A visitor to Williamsburg in Virginia, home of the College of William and Mary, may be taken aback to spot the British monarchy’s coat of arms adorning the oldest buildings. While crown rule may have ended in 1776, it is clear that the College’s royal charter - dating back to 1693 - is a source of pride to the Mason School of Business.
The faculty and students of the business school, established in 1919, explicitly identify themselves within the distinguished history of the university, which educated three US presidents including Thomas Jefferson. As Jon Krapfl, associate dean of the Mason School, says: “In continuing the legacy of the College, we have a profound responsibility to shape meaningful change”.
Staunch pride is also grounded, more tangibly, in the school’s new home since 2009. The impressively-equipped $75m Miller Hall brings together business undergraduates and postgraduates, sharing many facilities and common spaces. “It has been designed for student functionality, and they are thriving from being together”, says Lawrence Pulley, the school’s dean. “The impact on the school since we moved in has been remarkable.”
Located at the western fringe of the William and Mary campus, the classically-proportioned Miller Hall has been designed to sit coherently among its surroundings. A diverse collection of commissioned and gifted paintings lines the corridors in all directions from the school’s centrepiece, a bronze sculpture of Pierre L’Enfant, architect of Washington D.C.
While aesthetically pleasing, the artwork holds much greater significance according to Bob Mooney - alumnus and chief financial officer of the Mason School - who himself has donated a number of paintings. Aside from reflecting and contributing to the school’s identity, “the presence of art can catalyse thinking about problems in different ways”, says Mr Mooney.
In step with the school’s professed objective to provoke ‘revolutionary thinking’, the first-year MBA curriculum includes two semester-long ‘global business juntos’ - not, the school emphasises, to be confused with military juntas. Launched in late 2011, these juntos - named after a clandestine academic society initiated by US founding father Benjamin Franklin - are student-led groups dedicated to abstract business-related global issues. Junto topics this year have included the currency of water and Occupy Wall Street.
Juntos are formed of 10 to 12 students who study one of the topics proposed by the class at the start of the semester. Each group agrees objectives and syllabus, and maintains a weekly blog detailing progress. Groups make a final presentation to the MBA student body and are graded on a pass-fail basis. The juntos enrich and enliven the whole MBA, says Deborah Hewitt, associate dean for MBA programmes. “They allow students to apply the tools they are learning in the broader curriculum”.
Such initiatives are part of the school’s emphasis on career preparation. From day one, each MBA student is assigned an executive mentor to work with during their two years at Mason. These executive partners, each with a successful business background, act as career advisors and help students with interview proficiency. Their professional connections have also helped many Mason graduates.
“Beyond improving employment rates, the executive partners help demonstrate to students how theory is translated into practice”, says Prof Pulley, who oversaw the establishment of the network in his first year as school dean.
The network is partly responsible for the school’s recent focus on the property market. Aside from bringing sector leaders to Williamsburg for an annual conference, the school has launched an elective MBA module in real estate management and entrepreneurship. “We want to teach students how to take appropriate risks”, says Prof Pulley. “Given the impact of the real estate sector on the [US] economy, responsible leadership is imperative.”
The real estate initiative is illustrative of the school’s conscious efforts to follow its ethos of developing responsible students. In recognition of the community service of current students, the school was winner of the annual GMAC TeamMBA All Service Award this month. “We teach business skills of course”, says Dr Hewitt, “but beyond and above this are the values and leadership traits that the Mason School inculcates in each future alumnus”.