On one immersion trip to Washington, D.C., EMBA students walked into the Federal Reserve boardroom, a place of historic decisions. But it didn’t end there: Soon Janet Yellen, then-chair of the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors, entered to share her perspectives on U.S. economic policy.
“It was amazing,” says Kirsten Berzon, associate director of events and experiential learning for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business. “Students couldn’t have ever imagined they would have this opportunity.”
But it is just the kind of experience the program wants for its students. “It’s one thing to learn theory in the classroom, it’s another to go out into the real world and experience it,” says Emma Daftary, director of academics and student experience for the program.
The program offers 25 percent of its curriculum as five field immersions, each four to five days long, designed to bring course work to life. It all started with a faculty member’s idea to steep students in the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem during a Silicon Valley Immersion Week.
During the week, students work on cases, visit companies, and talk with founders, CEOs, and venture capitalists. The week has inspired a growing number of students to start their own successful businesses, and seeing the impact inspired the program to expand its immersion offerings, says Berzon.
The immersions typically involve company visits, guest speakers, and high-level networking with CEOs and alumni. In the program’s first leadership communications immersion, though, students focus on personal development. They take part in one-on-one coaching, learning about and practicing the skills of authentic leadership.
The second immersion on applied innovation brings students to San Francisco. “The focus is on design thinking and thinking about business problems and solutions in new ways,” says Berzon. Students work in small groups on a project to gain customer feedback, generate new ideas, experiment, and move an idea forward
The immersions are popular with students. “They love them,” says Daftary. “Students are able to explore challenges and innovative solutions in real time and then are able to apply their knowledge immediately within their work. The immersions leave a large impact and an impact that sticks with them.”
Berzon works alongside the Haas faculty as a thought partner, handling the logistics for all the field immersions and ultimately creating curated experiences that bring the learning to life. She enjoys seeing the personal and professional transformations.
“They want more,” she says. “You can see the light bulbs turning on for students.”