Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Columbia - Part 3

I immediately smiled and said hi to the student I sat next to. He, in turn, did the same and seemed quite friendly too. I explained that I was just sitting in to get a feel for what the class environment was like, but I didn’t phrase it that eloquently… in fact, I’m sure I articulated it quite awkwardly. I think this really threw him off as he started talking to his friend sitting on the other side of him at the first opportunity. I also introduced myself to the friend, who introduced himself in kind, but then they resumed the conversation. It’s amazing how an awkward sentence or two can so derail a potential conversation when it’s the initial impression. Since the seat to my right was empty, I decided to just observe the classroom dynamic. (there were only 4 seats in my half of the row as we were the last row)

The class had not yet started and students were still trickling in. I was surprised to notice how friendly everybody was. Most everyone was talking to someone nearby and were smiling and seemed genuinely happy. I asked the guy next to me (his name I forget) whether everyone in the class is from the same Cluster (since clusters take their core classes together) and he replied yes but that some were from one other cluster as well. With that answered, he resumed his conversation with his buddy. This particular core class had approximately 60 students I would guess. It was really impressive how everyone seemed to get along with each other. You really did get the sense that these people knew each other from several previous classes, and not just from this particular class. I’d say about two-thirds or seven-tenths of the class was male. I am happy to note that the female students were more attractive than the ladies at the info session (which was comprised of prospective, not actual, students). I did notice a few instances where the girls sat together. For instance, the right half of the class contained the vast majority of the girls in the room.

There were handouts in the front of the room that included one packet of powerpoint slides (for that day’s class) and also a two-page recording sheet for the operations game that they were supposed to play later that day. The professor would soon explain that the students were going to learn the rules of the game and engage in a trial run during class. Later on in the evening, the students were supposed to gather in their individual games and actually “play” the game in a reserved classroom. The game was supposed to elucidate the communication and logistical problems of a supply chain. It did this by having four students represent the different types of suppliers in the beer industry. Students were to play the role of beer retailer, beer warehouse, beer manufacturer, and something else that I forget. They were supposed to give orders to each other and try to maximize profit despite the mandatory time lags from communication and resultant penalties from over or under-produced supply. It definitely seemed like a fun, interactive way to learn about supply management.

Before the class started, two students made announcements to the class about a fundraiser that one of the Clusters was advocating. Apparently the men in the clusters were growing mustaches and collecting donations based on the amount of mustache grown (similar to any charity race except it is the person’s facial hair that is racing in this case). It was pretty funny since one of the guys had a full mustache and beard whereas the other student had almost nothing (like me!). One of the last people to walk into the class actually came to the back row and sat in the empty seat to my right. We both introduced ourselves to each other immediately. It appears that everyone knows each other in the classes (or core classes at least) due to the cluster system so everyone was really friendly about learning everyone else’s name at the least. Or maybe these b-school student all knew the value of networking. Whatever the case, everyone I met today was pretty good at greeting me or being greeted by me at the very least. His name was Tony.

The professor finally started class (probably a couple minutes late) and everyone quieted down. He explained the rules and then asked for questions. One student sitting diagonally in front of me posed quite a clever question: “If there are only penalties from mismanaged inventory and no actual revenue from the sales, then wouldn’t profit be maximized by refusing to participate in the game?” This was really a great question and half the class chuckled. Professor Weintraub also smiled and clearly enjoyed the student’s ingenious query. He responded that we were to assume that all participants earned the same revenue and would have the same sales- we were simply interested in minimizing the inefficiencies resulting from communication delays. The professor admitted this was perhaps a bad assumption to make but that it would have to be utilized for this game. The student who asked this question got a pat on the back from someone on his left. The guys who were sitting directly to my left (the guys who I had met a few minutes ago) made some teasing comment to him as well. Apparently they were all friends. It was at this moment that I realized they all had accents, definitely European and Eastern European. The professor asked if everybody would be able to “play” the game that evening. He had even gone out of his way to order beer and pizza for everyone. What a fun learning environment! One of the girls (a cute one too) asked what kind of beer and everyone laughed. The professor responded that he didn’t know but there would be a variety. A few students (maybe 3 or 4) did indicate that they wouldn’t be able to participate in the game and the professor told them to show up to the next class section so that they could arrange a mutual playing time with those students from the other section that were in the same situation. At this point, he told everyone to take out their laptops and get into their groups so they could do a demo run of the game (as it was on an excel sheet).

I noticed that in between every other pair of seats, there was a little circular orb that had two electricity outlets and two internet jacks. I’m sure this is fairly common but I had never seen it before so I thought it was pretty cool. It was very clean and organized I thought. Since everyone was milling about breaking into groups, I took the time to chat with Tony a bit more. I asked him all sorts of questions such as how many students did he know from his class year, what he thought of career services, etc. He responded with positive answers to most all my questions. I was concerned that I was preventing him from getting into a group but he seemed to be in no rush and the rest of the class was taking its time and chatting too. So I kept asking Tony stuff and he kept giving me sincere replies (that’s my impression at least). I noticed that many students had IBM Lenovo ThinkPads and I asked him if that was the standard. He said that they were somewhat popular but by no means required. Satisfied that I had received answers to most of the questions on my mind, I thanked him and said that I was going to sneak out since there wasn’t much point in me watching them run the demo. I certainly felt like I had a good sense of their class dynamic (a really fun, collaborative learning environment for sure!) and I didn’t think I’d be rude since there was so many people milling about. Tony was really cool about it and offered me his business card in case I had other questions. Not sure if it meant anything but Tony did not yet have an internship secured and did say he was anxious, though I’m sure that’s natural. He did admit that it seemed like most everyone gets one eventually. Jairo, the Student Ambassador whom I met earlier, was a second-year student and had already gotten a full-time consulting offer. Happy that I got another business card, I grabbed my bag and walked away. The guy who I had the awkward intro with (sitting to my left) said bye as well even though we hadn’t really connected from a conversational standpoint. At least he was trying to be nice J

I snuck out of the class unnoticed I’m pretty sure and didn’t feel bad about it at all. After all, I saw two students walk out and then back into the class while the professor was talking. This was a break in the action.
When I got outside, one of the students was out there talking on her cell phone. I noticed pizza and soda sitting on the bench. Before I entered the class, there were about 6 boxes of pizza and a dozen cans of Sierra Mist. Now there was only one box and one soda. I opened the box and saw that it was spinach tomato pizza (perfect!) so I grabbed a slice (slightly cold but whatever, I was hungry) and grabbed a Sierra Mist and walked out. The pizza was real New York pizza too, not Domino’s or Pizza Hut. I ate the slice in the cold weather and walked back towards Uris to seek out some more students to chat up.

Apparently there’s always b-school students lingering around the main lobby of Uris which makes sense considering it’s a b-school dedicated building. I saw a student sitting down who just finished talking to someone who was walking by, and he seemed pretty cool so I introduced myself and asked if he’d mind my grilling. Surely enough, Andrew (I think that’s his name- I’m not positive because I didn’t get his card) invited me to take a seat. I asked him all sorts of questions (literally every one including ones that I had already asked other people) and he gave me most of the answers I expected. He confirmed that the Manhattanville campus was far from being completed. He said that if I applied in the next five years, I’d probably avoid having to move up to the future campus (at least this was his opinion). He cited that it “always” takes schools forever to erect new buildings which I don’t know is true or not. He also agreed that the gym facilities stink but reminded me that I wouldn’t be making my MBA program decisions based on that. He agreed that students live all around the neighborhood but that there is still a community feel to it, though it wasn’t going to be super close-knit like, say a Tuck or Kellogg, since we are in a huge city after all. He assured me that it’s no problem to find a friend who would be willing to grab some lunch if you wanted to (since I cited that as an example of the type of activitiy that I’d want to be able to do). He agreed that Columbia does not hold your hand through classes or job searches but insisted that there are a plethora of resources. He explained that if we want homework help, tutoring, or 1-on-1 sessions with the career services staff, that it was all available. If we wanted it, we could have it, but we would have to ask for it and get it ourselves. Nobody was going to check in with us to make sure we were understanding every single problem from homework (his example). I was glad to hear this.

I talked to Andrew for maybe fifteen minutes before I exhausted my list of questions and decided to thank him and leave him be. It was interesting to note that an Asian female classmate of his walked by and asked him about a decision brief they were supposed to review together. He said that he was reviewing it in half an hour with some other guy and she sounded startled because she didn’t know about it and wouldn’t be able to join. He insisted that the other guy just called about it a few minutes ago and that it wasn’t a big deal though she clearly seemed slightly disconcerted that she wouldn’t be able to join in. I don’t know if Andrew just didn’t like this girl or if he indeed saw it as harmless to review the decision brief with someone else, but I decided not to read too much more into it.

I walked down the hall to use the bathroom and was surprised how clean and spacious the bathroom was. I even heard there is one bathroom that has gold leaf in the urinals. I don’t know if that’s true but I was certainly impressed by the classiness of this particular lavatory. I then walked into Uris Deli to check it out since I know that a lot of b-school students eat there. It was nice, comfortable, and clean and the menus all seemed to contain the typical fare. There were unlimited topping salads for $6.25 (I can see myself getting this a lot) and also sandwiches, wraps, all the basic stuff, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was a nice deli though and one wall was made entirely of glass which allowed a view of the outside which was very nice. This was around 3:30 so the deli was only 30% full. I noticed that about half the students in there were female though, and most of them were attractive. I can’t be certain if they were b-school students or not though, because I’ve read (in the b-school newspaper, The Bottomline) that other students, namely School of Journalism students, have been frequenting the Uris Deli too.

Happy that the Deli was sufficient for my needs (I think), I decided to leave early to catch a ride to NYU Stern, where I was attending a 4:30 info session and tour. However, I convinced myself that it was early enough for me to pop into the Columbia bookstore. The bookstore is on campus but the entrance is on Broadway so you have to walk out the front gates and walk south a block and a half to get to it. Interesting that the bookstore has a Barnes & Noble sign on it. I went primarily to check out t-shirts as I really want one. I know I am just setting myself up for heartbreak but I figure having the shirt may also further motivate me. When I got to the store, I saw a sign that said all hats and t-shirts were 25% off so I knew it was fate. I decided I would buy one if I saw any decent design. I eventually settled on a graphic Columbia University logo (not the b-school logo unfortunately, as the newly re-branded b-school logo is hideous; there was even an article in the Bottomline about it this issue!) on a light blue t-shirt. I would later find out that the shirt was incredibly long despite the small size. Whatever. One other thing I noticed in the book store was the inordinate number of young females purchasing apparel. I didn’t ask them but my guess is that they were all high school seniors who had just been admitted (and were planning on attending) Columbia next year who were all excited to show off their new loyalties. I guess I’m not much different huh? It appeared that most of the girls were Jewish too. It is true that a substantial amount of Columbia’s student population is Jewish (I think I heard 40% but I don’t know if that’s undergrads or graduates or b-school). It reminded me of high school so it’s a setting that I’m very familiar and comfortable with, but I thought I would mention that my observations did indeed echo the statistics. In fact, most of the demographic/stereotypes about the student population seems true from just walking around campus. There are definitely a lot of Jewish, Asian, and international students. Of the international students, many seem to be from Latin America. And it’s also true that Columbia students are smart, unassuming, artsy, and cool. I could definitely see myself fitting in hehe.

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