated to a cancer research center to honor a popular professor who had been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, who has since passed away. The event raised $19,000, and more importantly, really brought the community together, says Chuang. The close-knit community formed through these kind of traditions is a large part of why Chuang remains as loyal to Kelley as to her undergraduate institution, the University of Southern California. And like a number of other alums, ranging from recent grads to those thirty years removed, she is still involved in recruitment of potential future students for Kelley. Perhaps the most important function of all these traditions, as different as they may seem from one another, is to create a sense of shared experience—and a loyalty that lasts well past graduation. Ultimately, these traditions may be most important in fund-raising efforts. An MBA program is often competing with an alum's undergrad institution for his or her donations, no easy task for graduate programs that last only two years and are often separate from the rest of the institution and lacking the same collegiate atmosphere and school spirit. Among top schools it's not unusual for fewer than 1 out of 5 alumni to contribute to their B-school during its annual fund-raising campaign, and at many schools the typical contribution is a pittance: $100 or less. Four years ago the assistant dean at the Boston UniversitySchool of Management (Boston University Full-Time MBA Profile.) decided the MBA program needed to foster an undergraduate-type of camaraderie and enlisted the help of BU's Gail Justino-Miller, who was involved in planning events at the undergraduate level. Justino-Miller, now director of graduate programs at the School of Management, knew that creating traditions at the MBA level would "build a community with the hope that they will give back." One of the traditions she created was the Cohort Cup, a year-long competition pitting each of the programs' three full-time MBA cohorts against each other in soccer and basketball tournaments and other events. So far it's working. The amount students have pledged for their class gift has increased for four years running—a good indication that they are graduating with fond memories of their BU experience.

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