Standing out from the b-school crowd: Fuqua’s academic centers make an impact with prospective students

Fuqua's Centers“One of my goals in choosing a business school was to surround myself with colleagues who would both complement and challenge my thinking around the role of business in driving change,” reflects Fuqua student Rana Marks (MBA’19).  For Marks, the school’s academic centers played an important role in convincing her that Fuqua was the right fit.  “The fact that Fuqua houses two centers dedicated to environmental and social impact affirmed the school’s commitment to providing a responsible business education, which was a priority for me in choosing a business school.  I knew I would find a community of ambitious changemakers at a school that dedicates such resources to social entrepreneurship and sustainable development.”

Marks is not alone.  Among the more than 3,500 applicants this year to the Daytime MBA program, more than half list one or more of Fuqua’s academic centers as a reason for applying to the school.

“Centers help Fuqua stand out from among other top business schools by providing opportunities for students who want to ‘go deep’ on a topic like entrepreneurship, social impact, leadership, or energy,” says Katie Kross, managing director of Fuqua’s Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE).  Centers also provide unique extracurricular experiences that go beyond classroom offerings, like the chance to be a Fellow with Fuqua’s Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) or Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), or to join the Program for Entrepreneurs run by the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI).

Adding value for students through programming and relationships

Fuqua’s centers allow students to “go deep” through a wide range of extracurricular and experiential learning programs, like the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation’s annual Duke Start-Up Challenge.

Centers typically have a three-pronged mission—education, thought leadership, and industry engagement—each with a different thematic focus.  By serving as a hub for a particular theme, centers add value for students that goes above and beyond their classroom curriculum.  Programming might include seminar series, workshops, or leadership development programs.  “When students take advantage of the extracurricular programs and experiential learning projects we offer, such as CASE’s Impact Investing Consulting Practicum, they graduate with an extra layer of industry knowledge that makes them attractive to employers,” says Erin Worsham, executive director of CASE.

Centers also play a role in sourcing and overseeing industry-centric experiential learning projects in the Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP) program.  “We have long-standing relationships with alumni and Advisory Board members that I can leverage to identify outstanding project opportunities for our students,” says Dan Vermeer, associate professor of the practice and executive director of EDGE.  “The center provides a vehicle for those connections.”

It’s not just students who recognize the value this adds to their degree.  The focus areas of Fuqua’s centers have helped the school earn recognition on lists like TOUCH MBA’s “Best Full-Time MBA Programs for a Career in Social Impact,” BusinessBecause’s “7 Best Business Schools for Careers in CleanTech,” and FINDMBA’s “Top Business Schools for Energy and Natural Resources.”

In addition to programmatic offerings, staff in Fuqua centers work directly with students. “I have approximately 200 MBA students I am in touch with at any given time through meetings, email conversations and text conversations,” says Howie Rhee, managing director of CEI.  “As an example, with one student, I helped her get a great pre-MBA internship, advised her on her first-year recruiting strategies (including negotiating the offer to have two summer internships that overlapped), and helped her think through two full-time offers. I also plan to stay in touch with her through the years as she continues to navigate her career.”

Bridging academia and industry

Students & alumni connect at Center-hosted alumni events, like this 2018 reception in New York.

At their core, centers play a connecting role.  As Dean Bill Boulding frequently puts it, centers bring the “outside world in” to Fuqua, and bring the “inside out.”  By hosting industry summits, conferences, alumni gatherings, competitions, and advisory board meetings, Fuqua centers provide vehicles for thought leaders and industry professionals to stay connected to students and faculty.

“Centers continuously engage with practitioners at all levels and bring these engagements back into the school,” says COLE executive director Sanyin Siang.  COLE brings CEOs and other senior leaders to campus annually for an elite leadership summit, as well as for lunch-and-learn events and seminars.

In other instances, centers provide an affinity-oriented networking connection for alumni.  “Most people have trouble navigating their alumni networks,” says Howie Rhee, CEI managing director. “Through CEI, we provide many meaningful connections that can accelerate the pace at which faculty and alumni get their work done.  It’s common for a person that comes to our center to walk out with 5-20 connections to people in their target industry.”  Alumni serve on center advisory boards, and speak at center events and conferences.  Centers also host industry-targeted alumni events in cities, like CEI’s DukeGEN networking events or an annual sustainability-oriented alumni event hosted by EDGE.

Looking ahead

“One of the most important roles centers can play is looking forward,” reflects EDGE’s Dan Vermeer.  “Playing the bridging role helps us constantly ask, ‘What capabilities will industry need in the future, how will those needs be different than today, and how can we best prepare our students for that future?’”

COLE’s Sanyin Siang agrees.  “The world is evolving at a rapid and unprecedented pace, leading to new challenges and opportunities for leaders.  We will continue to unearth new patterns of leading in a VUCA world [volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous] and focus on our mission of developing the type of business leaders that the world needs.”

Leveraging centers’ thematic expertise, industry knowledge, and relationships with executives helps provide constant feedback about industry trends and direction—insights which Fuqua centers can translate back into value for students and faculty.  As prospective students think not only about the quality of their classroom learning, but also the applicability of their experience to their post-MBA careers, centers help ensure that Fuqua graduates are uniquely well-prepared to lead.