The Wharton EMBA: Connecting Two Coasts

Vice Dean of the Wharton EMBA programs, Peggy Bishop Lane. Photo courtesy of The Wharton School

Vice Dean of the Wharton EMBA programs, Peggy Bishop Lane. Photo courtesy of The Wharton School

In 2012, when Wharton moved to its new West Coast home and hub for Silicon Valley-interested full-time MBAs in San Francisco, Vice Dean of Wharton/San Francisco, Doug Collom told Poets&Quants, the school had officially moved out of “stealth mode.” Three years later, those words couldn’t ring any truer.

The plan then was to develop the school’s San Francisco version of its prestigious Executive MBA program into the same size as the Philadelphia cohort of 115 students. The West Coast Class of 2016 has 107 students while maintaining the quality of the East Coast version more than 3,000 miles away, proving once again, this is no Wild West outpost. While San Francisco boasts more women and international students in its Class of 2016 than the Philadelphia cohort, GMAT scores remain comparable—Philadelphia’s most recent cohort boasted a median 700 score while San Francisco came in with a 695.

And the difference in location might not matter much, anyway. As vice dean of both programs, Peggy Bishop Lane says that students–no matter where they start–will often spend a semester on the other campus and new tele-presence technology allows entire classrooms to “sit in” on classrooms across the country. At a time when many business schools have offered “lite” versions of their MBA degrees in executive programs, Wharton continues to stand on the high ground, providing a top-notch and ‘non-diluted’ MBA experience for executives.

Bishop Lane has been in business education for more than two decades and across three schools. She has taught at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, NYU’s Stern School of Business, and The Wharton School. For more than a decade, she has either been a dean or a director of an MBA program at Wharton.

She recently spoke with Poets&Quants to discuss the two Wharton Executive MBA programs as well as the overall state of the degree. Bishop Lane explains why the healthcare and real estate industries are trending within EMBA education, why she thinks the EMBA degree will be the degree of choice in the next five to 10 years, and how tele-presence technology could alter the way professors teach students moving forward.

What’s new and unique in the EMBA program at Wharton?

So here are some of the things we have been doing in the past year or two that I’m pretty excited about. The first one is we launched a coaching program—an executive coaching program. We have been doing this for a year or two in the full-time MBA, and the executive MBA population is actually a more natural one for this kind of experience. And so, we piloted this two years ago and then this year we’re actually offering it to anybody who wants it. So it’s really wonderful because it gives students an opportunity to focus on things that are really important to them—mostly related directly to their careers—but often times it will mesh with the experiences they are getting in the program and the opportunities they are now becoming aware of. And so, I think it’s a really important and valuable addition to the typical academic experience that they get here. So that’s one thing we’re really excited about.

The other thing we’re doing—not completely new but new in a format—is how we’re doing some of our global experiences. So, we’ve had something called global module courses for a few years and they just become more and more popular every year. What I like about them that I think is unique to Wharton is that we’re combining students from across our programs from the executive MBA to the full-time MBA and some juniors and seniors in our undergraduate program. And they do courses around the world where studying a particular topic is particularly interesting in that region—more so than it would be in Philadelphia or San Francisco. So we’ve been doing this for a few years but we’ve increased the scale every year.

What we’ve done with our WEMBA only global experiences is a mix of the two coasts. Before we just had our San Francisco class go to one location and our Philadelphia class go to another. Now, by combining them, we’re really creating an expanded community across the coasts. It really has brought them together to the extent that we now have—and I guess this is another new and unique thing—we now have more and more students transferring coasts, either for a term or a year, or even just to take a particular class that is being offered on one coast and not the other. So, they seemed more inclined to do that last year and that even added more to the community. For me, the clincher was each class invited the other coast to their end-of-term gala celebration. That just really indicated that we had done something special by bringing the two together and it started with that global trip. So, we’re really, really excited about keeping that going.

The other thing, along the same lines, is we’re piloting this year—so we haven’t done it yet—but we’re in the planning stages on one of those global trips to add a cohort from INSEAD’s global program. We’re trying to see if we can make more of the Wharton/INSEAD alliance and do something for our MBA for executives there. So, that trip is going to Beijing in September. And we have about 40 Wharton students from both coasts—about 20-20. And then another 20 students from INSEAD. So that will be a really interesting way of expanding their network even further.

And along a slightly different line—not totally new—we’re always adding new courses. One of the advantages we have in being a really large school is that we have a great breadth of courses we can offer to our students. The one I’m excited about is a new course in energy opportunities. We have a faculty member in our business ergonomics department who does a course on energy and he’s been offering that course now for a couple of years. That’s sparked interest among students and led to a group of students from our San Francisco campus doing an independent study with a faculty member of finance who focuses on energy. So I really see that area expanding.

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