Pathfinder Program Offers Business Education to Undergraduates

Students flock to initial offerings this fall.

October 09, 2023

| by Margaret Steen

The Pathfinder program provides Stanford GSB courses specifically for undergraduates. | Elena Zhukova

Many Stanford undergraduates pursue careers in business after graduating, using skills they acquired in the classroom, such as data analysis or computer programming. It’s not always easy, though, for undergraduates to determine what types of jobs would best suit them — or how their classroom studies translate to the business world.

Now Pathfinder, an initiative of Stanford Graduate School of Business, is offering juniors, seniors, and coterminal master’s students a chance to take courses at the GSB that are designed and taught specifically for them. The goal is to expose undergraduates from a wide range of majors to thinking about organizations, markets, decision-making, and leadership — and to show them how their academic training can be applied in their careers.

“At the GSB, we strongly believe in the broad liberal education that Stanford provides its undergraduates,” says senior associate dean for academic affairs, Jesper B. Sørensen, The Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Professor, and Professor of Organizational Behavior. “With Pathfinder, we aim to build on its strengths and reimagine how a business school can engage with the undergraduates who will go on to change the world.”

The program is already proving popular: The three courses offered this fall were oversubscribed within 24 hours.

Peyton Klein, a junior and a human biology major, is taking From Founder to CEO: The Strategic Management of Start-Ups and Established Firms, taught by Garth Saloner, Botha-Chan Professor of Economics. Klein says the course “offers the unique opportunity to step outside the typical undergrad experience to learn firsthand from one of the GSB’s top faculty.”

“As a student fascinated by business strategy, I am excited to dig into case studies and engage with leaders across industries to gain a better understanding of strategic leadership as it applies to their ventures and my own,” Klein adds.

Broad-Based Benefits for Students

Seeing real-world applications of academic knowledge opened new opportunities for Lynn Jurich, ’02, MBA ’07, Stanford GSB lecturer and co-founder and co-executive chair of Sunrun Inc., who, as an undergraduate, applied to take a few GSB courses.

“It enabled me when I left undergrad to get a job in venture capital and private equity,” says Jurich, who is co-chair of an alumni committee that is advising the GSB on Pathfinder. “I don’t think I would have had the skills to do that had I not been exposed to the business school curriculum.”

The foundational principles students will learn could help them in all industries, functions, and subject areas — even for some who don’t pursue traditional corporate careers.

“Lawyers have to run their practice someday,” says Andy Ballard, MBA ’00, managing partner of Figtree Partners and co-chair of the alumni committee. “Even if you become a teacher, having some business background may help you.”

The foundational principles students will learn could help them in all industries and subject areas.

Sørensen says Stanford is well-equipped to marry academic training with career development. “This challenge is the GSB’s sweet spot, thanks to our long history of designing and delivering courses that effectively bridge ideas and impact.”

One course offered this fall, Finance, Corporations, and Society, with Anat Admati, The George G.C. Parker Professor of Finance and Economics, explores the crisis facing democracies and free-market capitalism.

“These are important topics to explore,” Jurich says. “There’s a lot of concern about inequality, for example, and a lot of institutions are being called into question.”

There is strong student interest as well.

“As a public policy major, I have learned that financial institutions and corporations play an important role in the political landscape, yet I do not fully understand how and why this happens,” says Jamie Hamilton, a senior. “I am excited to gain a deeper understanding of how corporations and financial institutions impact society and feel that what I learn in this program will fill an important gap in my undergraduate education.”

Courses on the schedule for later this year include The Future of Money and Payments; Triple Bottom Line: Managing Sustainable Value Creation; Games, Decisions, and Negotiations; The AI-Powered Org: Evolution, Rebirth, or Death? and Measurement, Analysis, and Disclosure of Corporate Environmental and Social Impacts.

Pathfinder is not a major or a minor, and the courses are not pre-approved to count toward a major (though students may petition to have them count).

A Two-Way Street

Students will not be the only beneficiaries of Pathfinder. Teaching undergraduate courses will allow faculty members to explore new topics using their expertise in leadership, management, and entrepreneurship — and to benefit from the undergraduates’ perspectives.

“The enthusiasm, the questioning, and being up to speed on what the new generation is thinking is really valuable,” Jurich says. “Everything is changing so fast, and at Stanford, we want to stay on the leading edge of what it means to be a great business school.”

Pathfinder will also include co-curricular activities such as speaker appearances.

“We are testing the market fit between what the faculty want to teach, what students want to learn, and the GSB’s sweet spot in terms of providing opportunities for the rest of Stanford,” says Ryann Price, managing director of marketing for Stanford GSB Executive Education.

If the Pathfinder pilot is successful, a more comprehensive initiative could be launched in fall 2025.

“You’ve got this amazing resource at the business school where knowledge is being created, and people are being trained in ways of thinking,” Ballard says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to harness an asset of the institution and open it up. I think it can be an enormous benefit for undergrads to dabble in that but not change the core of the liberal arts or science education.”

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