My business school classmates helped change my life

Me and my dad at business school graduation. It wasn't easy earning the right to wear that masters hood.

Me and my dad at business school graduation. It wasn't easy earning the right to wear that masters hood.

The start of the new school year has gotten me nostalgic.

While I have fond feelings about my undergrad days at Central Michigan University, and my mom took photos of every first day of a new school year at Westdale Elementary, what I’m mostly wistful for lately is business school.

Which is hilarious considering it made me cry on more than one occasion.

In retrospect, I started Michigan Business School blissfully unaware of what I was in for. I can’t recall talking to current students about the work load or the difficulty of classes. I’d always been the kind of student who got good grades without trying very hard so I don’t think it occurred to me to be worried.

I should have been.

According to BusinessWeek, 20 percent of applicants were admitted to the most recent MBA class at Michigan. What does that tell you about the caliber of my classmates when four out of five people who’d like to attend are turned away?

My classmates totally made my experience of Michigan. Here we celebrate Dan Kim's co-ed bachelor party.

My classmates totally made my experience of Michigan. Here we celebrate Dan Kim's co-ed bachelor party.

Did I mention every class is graded on a forced curve? A handful must get the lowest grade offered – so in every class, I looked around to see if five people looked more confused than I felt.

Within about 15 minutes of my first economics class, the professor was doing calculus on the chalkboard. Everyone else started taking notes. I started getting nervous.

Did I mention I was in the evening MBA program in southeast Michigan and maybe three-quarters of my classmates were auto industry engineers? They not only had a math-heavy education but probably did calculus on their day jobs.

I had to take calculus at Washtenaw Community College to apply to Michigan but never dreamed we’d use it right after reviewing the syllabus on the first day of class.

This is part of the twisted reason I get nostalgic for business school. It was so beyond my comfort zone and I managed to not just survive it but actually do reasonably well. Why?

  • Even though I wanted to quit several times, I didn’t. John told me he’d support whatever decision I made, which was exactly the right thing to say, but I stuck with it. Sometimes showing up is half the battle.
  • My classmates gave me tremendous support. At CMU, “study group” was usually code for ordering pizza, drinking beer and mostly ignoring the books. Since I was overwhelmed by economics, though, when classmates asked me to join them for exam preparation, I skeptically said yes. Gregg, Parker and Debbie saved me. We went over calculations and when I repeatedly asked “why?” they reassured me I wasn’t slowing them down but instead making sure they understood it well enough to explain it. I will forever be grateful to my smart, patient peer teachers including Saejin, Erica, Jason, Ken, Ed, Ryan, Nana, Stan, Nicole, Lorie, Michelle and J.P. Life lesson: don’t be too proud to ask for, and accept, help.
  • The evening MBAs put on some incredible tailgates on the roof of the business school parking lot. It's good to tailgate with people who have full-time jobs. They can afford good provisions.

    The evening MBAs put on some incredible tailgates on the roof of the business school parking lot. It's good to tailgate with people who have full-time jobs. They can afford good provisions.

    Before business school, I had a journalism degree and had only ever worked in newsrooms. I had covered business but lacked a lot of skills. My engineer classmates had to show me the most basic Excel functions so we could do our group homework. But anytime we had a paper to write, I felt valuable. Putting nouns and verbs together with good grammar and punctuation was something I got paid to do. In one group, Nathan and Chris sounded so relieved that all they had to do was hours of calculations and they were off the hook for the group report. They shared enough for me to learn what they’d done and I happily played to my strengths on the paper. I took away that on a team with diverse backgrounds and interests, everyone can contribute something and the sum is greater than the parts.

  • It turned out I loved data. Journalists are stereotypically math phobic and I’d heard enough horror stories about statistics to be afraid. Thanks to an entertaining professor who made stats accessible, I fell in love not with the math functions but what they could do. There’s a story in every spreadsheet and I loved unlocking it. And I loved surprising myself by enjoying something unexpected so much.
  • One of many evenings spent at Arbor Brewing with b-school classmates.

    One of many evenings spent at Arbor Brewing with b-school classmates.

  • Business school isn’t just about classes. This, too, came as something of a surprise. I thought I was there to learn about marketing and business strategy but it turns out you’re there to network your way into a new job. Duh. Rachel Francisco talked me into serving with her as co-president of the Entertainment, Media & Sports Club and it was life changing. She helped me apply my amateur party planning skills to meeting people who could help me get a job. My involvement in extracurriculars was totally because people asked me to get involved so I learned to listen for opportunities and try to say yes if there’s even a remote possibility it could be worthwhile.

The main reason I get nostalgic about business school is my classmates. I expected smart professors with good class material – that’s what I thought I paid my tuition for. I had no idea the extent to which my education would come from my peers.

I love serendipty. Shortly after I wrote the first draft of this post, I heard from Matthew Holmes, one of my favorite b-school classmates. I haven't seen him in years and we caught up over dinner when he visited NYC last week.

I love serendipity. Shortly after I wrote the first draft of this post, I heard from Matthew Holmes, one of my favorite b-school classmates. I haven't seen him in years and we caught up over dinner when he visited NYC last week.

My evening MBA peers worked all day, then many of them drove great distances to sit for three hours and discuss demand curves or net present value or SWAT analyses. They were smart people motivated enough to invest that time to advance their careers. Being in their company pushed me to work harder. They inspired me with positive peer pressure and I didn’t want to let down my teammates.

I doubt I’ll ever get a doctorate. But I do think of it once in a while, when I get nostalgic for that buzz of an especially good study group with smart people who are creative in solving tough problems.

For now, just consider this my open love letter to people whose intelligence, generosity, sense of humor and camaraderie I will always hold dear.

Advertisements


Categories: lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Before I started business school, a good friend who teaches at a major b-school and who knows me well said, “You’ll have to do a lot of things you won’t enjoy, but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll like the people a lot better than you think you will.” She was more than right – I learned at least as much from the other students as I did from the curriculum. After the years I spent in the vicious dog-eat-dog environment of an academic PhD program, I never expected to find such a respectful, gracious, and generous community in any degree program.

  2. I’ll always be grateful to you folks from Colleen’s business school years at the U of M. You enriched her life, helped her flex that big brain of hers, and you all contributed mightily to what makes her the woman I love. Thanks.

Trackbacks

  1. Career advice from my college newspaper adviser: Everyone’s first job is hard – Newvine Growing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s