The Small And Mighty Haas Undergrad Program

A graduate cap at this year's commencement. Photo by Jim Block

A graduate cap at this year’s commencement. Photo by Jim Block

P&Q: Are you seeing any specific areas of business trending in popularity at Haas now, like social impact or entrepreneurship?

Walker: Absolutely. And we’ve seen those areas gain interest a while ago. I think the learning our graduate programs get to see is what students are going to be like in the next five to 10 years. So what are their areas of interest and what can we anticipate happening after they get some work experience? Our students have been very much interested in social impact, green business, [and] entrepreneurship for years. And they’re much more oriented towards that; so in a lot of our electives and special topics, you’re going to see that.

So again, it’s general management. We don’t have majors within majors. You are not a Haas major emphasizing in marketing or emphasizing in accounting. You are going to see a general management degree but you can tailor your schedule such as taking all accounting electives if you want to become a CPA, for example. You can blend entrepreneurship with social impact courses, if you want to be able to blend that. If you have an idea of what you want to do already, you really have a lot of freedom to combine courses. And if it’s not courses that are offered within the business school, you can actually add courses outside of the business school.

So I think that really speaks to a lot of students who appreciate having flexibility and not that lockstep program that others may prefer. We also have a course on social sector solutions that is at the graduate level and, for a small number of undergrads, they’re able to take the course alongside MBA students and work together on projects. Students have been appreciative those opportunities too. So I don’t think the interests are very different. The graduate program began to see Millennial students at least five years ago, so they’re starting to see changes in student behavior and expectations that we’ve been experiencing for a while now.

P&Q: If you could predict any types of interest areas gaining popularity, what would they be?

Walker: I think now, data science and data analytics is huge. Our students are very responsive to what recruiters are talking about, what companies are talking about, [and] what’s on the horizon for companies. So when they start hearing about that, in interviews in particular, they say, ‘Oh, we need to learn that.’ We’ve seen that actually happen more quickly at the MBA level. Where MBA students were coming in and saying they wanted to learn more about big data and data management and now we’re seeing that more so at the undergraduate level within the last few years. In fact, the campus is paying attention to data science and how we should be delivering on that. We’ve already been exploring the development in that. In fact, we have already been planning on rolling out in the next year or so a program on data analytics.

And so, it’s a matter of how we want to, because you can apply it in so many different contexts. And so, it’s a matter in how we want to do that. Is it a statistical slant? Is it going to be more of a consumer usage slant? Or how do we want to introduce that? I think that’s definitely big right now, given technology and all of the data that is really available. How do we better understand and leverage our knowledge around that? So I think that’s a big area of interest for sure.

I think social impact will continue to grow. I think students are really thinking more consciously about the future. And we’re trying to shape students who will be stewards and think about generations to come. So I think more and more students are interested in that.

Entrepreneurship will continue to be big I think, by nature of where we are. We’re so close to the startup Mecca — and students are very familiar with that opportunity. We have Berkeley SkyDeck at our fingertips where students are able to go to these incubators and accelerators where they are able to test these ideas and hit the ground running when they graduate.

So I think those will continue to be of interest. For some of the other things, like accounting, we’re also thinking about how we provide these immersion experiences around accounting and potentially doing something around data science. We want to do more of this integrated curriculum development, so perhaps we will partner with the science department here on campus and maybe develop a course on neuro-marketing, for example, which I think would be hugely exciting and maybe have an immersion experience around neuro-marketing for someone who really wants to go deep in the marketing arena (or for someone who’s from a science background who really wants to see how what they know can be applied in different settings).

I think there’s a lot at our fingertips that we’re going to begin exploring and trying out. And since our students are so open to testing and trying things out, I think that’s where you’re going to start to see universities also adapt and begin trying out new services and introducing new experiences for students across the board.

P&Q: How do students at Berkeley Haas use career services and what is career services doing to meet student needs?

Walker: I think Berkeley Career Center is one of the top career centers that provides such a multitude of services. And business students utilize the undergraduate career center that supports the entire campus. Our dean, however, has made a vested interest in making sure we have counselors who are dedicated to just business students and so we have that. While the career center provides general services, we also have this quasi-specialized programming for business students, recognizing that business students are probably looking for something more specific. Many of our students graduate and go immediately into analyst positions and so there’s a different set of skills that students are looking to hone in on.

So our career center provides services like career conferences. When students start in our program, we have a module on getting them to understand, ‘OK, here is the recruiting landscape, here’s what it looks like, here’s a variety of different industries.’ Recruiters are much more aggressive in trying to identify students early on. Whether it’s internships which leads to these job offers or whether it’s just competing for top-notch students. So, we’re trying to make sure we’re preparing students with as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about their career choices.

[We also have] specialized services like mock interviews, where we have someone from industry come in and actually have one-on-one mock interviews. We may even do group interviews and give students direct feedback immediately. And say, ‘OK, so you came into X company, this is the feedback I would give you.’ There’s some of that going on.

We have our career counselor, and the team the career center provides us, and the dean actually pays for one of the positions. And that person leads the team of counselors for business. They actually conduct workshops throughout the year, weekly activities around a particular topic. They’re bringing in MBA students. They’re bringing in alumni and employers, to have informal interactions as well as more formal recruiting activities. And these are to supplement and complement what they are getting in school as well as what they are getting in their clubs and organizations.

So, I’d say the career center provides really a variety of things, depending on what you need. It could be something as basic as resume writing and cover letters to really helping students and giving students feedback on their interviewing skills and how to really be more self-aware about how they’re doing and how they’re performing in those arenas. And the workshops are just how to keep students informed and on top of and access and utilize a lot of the services that are available to them.

P&Q: How competitive are the companies getting in recruiting top-notch students?

Walker: I think the career center could probably answer that better. But from what I’m hearing, companies are competing for the same students and so they’re asking for students to start dropping resumes way earlier. What used to be high recruiting activity in the spring has moved to the fall. So, students are having to make decisions earlier and students are feeling the pressure to make those decisions very quickly. So, we’re seeing a shift in that.

P&Q: If you could do or make anything happen in business education what would it be?

Walker: My background is in educational leadership, so it’s hard for me to separate understanding of the root and challenges of what making these huge changes might be. What I can say is I’ve seen more innovative approaches to business education begin to show up. So I liken it to high schools who’ve ventured out and created alternative schools or charter schools, I’m starting to see that at the undergraduate level. And undergraduate business education — and other disciplines, too —  they’re creating new schools that are built around completely different models about how you teach and how students learn.

And I think it’s interesting. So I’ve been paying attention to that and really seeing how that evolves. I think there’s a lot we can learn from and really breaking the mold and thinking about nontraditional ways of teaching nontraditional students. And that’s really what it comes down to. Universities are more comfortable with taking those risks and trying new things than we have been in the past. Recognizing that the students are no longer the same, how do we meet the students where they are and still deliver the best top-notch education we possibly can? And I happily feel like Berkeley Haas is positioned right there. We’ve got the right mindset. We’ve got the capabilities. It’s just a matter of now really trying to forge ahead.

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