San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Yale Business Students Ponder Costa Rica

For a class of Yale business grad students, school’s in session. The classroom: pineapple, banana and coffee plantations throughout Costa Rica. The teachers: Costa Rica’s top ministers, bank executives and trade agreement negotiators.

YaleUniversity is touting itself as the first major university to require its Master of Business Administration students to study abroad in places such as Costa Rica, China, India, Poland and Tanzania.

“These guys are the first guinea pigs,” said Yale professor Garry Brewer, who led the Costa Rica trip for a class of about 20 business graduate students.

“The idea is after a semester of learning core business skills, they go out into the world and think about how those skills might work. Then they come back to the classroom and put reality on the table,” said Brewer Tuesday, between lessons at the Hotel Bougainvillea in Santo Domingo de Heredia, just north of San José.

The class received a seminar from Costa Rican Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides that day in an open-air classroom in the hotel’s expansive gardens. The hotel visit was part of the class’s 10-day, two-credit course in Costa Rica.

“There’s different ways of doing business… even being in a country where you don’t speak the language. That’s something a lot of people need (to know),” said student Gregg Friedman. It was Friedman’s first time in Latin America.

The changes to Yale’s business school are part of a larger push by U.S. business schools to revamp their programs and differentiate themselves amid a highly competitive market in which a growing number of schools compete for students and faculty.

Yale’s new curriculum seeks to boost the 30-year-old business program, its newest professional school, into the ranks of elite business schools such as Harvard, Wharton and others.Yale has been ranked among the top 30 MBA programs by Business Week magazine.

As the global economy expands, Yale and other business schools are placing more emphasis on studying abroad.

“It’s interesting to go into a developing country and see that though some leaders believe in environmental development, maybe the locals are more concerned with quality of life,” said Craig Hine, a first-year student in the Connecticut school’s two-year MBA program. Hine, a former employee at the large U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley, said his travel experiences until now have been limited to developed countries in Europe and Australia.

“All the cases we’ve looked at have been on companies. It’s interesting to think about a country,” he said after hearing Benavides speak on the effects of tourism on the environment.

In keeping with the school’s mission of linking business and society, the students have initiated a campaign to purchase a portfolio of Certified Emissions Reductions to offset the carbon emissions that their international travel will create.

The Yale school’s curriculum replaces courses in finance, marketing, and other subjects that have been the mainstay of business education for the last 50 years with multidisciplinary courses that “cut across functional boundaries” to provide management education in a richer, more relevant context, according to a statement.

When the students return to campus, they will start their second semester courses.

Insights that the students gain on the trips will be brought back to the classroom and add a global perspective to class discussions, and students will be required to design projects that find solutions to business problems in their country of study, according to Brewer.

Brewer, the Frederick K. Weyerhaeuser Professor of Resource Policy and Management at the Yale School of Management, is a former member of the Organization for Tropical Studies and helped open research facilities throughout Costa Rica.

David Fuentes, who briefly served as Costa Rica’s Minister of Finance under former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006) and recently spent a semester at Yale as a World Fellow (TT, Dec. 1, 2006), was instrumental in arranging the trip’s meetings and accompanied the group.

“The new curriculum is based on the idea of being adept at working across boundaries, including geographic, cultural and political boundaries, so it was very intuitive for us to make this a part of the curriculum,” said Joel M. Podolny, Dean of the Yale School of Management, in a statement.


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