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Dean Jain with students
From the moment they arrive at Kellogg, students enjoy face-to-face interaction with the school's senior leaders. Here, Dean Dipak C. Jain shares his views during the annual Pre-Term orientation.  Photo © Nathan Mandell

The student voice

Faculty-student partnerships drive academic innovation at Kellogg, creating a rich environment where leadership takes root

By Rebecca Lindell

When Kellogg students wanted an in-depth class on valuation, they made it happen.

When they wanted a course on business topics in developing nations, they made it happen.

And when they wanted more emphasis on leadership, once again, they made it happen.

Few business schools — indeed, few educational institutions at all — are as open to student input as the Kellogg School.

Sure, students elsewhere are sometimes free to launch extracurricular clubs, invite speakers to campus and suggest new courses. But most schools draw the line firmly at the classroom door. The message from the faculty and administration is clear: We teach, and you learn.

Not at Kellogg, where students are viewed as co-creators of their education. The result is an unusual synergy between students and educators and a curriculum on the cutting edge.

"These students aren't 22 years old," observes Dean Emeritus Donald P. Jacobs, whose ideas about teamwork helped shape the unusually collaborative atmosphere at Kellogg, starting in the 1970s.

"They're older, and they all come here with experience in the world and at work. They have a lot to bring to the culture. They want a great educational experience, and they have some very good ideas for how the school can provide that. Our faculty and administration are more than willing to listen."

Students have had a pervasive impact on the academic atmosphere at Kellogg. They have helped to launch new classes, developed course content and created programs that are now vital to the school's curriculum. Students also review admission applications, write cases and evaluate professors. They protect the integrity of the learning process by serving on the Honor Committee and enforcing its code of conduct, the origins of which were entirely student-driven, says Jacobs.

Senior Associate Dean Robert Korajczyk believes Kellogg is unique in giving students such a voice in the school's academic life.

"At our peer institutions, I don't see students getting involved to this degree," he says. "It's really part of the Kellogg culture. Our students know that the administration and faculty will take them seriously. Listening to them isn't just a PR move on our part. We really do view them as equity holders with a significant stake in the future of the school.

"As a result, they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved in areas where students don't usually have significant input."

That influence is felt from the earliest moments of a student's Kellogg experience, during the admissions process. In addition to being reviewed by a professional admissions staff member, each applicant's file is evaluated by a current Kellogg student whose opinion is given equal weight.

Flashback 1994  "During my tenure, we had one of the strongest, most diverse communities at Kellogg. The Black Management Association was one of the largest and became a strong influence on the education and growth of Kellogg.... Leadership opportunities at Kellogg helped me sharpen key skills to be successful as a businessman, husband and father ... and they helped me in my career to be prepared for the unexpected and build a team of leaders."  Spurgeon Robinson '94, Graduate Management Association president
Student reviewers are trained and sworn to confidentiality and must apply the same standards as those of the school's admissions staff.

"Students have a unique perspective on the admissions process," says Beth Flye, assistant dean and director of admissions and financial aid. "As they look at each file, they can ask themselves: Is this someone I'll find engaging in class, someone who will raise the discussion level? This is a way for them to help ensure that the quality of those joining Kellogg remains extremely high."

As students arrive at Kellogg, they find a culture that has been shaped by generations of student input. Their first experience at Kellogg is usually Pre-Term, a 15-day orientation planned and delivered by students and faculty. Professors handle the academic component of the orientation, an intensive core course on Management and Organizations. But virtually every other aspect of this introduction to Kellogg life is managed by a welcoming and energetic group of second-year students. 

Throughout Pre-Term and beyond, professors and senior administrators meet informally with students to establish an environment of trust and mutual interest. Each section selects a student representative to serve as a liaison between students and faculty. Dean Dipak C. Jain and Senior Associate Deans Kathleen Hagerty and Korajczyk host a quarterly forum with the student body to solicit input on academic and other matters.

Implicit is the expectation that students will form a team with faculty and administration to create a stimulating academic environment.

The students have risen to the occasion. Earlier this year, for example, Class of 2006 members Nathan Lucht, Ben Olds, Renee Martin and Rick FlorJancic delivered a presentation at the winter faculty meeting. Their goal: to build more leadership opportunities into the classroom experience.

"We'd been getting a lot of feedback from students that they wanted more leadership experience at Kellogg," says Lucht, president of the Kellogg Student Association (KSA). "We wanted to give the faculty some ideas on how they could do that in class."

Lucht and Olds, KSA vice president for academics, urged the faculty to engage in more cold-calling in class, to require more student presentations and to encourage more classroom debate. "The response was great," Lucht says. "They gave us a lot of feedback and asked us a lot of questions. They were very receptive to our ideas."

That wasn't just lip service. Korajczyk notes that the school includes students on its curriculum committee and leadership task force, both "significant committees that help shape the direction of the school."

The curriculum committee, in particular, gives students an unusual degree of influence over the school's academic offerings. The panel, which decides which experimental courses are added to the permanent curriculum, includes three student representatives. One is a first-year student, the second is the KSA vice president for academics and the third represents the Evening Management Association, the student organization for the part-time Managers' Program. Their votes are equal in weight to those of the other committee members.

Student participation is also integral to the leadership task force, which the dean's office created in 2005 to leverage the Kellogg School's strengths as a proving ground for future business leaders.

"We believe in leadership in action," Korajczyk says. "Our view is that you can learn a decent amount about leadership in the classroom, but when push comes to shove, leadership is best learned by doing."

Clearly, Kellogg students are comfortable with that leadership role, proposing and planning a number of popular classes. Courses that grew out of their initiative include:

Real Options. When a group of advanced finance students wanted to learn more about valuation in the fall of 1999, they negotiated a partnership with Mitchell Petersen, the Glen Vasel Professor of Finance. Petersen told them that if they were willing to do an independent study with him during the winter quarter and help him develop the material, he would teach the course in the spring. Within months, Real Options was ready to join the Kellogg School curriculum.

Learning through Experience and Action Program. LEAP was the brainchild of a student who desired more hands-on experience in addressing business issues. The popular course has allowed scores of students to solve real-world management problems at client companies eager to tap their insights and enthusiasm.

TechVenture, a class focusing on current issues in technology.  Much like the Global Initiatives in Management course, TechVenture features 10 weeks of on-campus lectures followed by an intensive academic trip to Silicon Valley.

Outside the classroom, Kellogg students continue to work with faculty to develop programs to complement their academic experience. Recent innovations include TeamNet, a Web-based system created by Professor Brian Uzzi that enables students to give and receive feedback on their team skills, and a 360-degree assessment of students' leadership qualities.

"These programs aren't part of the formal curriculum, but they dovetail nicely with what is going on in the curriculum," Korajczyk says.

Such contributions wouldn't come about if the administration did not take students' contributions seriously, Lucht notes.

"They've given us an opportunity to make a difference at the school," Lucht says. "We have an impact on the ways Kellogg is being shaped, not just while we are here, but in ways that will last after we are gone."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University