Rites of Passage

I began last week in NYC, four days of meetings with prominent as well as “up and coming” UCF alums. UCF has about 3,000 graduates in and around New York. Among the most prominent is Professor Glenn Hubbard. Glenn is a graduate of our economics department and currently serves as Dean of the Columbia Business School. It was a rare opportunity to sit with a fellow dean and pick his brain about the challenges and opportunities facing business schools today.

While much of the conversation was around the transformation taking place in higher education, what struck both Kelly and I was his comment that the school needed more rituals and pageantry to support and reinforce the CBS culture. This is a school that is almost one hundred years old. It is one of the most prominent business schools in the world and the dean believes it needs more opportunities to reinforce and celebrate its culture! Kelly and I had to hold back our laughter as I am known to make this same observation about our college every other day. I have been driving the staff nuts about the need to redo the big space in BA 1 so that it looks and feels more like an arena worthy of hosting such events.

I ended the week attending one of our own three most prominent rituals, the Capstone competition. Unlike the Joust or the Cornerstone competition, the Capstone competition is mandatory for all graduating seniors and represents a rite of passage. It is the last thing students must successfully complete prior to graduation. Every UCF COBA student shares an experience where comfort zones expand well beyond their safety nets. It is an event where you cannot hide. It is an event where you must work in a team. And, it is an event where you have to present your ideas to a panel of business professionals. Various companies have sponsored the competition because it is a way for them to leverage 800 young minds at once–crowdsourcing at its best. I always know when the Capstone competition is approaching because for a couple of weeks the halls outside my office are filled with nervous, well-dressed students practicing their presentations, frequently by talking to the wall.

Watching the finals, I was struck by the innovative ideas, well-coordinated presentations, and the competitive nature of the students. They were “all in.” But what separated the winners from the other finalists was their ability to address the hard numbers. They didn’t “feel” they had a good idea. They didn’t “think” it would work. They showed the judges an analysis of why it would work. Data-driven decision-making won the day. It was the right outcome and one that reinforced a quality that we need to instill in all our students. That I saw less data-driven decision-making in the student presentations than I had hoped, means we need more rituals to help cultivate and reinforce this quality earlier in our students’ development at UCF. Yep Glenn, I hear you.

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