In early August, a family member asked me what two weeks of orientation entailed, and I honestly couldn’t answer the question. Couldn’t I be “orientated” in a day or two? Did it really take two weeks? How could they find enough programming, activities and speakers to fill two weeks?
Sitting through two weeks of orientation after I had just had the greatest summer of my life was another issue. I got married, went on an Aruban honeymoon and then spent the last month at home working on pre-skills courses, happy and nearly unable to leave my daily cycle of pajamas and workout clothes. The idea of sitting in lecture halls in business casual attire was almost an impossible task despite my enthusiasm for the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith full-time MBA program.
It turns out that orientation surpassed my expectations (and I didn’t even miss my yoga pants).
Breaking the Ice
The beginning of orientation is similar to a middle school dance. There are polite conversations and awkward silences. And then dancing. Lots of dancing. It seemed that almost every icebreaker or team building activity involved some form of awkward body movement, and I quickly learned that mutual embarrassment breeds comradery and conversations.
Careers and Opportunities
We heard from guest speakers from almost every department, program and resource at the Smith School. There are so many activities and opportunities available that it is almost overwhelming. If you want to start your own business, then the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is here to invest in you. If you are passionate about consulting, then you can take advantage of the numerous case study competitions in the U.S. and around the globe. If you have no idea what you want to do, then the exceptional Smith career services team is here to guide you.
Even before orientation, you begin your career development and internship search. You are required to complete several personality and skill assessments over the summer and then your results are analyzed during orientation. For half of us, an assessment called Career Leader confirmed our initial career pursuits with a collective sigh of relief. For the other half, the results sent our career search into a complete tailspin. It was not uncommon that the exact career someone entered business school to pursue was at the bottom of their recommended career list. This startling revelation, although unnerving, is incredibly helpful to have during orientation before significant time and resources are invested in pursuing a career that may end up not being a good long-term fit.
Leadership and … NASA?
So many cool things happened at orientation, but one item really stood out. You begin the fall course Leadership and Teamwork during orientation. During a session on team dynamics, we role played the management team that was responsible for the disastrous 2003 NASA Columbia mission using real NASA documents, emails and meeting transcripts. When we reunited to hold a broader class discussion about what NASA should have done differently, our professor Dr. Neta Moye had a surprise for us.
She invited Ed Rogers, Chief Knowledge Office for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, to join us in person to lead the discussion. She also Skyped in from NASA headquarters in Houston one of the actual NASA management team members to provide a first-person account of what really happened. We were shocked and impressed that the Smith School went above and beyond to create this learning experience for us. It will be a memory that we all share for years to come.
In the end, orientation was a fun, valuable and necessary experience. It allowed us to meet our classmates and begin developing bonds, and provided us a chance to focus on many of the opportunities and items that can get lost once the semester begins and the homework piles up. Although I was initially skeptical about the length of orientation, I don’t think there was a thing I would have changed. I can’t wait for the challenges and surprises that lay ahead in the months to come as a full-time Smith MBA student.