Cornell-Queen’s Novel EMBA Program

Joe Babcock, director of the Cornell-Queen's EMBA program

Joe Babcock, director of the Cornell-Queen’s EMBA program

It’s a hybrid learning model, so 40% of the students’ classroom time is spent in a traditional classroom on the campuses of both Cornell and Queen’s University. But rather than have students travel once a month or every second weekend, like a lot of programs do, we actually do it in three on-campus residencies that range from one to two weeks.  So of the 17 months of in-class time, about five of those weeks are spent on campus in a traditional classroom.

What enables us to bring Cornell and Queen’s to people in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bogotá and wherever, is that we have, in all these 27 cities and regions, classrooms equipped with multipoint videoconferencing equipment – effectively it’s a closed-circuit television network. Students can see each other. So if someone in Seattle has a question or comment, then that person is live on camera and everyone in the network sees them and can interact with them. So it’s fully interactive, and that’s an aspect that some people who have not experienced this type of thing may misunderstand.

These students want to stay in their home regions because they’re focused on building their careers and taking care of personal responsibilities, but at the same time they’d like to attend these fine universities. So about three Saturday mornings each month they go into these classrooms where they are part of a Boardroom Learning Team of five to eight students.  At the same time, professors go into specially equipped televisions studios, and they broadcast the lecture out to people on the network. That accounts for about  60% of the class time.

We have 163 students who are divided into two sections of some 80 students each. On any given Saturday the students will be taking two classes. Let’s say, for example, finance and marketing. We have 27 cities so about half of them would be in Section 1 and half would be in Section 2, and while Section 1 is taking marketing, Section 2 is taking finance, and then there’s lunch, or brunch if you’re in California, and then they switch and take the other class.

What is the biggest misconception about the program? 

One of the things that people misunderstand is they think it’s a non-residency program. It’s actually what I like to refer to as a residential program done remotely. I think people sometimes compare it to an online degree where students are sitting around in their pajamas in front of their computers at home with the kids running around in the background. The Cornell-Queen’s program is not that, you actually go to a Cornell classroom in your own city or region, just like if you went to Berkeley or Wharton.

We also have an attendance requirement and take role numerous times throughout the day so people can’t just come in and be seated and leave. You have to be there because you’re working in a close-knit team – there are other cohort members and classmates who are relying on your participation, so you can’t not come.

Could you provide an overview of the curriculum?  

We have a core curriculum that’s required to give a Cornell MBA. As is the case with most Executive MBA programs, it is a lockstep curriculum where everyone starts together and they proceed through the program together. It’s an integrated curriculum, but it’s focused on general management. So if someone were to say I want an MBA that’s focused on finance or marketing, this would not necessarily be the right one for them. However, I do think they’ll find at the end of the program they got more than they bargained for in those areas as well.

The program does not include electives.  Is that something students express concern over? Are there alternatives they can choose from? 

I usually find that it’s not an issue. When someone asks about taking an extra course, I suggest they wait until the end of the program and tell me if they feel they’re missing anything. What invariably happens is students say, ‘Nope, we got it – you guys covered everything.’

There are two major projects in the program, which the students define themselves, so we have electives in the form of these projects. The first is an individual project each student does, and it’s called the New Venture Project. Within that, each student defines and works on a project of an entrepreneurial nature. So they work together with a business adviser, the guidance of their faculty and the input of other students to put together a real entrepreneurial idea. At the end of the project they have a fully fleshed-out business plan, and some of those go live.  There are so many students in this group who say I’ve had this idea, but I just never got around to doing a business plan. So during the individual project – and it’s pretty substantial, it goes over months and months – students can do whatever they want that is of interest to them or their companies.

The second major project at the end of the program is a team project. In the Global Business Project students act as a group of international consultants, and they work with actual organizations that have business issues, questions or problems of a global scope. We don’t assign the projects, but the teams go out and determine what they’d like to work on. As part of the project, all of the students are required to do a global field study, where they travel to an international location.