By Jacqueline Molik Ghosen
Yousuf Aziz wanted to reinvent himself, so he left his family and a great job in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to get an MBA from a top school. He arrived in the U.S. for the first time just five days before the start of MBA Advantage, a unique program that begins with two weeks of orientation before the start of classes.
“It was a challenge coming here alone and adjusting to a new culture while trying to get to know other students,” Aziz says. “But the School of Management planned fantastic cohort-building activities and innovative approaches that really helped me adapt to the local environment and get to know and connect with people.”
“MBA Advantage is not your father’s orientation,” says Erin O’Brien, assistant dean and director of graduate programs. After the first two weeks, the program continues with activities to launch each subsequent semester. The focus is on cohort, team and personal development. “We provide our students with a series of shared experiences and challenges to help define their MBA network for the next two years — and often beyond.”
Nearly 100 students started with an overnight stay at Beaver Hollow Conference Center, nestled in a scenic, rural setting an hour from Buffalo. The first day was filled with icebreaker and team activities, a community-building dinner and bonfire. On day two, the group engaged in a more complex series of exercises to spur innovative and creative thinking and bring them closer together.
Chelsea Recor, an MD/MBA student, grew up locally and knew a few other students, but still had to venture out of familiar territory at MBA Advantage.
“In one exercise, I had to hold a cup of water upright while I got flipped upside down,” she says. “I really had to think outside the box to come up with some creative solutions to that seemingly impossible task.”
Like other UB MBAs, though, Recor discovered something about herself from the adventure. “I learned that pushing past my comfort zone can be rewarding and truly enjoyable,” she says. “In the past, I wasn’t always the first person to say hello, speak up in a group setting or volunteer to lead a project, but MBA Advantage has helped me challenge myself and set me up to continue doing so in the future.”
Taku Yamamoto, from Osaka, Japan, had only been in the U.S. for a couple of months before coming to UB. For him, understanding what his fellow MBAs were saying was the biggest challenge.
“The jokes and idioms they used were sometimes not easy to understand,” he says. After a couple weeks of immersion in orientation, however, things improved. “Although I am still facing the problem, I believe I understand them more.”
Yamamoto also learned the importance of collaboration. “To maximize efficiency of our team, we needed to appreciate each other’s roles and strong points,” he says. “The process seemed to be just a sort of chatting, but we were able to learn a lot from the conversation. It definitely contributed to the good outcome of the team.”
The two weeks passed like a whirlwind for the new MBAs. On day three, the entire incoming class of MBAs participated in the United Way’s Day of Caring, cleaning up a local shoreline with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. They debriefed the next day in a session about volunteerism and community, and attended a talk about personal branding.
Every day was packed with activities to help them strengthen the skills they need to be successful in the program. Highlights included an etiquette luncheon and session on professional style by a renowned national consultant; workshops on time management, stress management, global perspectives and internships; introductions to the Corporate Champions and LeaderCORE™ programs; and a UB Impact bus tour.
The group even attended a communication session in the form of an applied improv class. “Can you believe that?” says Aziz, the student from Bangladesh. “It was a wonderful experience. I got to connect with my classmates on a profound level and learn the art of harmonizing with the environment and how to harness my emotions for my own success.”
In addition to the MBA Advantage sessions before each semester, students will participate in a new LeaderLaunch program in their final semester to support and accelerate successful company onboarding after graduation.
After the two-week orientation, Yamamoto was already settling into his new community. “Buffalo is really comfortable,” he says. “Buffalove!”
Not bad for a student who’s still learning idioms.