How BGI Gets It Right

I’ve recently been asked by BGI to write about my experience there as a student for the release of their new website. I was happy to oblige and the complete post can now be found in the Student Experience section of the website. The post was tons of fun to write and I hope it gives you a sense of why I love my school!

Post is copied below.

The decision to go to graduate school is never an easy one to make.  No matter your station in life, the price tag and time commitment are enough to make the most foolhardy career student think twice. Once enrolled in a program, the major lifestyle shifts required to accommodate new responsibilities are more than enough to make you want to start crying in a shower somewhere. Yet, even with this in mind, thousands of students run the gauntlet and apply to business schools every year, saying “See you later!” to close friends and family, and “Goodbye!” to full nights of sleep. Most business schools accept this as part of the status quo, but at least one is bucking the trend.

The Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) is a one-of-a-kind business school that understands the stress put on the students throughout the years. BGI offers both an MBA and a certificate in Sustainable Business through a hybrid on-site and distance learning model (called the Hybrid Program) as well as in-person classes in the Evening Program offered from their offices in Downtown Seattle. From day one the school has been designed to build a healthy culture that supports the students along the way, and to avoid the pitfalls of other business schools.  Here’s how they do it.

SMALL GROUP ORIENTATION

Before the Fall Quarter begins, new students in BGI’s Hybrid Program are sent to a 5-day orientation atChannel Rock, a 140-acre conservancy and retreat center located on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada. The students go to orientation in groups no larger than 25, with several members of the staff and faculty present. The incredible setting allows for students to slowly get to know one another, building trust with one another and providing a support system for the next step in their lives. This web of support is invaluable for the next few years while students are in the program. The small class sizes (9-20) of the Evening program are naturally able to provide this support without the week long orientation.

COMMUNITY MEETINGS

When students in the Hybrid MBA Program are on-site (once a month for four days) and once a week in the Evening program, the school gathers for a community meeting called “Opening Circle,” where everyone in the community is present and can hear public announcements, complaints and (most importantly) appreciations.  Publicly appreciating a fellow student helps build and support a culture of deep connections between members of the community, and is often cited as students favorite part of the day.

Opening Circle at a BGI Intensive

NO LETTER GRADES

BGI does not offer letter grades; instead it uses a pass/fail system with an 80% required to pass the class.  This is offered for one main reason: to motivate students to help one another in each class.  In traditional programs—which grade on a curve—your grade and class ranking improves when one of your classmates fails a test or drops out. This supports a system of harsh competition and shallow interpersonal connections.  There is no reason to help out another student who is struggling in one of their classes.  Alternatively at BGI, where you don’t worry about class rank, you are more likely to work with someone in order to help their understanding of a subject.  The school as a whole and the degree you earn is worth more if students graduate with a better understanding of subject matter.

RULE #6

Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Required reading for first-year students is The Art of Possibility by Ben Zander.  The book offers great insight in how to be an effective leader. The sixth rule in the book, at its most basic, is “Lighten Up”. This rule is invaluable in a high-stress setting where tensions can run high and situations can seem more important than they really are.  Take a breath, step back, and calm down. Make a joke or two. Whatever it is you’re dealing with is probably not as urgent as you think, and realizing that is a good step to getting through tough times. Which leads to…

SATURDAY NIGHT PARTIES

At the end of the on-site weekend at BGI there is always a party planned with a dance floor, music, and a bar.  More often than not there are activities and a theme to draw people in and engage with others.  The parties are a great way to top off the month by releasing some built up steam by dancing, singing, and catching up with people you haven’t seen in a while.

Saturday Night Party via Patrick Torres

This list is not exhaustive, and there is more that BGI could do to build interpersonal connections between students, but it’s a great start. Just in its tenth year of existence, BGI goes to great lengths to create a supportive community.  This system is an alternative to the cut-throat, competitive nature of business taught in the past, and shows that much more can be accomplished when groups of people build trust with one another and participate in a supportive network. This is a microcosm that I hope, in time, will spread to the mainstream.

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