Warning: Long post ahead.
Somewhere in the Darden website there is a page that talks about the integrated curriculum at the school. I thought it was pretty cool when I came across it the first time and I also remember talking about it in my interview. Once in school, there were many weeks when we would do cases in different subjects on the same firm – a lot of times these were narrow focus subjects (looking at the balance sheet or their marketing strategy) and I always thought it was kind of remarkable how the course directors designed our courses such that they came up that way. But this quarter it’s a little more than just remarkable.
Last week, we covered Brazil in more than one subject. So we learnt about it economics, then in finance, and tracing the country’s economic and financial history over the years for one case helped me understand some of the exchange rate discussions we touched upon in finance. And since I’m going to Brazil during spring break I hope that with all that I have learnt about it so far and the reading I am going to do before I get there, I can bridge the time gaps (between the cases and now) to hopefully understand the country better.
And while we’re on countries, I have to tell you, our macroecon class has taken on an interesting avatar this quarter. Every case we are doing is based on a country and in order to give us a background, often there are a couple of pages on the history. It helps us appreciate and understand the causes of the country’s economic picture at the point in time that the case talks about. A lot of times we are forced to acknowledge that not all solutions to a country’s eoconimic problems lie in monetary or fiscal policy and that the customs, politics and people are an important consideration. Sometimes it is none of those but a fallout of something that plagued a whole different continent, that the country in question is paying for. In a sense, each of these cases has felt like a mini capsule of history lesson from a more economic viewpoint. we have traversed South East Asia, Africa and Latin America so far while next week we’re spending a good deal of time on the flavor du jour, India and China. And in all our discussions, the recurrent undercurrent is the importance of ethics in all the decisions that we will be called upon to make once we re-enter the work force.
Similarly, we focused a lot on the airline industry this quarter – nearly every subject has had a case on the airline industry, by focusing on a single airline company and its dynamics with the other players in the industry. Knowing nothing about the airline industry before this, except from the perspective of a traveller, this case took us deep into the industry and a number of interesting view points and insider ideas came about during our class discussions. And in questioning why our course directors decided to give us such an indepth view into the industry, we found out something really important about researching and case writing – it’s all about finding the right amount of public yet correct data!
Another highlight of last week was the first blogger meeting that I could make it to. Sitting over there, chomping on pizza and sharing insights with a bunch of the coolest people in school (and the blogosphere, I think!), I really felt the power all of us carried with us, in our attempt at bridging information from inside Darden to the world outside. It was easy to see why we were all there – because we believe in the school, in the method and in our community and because we are so passionate about this system.
Changing gears a little bit here, I wanted to tell you something interesting about the case method – how class participation is graded here at Darden. In most first year courses, our participation counts for about 40% of our course grade and I would wonder how the points were allotted. So during one of our strategy classes, as we recapped the discussion we had on the previous day’s case on Google, our professor actually recapped the entire class in under 5 minutes, talking about the key insights that the class brought out including pointing out the students that made these insights. He remembered exactly how the discussion flowed and what we concluded and nicely summed it up with what we were supposed to have taken away from it. I guess the key to the case method system of learning is to be able to do just that in order to arrive at the take away and the lessons learnt from that particular class, to cut through the meandering flow that sometimes takes place in a particularly obtuse case.
In other words, in the case method, you have to step back every once in a while to tie it all back in, to join the dots, sit back and say aha, because what emerges is nothing short of a work of art!