Cohort Building with the MAMs

Valerie Belanger, director for global leadership programs, reflects on the opportunities Master of Advanced Management students enjoy during orientation, before class begins—among them cohort-building activities, leadership skills-enhancing exercises, and time to get to know their new classmates.

In late August—while first-year MBAs are pushing through an intense week of Managing Groups and Teams—Master of Advanced Management students are immersed in a series of sessions with Yale SOM’s Career Development Office as well as a number of “cohort-building” workshops.  These workshops are designed to build community amongst the MAM students, most of whom are not only new to Yale, but also new to the country.  Building strong connections within and across the MAM cohort will help the students thrive over the span of their year at Yale.

Before joining the Global Programs team here at Yale SOM, I worked with the Yale World Fellows, mid-career professionals who come to campus for a semester of leadership development and academic enrichment.  My biggest learning from that work was that the Fellows learned the most from the conversations they had with each other.  Yes, they were enriched by the courses they took; yes, they were grateful for the off-the-record discussions they had with leaders from across sectors and nations; and yet, in the end, I heard again and again that it was the interactions and friendships they formed with each other that were the most transformative. I came to understand that one of the greatest things we can do here at Yale is hold space for connection.

The MAMs are extraordinary in their breadth and depth as a cohort.  In this year’s class there are 64 students from across 34 nationalities.  These individuals come to Yale already having studied across 23 of the Global Network for Advanced Management schools.  Their stories are fascinating, varied, unique, and global.  In turn, we kick off the week of cohort building with the sharing of their life stories.  Who are you?  Where do you come from?  What significant moments have defined your life? We dive in, get past the superficial, and take time to slow down and listen to one another without a looming agenda or the need to rush off to class. 

During this week, the MAMs build bridges (yes, literal bridges out of construction paper!), work alongside one another to solve (almost impossible) puzzles, discuss diversity and purpose with visiting World Fellows (Gilbert Doumit, a 2008 Fellow, and Balazs Laszlo Karafiath, a 2006 Fellow), and present to one another about leadership and art at the Yale University Art Gallery. Through these and other experiential exercises, the MAMs are reflecting on how they want to use their time at Yale, learning about their peers, and making public declarations about their personal and professional aspirations.  And most importantly, they are learning how to learn alongside—and in conversation with—their peers from around the world.

This time together—the quiet before the storm—takes place during the second week of orientation, before September rolls around and all are busy running around, shopping classes, doing first assignments, and preparing for on-campus recruiting.  My hope for the MAMs, for all of us here at Yale SOM, is that amongst all the busy-ness and achieving we can carve out moments to connect, to share our stories, to continue the conversations that were started…and to start the ones that have yet to begin.

About the author

Valerie Belanger

Director Global Leadership Programs