In this section, Dr. Sastry shares details about the activities that take place before the actual start of the course in the spring.
Application Process for Students
To take the course, students complete an online application, and then I interview the applicants. We also do a group interview, which gives students a chance to ask about the course and interact with each other. I like to bring in a mix of students from many different disciplines, and if the students do not see each other a few times as the course gets going, they may not mingle or form good project teams on their own. In the application, I ask about their background and their experiences working amidst challenging situations. Last year, I asked them if they made a mistake or had a failure experience in working on something complex, and what they made of that, how they interpreted it, and what would they do differently. It gave students a chance to reflect and for me to understand how they dealt with challenges.
I want to give students a really challenging experience, but I want to make sure they are equipped. I realize that I need to signal early on what the course is about, and maybe some students will self-select in or out. This is another reason to promote the course and present as realistic a view of it as possible, including how much work the course demands.
Student Team Formation
Each team typically has four students, and I believe in diversity within the teams. There is a tendency, especially in the MBA program, for students to hang out with their friends. That presents a challenge for me: how do I make the case for a diverse team? Since students will be traveling to a remote location together, I believe it is important for them to choose their own teams. This is true especially because they have to live together in a hotel room and share a bathroom for two weeks!
We offer quite a lot of guidance for team formation. We make a book with all of their CVs, photos, and one-page overviews of their background and interests. Students get a copy early on, and I urge them to look it over. We then have a mixer with several rounds of interaction during which students meet different teams and people. Essentially, I have events, share students’ information, and offer some guidance by reminding them how beneficial it is to have a mix of backgrounds. Sometimes I might be able to create some rules based on the composition of the class, such as “you must have one non-Sloan PhD student on your team.”
I have found that some teams very quickly settle into roles that are complementary to their work, and others take a while to gel. Every now and then, a team realizes that they cannot actually live in the same room or that they need to rearrange how they work together. One thing I have seen with MBA students, maybe more than with others, is that they are very good at designing their projects for efficiency. They are really good at breaking the project into simpler components and executing them, making a preliminary slide deck early on, and these sorts of things. While they all serve efficiency, they do not always serve rigorous thought. If you divide-and-conquer, you are never actually sitting there and hashing it out, or talking with everyone about the same issue. I am cognizant of that, and I ask myself how we can design our teaching so that students are actually getting the benefit of the challenge and complexity rather than finding ways to push it aside and simplify things.
Project Development for Hosts
The course has a dual stream of inputs. We have the students who are interested in the course, and we have the organizations offering projects to the student teams. The project development process is even longer than the student selection process. On the project side, we start in the summer by putting out a call for applications. Organizations propose a project, and if it looks promising, we work with them to develop it and formulate it into an extensive, written proposal.
The following table presents the five focus areas in which projects are offered, and where GlobalHealth Lab provides the most potential impact for host organizations.
|Strategy & Business Models
We create a bulletin that summarizes each of the projects and include pros and cons for each project that serve as notes on our side. For example, we might note, “This project will really work well if you have someone on the team who speaks a certain language,” or “Students going into this setting must be prepared to be unfazed if the power goes out every day.” These are things that the host has not required but that we think would make a big difference in the project. These notes also help give students a real sense of what a particular project will entail.
Then we have a session during which students learn about the projects and ask questions about the projects. This way, we can push for the projects that students might be overlooking. Some project write-ups are naturally more attractive from the students’ perspectives. On the other hand, there are some that feature interesting problems and areas where students can really make a huge difference, but are not framed in a way that is appealing to students. I am there to do some matchmaking. We also have the teaching assistant do a straw poll before the students actually apply for projects so we get a sense of preferences. If, say, everybody has asked for this project in Botswana, and no one is interested in these other three projects, we can then go to students and say, “You know, I really think you’d enjoy this opportunity in Ghana, and I think you should consider it.”