Every Seat's Taken in Haas Technology Course
By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
New technology is the topic of choice at the Haas School of Business.
As proof, consider that not only did more than a quarter of the 480 students in the MBA program enroll in "Technology: Topics and Trends," the students designed the course themselves.
A dot-com fever among business students is generating intense interest in technology training as these aspiring managers work to keep pace with the constant evolution and upgrades in the field.
"Technology is hot," said David Downes, director of the full-time MBA program. "This student-initiated course augments offerings in the regular curriculum and complements related student activities."
Consider this: the Haas School has increasing numbers of "netrepreneurs," or, Internet entrepreneurs, who have started their own businesses as MBAs. In 1999, 13 percent of the graduating class had founded or helped found start-up companies, and 10 of those businesses were funded by summer's end. And, more than 40 percent of this summer's MBA employment was in technology-related fields.
It's not difficult to decipher what motivated MBA student David Gerster to organize this fall's session of "Technology Topics and Trends" with Jerry Millendorf. Both students are members of the Class of 2000. They followed in the footsteps of Mitchel Harad, who designed the original class last year.
Gerster said the student-developed course is one of the most popular electives at the Haas School.
"The level of student interest exceeded even our most sanguine expectations," he said, noting that last year's turnout of 90 to 100 students per meeting made for a tight fit in the designated classroom. They learned from their foray into course planning and this year secured a room with 120 seats.
"I think the one-unit, pass/fail format works well for the class," Gerster said. "Any more units and we would have to start assigning papers, etcetera, which would detract from the main focus of the class -- hearing the experts speak."
The school's rigorous core curriculum already requires MBAs to complete at least one core class in technology management. The school also offers a certificate program, offered jointly with the College of Engineering, in management of technology, and another certificate program in entrepreneurship -- both of which are strategic strengths of the school.
Haas students contribute significantly to their educational program and are the organizing forces behind the yearly "Leading Edge Conference" on technology topics, the Internet Business Club, the Technology Club and the Entrepreneurship Association, which arranges internships with high-growth, start-up firms.
Students at Haas also are arranging their second annual business plan competition, a springtime event with judges selected from prestigious Silicon Valley companies.
So, their input into curriculum seems natural. At Haas, student-initiated courses generally focus on specific industries, fields of management or regions of the world. Each year there are six or seven of the courses, each of which require a nucleus of 20 students to get an idea off paper and into the classroom.
The idea for these student-initiated MBA courses began about 10 years ago, Downes said, when a group of students lobbied for a course on business opportunities in Eastern Europe. Today, that course has been replaced by others with more current interest. Over the years, students have set up courses on topics such as biotechnology, the entertainment business and the wine industry.
Most of the classes split presentation duties about 50-50 between students and outside lecturers. A faculty member serves as adviser. All Haas MBAs have significant professional experience, making each class a wellspring of current business knowledge. A course on business in China last spring was led in part by a Haas School graduate with a law practice and consulting firm in San Francisco.
Downes himself is the faculty point person for a one-unit course on consulting initiated by students seven years ago. Over the semester, about 10 firms present typical cases and ask students for well-researched resolutions. Students also get a "sales pitch" from company representatives, offering a good glimpse of that job market.
And that, in the end, is what it's all about.