by Gretchen Kell
Shopping for a business school to attend often means flipping through stacks of impersonal brochures and then visiting several campuses, often at considerable expense, only to encounter more facilities than faces.
But the Haas School of Business is unveiling a cutting-edge recruitment tool--a lively CD-ROM that gives prospective MBA students a virtual tour of the top-notch school and its academic community.
The compact disc, considered the first of its kind at any of the nation's best business schools, contains more than two hours of narration, music, colorful graphics, photographs and textual information about the Haas school, the campus and the San Francisco Bay Area. It also includes videotaped interviews with professors, students and regional business leaders.
"It's also very interactive," said project manager Stan Simpliciano, who graduated from the Haas school last spring.
Each of the 30,000 information packets that the Haas school plans to mail to prospective MBA students this month will contain the free CD.
The CD was made on a shoestring budget by a team of 18 students who decided not to wait for the school to raise the $100,000 to $200,000 it would have cost to produce the disc professionally.
"Final development cost was about $9,000, almost entirely in staff time," said Richard Henderson, director of the business school's computer center. "The CD was created in our multimedia lab, which students use to develop everything from cool web pages to high-end business presentations."
The Haas school then paid 68 cents each to have 30,000 CDs pressed. "The project symbolizes perfectly what makes our MBA program a bit different from most others," said Bill Hasler, dean of the Haas School. "Our students are creative, innovative and entrepreneurial, and thoroughly comfortable experimenting with new technologies. When something like this happens, we encourage them from the sidelines."
The students were so motivated to make the CD that, toward the end of the eight month project, several in the group routinely stayed up all night to meet a self-imposed deadline. Some wrote background music, others took photos, shot video, wrote scripts or provided computer know-how.
"One of the key things that really kept us motivated was doing this for the school, and being the first to produce something like this," said Simpliciano. "The nuts and bolts of real organizational behavior isn't money and promotion--it's incentive."
"Everyone who's seen the CD wants a copy," said Henderson.
Two MBA students, Karin Bauer and Lauren O'Brien, came up with the idea for the CD in early 1994, but graduated before the project got off the ground. That summer, Adam Kane, another Haas school graduate who now works in the school's computer center, revived the project and volunteered as lead programmer.
In the fall of 1994, Simpliciano and Steve Soto joined the effort as project managers. They received academic credit for organizing a team of student volunteers to produce the Macintosh- and PC-compatible CD. The students then each chose to work on a particular section of the disc. The categories included student clubs, lifestyles and cultures at the Haas school, Bay Area life and student community service projects.
The interactive CD allows viewers to make choices about what they wish to see or hear. For example, by clicking on various buttons positioned on a colorful graphic of the Haas school, which opened its new $55 million facility last May, viewers can choose what parts of the complex they want to learn more about.
"You feel like you're actually taking a tour of the school," said Kane. "We already have the CD playing in a kiosk in the MBA admissions office, and initial response to it has been excellent."
"Say I was a student living in Germany or Japan and wanted to know about the Haas school without having to travel there," he said. "With this CD, in 45 minutes, you meet students and faculty, tour the building and get a sense of what it's like to live in the Bay Area."
Professor Rajan Srikanth, who supervised Simpliciano and Soto in their role as project managers, said the students' task "was to apply what they had learned in their courses at the business school to deal with the organizing, motivating and monitoring of this complex project--not an easy task given that it was a team of volunteers they had to work with and that they had no prior experience in doing anything like this."