Study Groups Don't End When These Students Graduate

Community study group program allows alumni and PhDs to learn from each other.

October 01, 2007

Chris Tilghman, MBA ‘05, had such a blast as a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that he started a program that keeps the tradition of learning in study groups alive even after leaving the B-school.

“One of the great things about the GSB is that it’s a community of people who are really smart and trust each other in a certain way,” said Tilghman, now director of higher education marketing at InsideTrack, a college coaching service company. “I just wanted to take advantage of this learning even after I’m no longer a student.”

Since it began in 2004, the business school’s Community Study Group Program has allowed alumni and PhD students to learn from each other. The program has evolved to focus on PhD students and alumni, said Erica Richter, director of Lifelong Learning, the department that organizes the sessions.

“My philosophy has always been: If someone has a good idea, we should try it,” she said. Tilghman said the new model addresses important needs. “Alumni get access to cutting-edge research. Students get access to working business people “¦ The quality of the exchanges is generally rich.”

Richter said seven PhD students and more than 75 alumni have taken part so far. Each six-week course involves one or two PhD students who meet with a group of 12 to 18 alumni for two hours a week to explore topics such as “How Norms and Culture Shape Organizational Behavior,” “The Psychology of Social Influence, Social Networks, and Consumer Health Behavior,” and “Understanding Dissent in Groups and Organizations.”

The idea for the program emerged from Tilghman’s lifelong passion for learning.

“I was doing stuff like taking language courses at night, taking history classes” even as an undergraduate at Harvard, he recalled. “I just had a lot of curiosity. I liked learning.”

After he entered the Stanford MBA Program, Tilghman, who also earned a master’s degree in education, developed the idea of forming alumni study groups. The first group watched Ken Burns’ television documentary on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and then spent time discussing their own “venturing” experiences, whether starting a business, shifting to a different career, or starting a family.

“The idea was to give the alumni community an opportunity for small group learning that reflected the environment that one enjoys in a study group,” Tilghman said. Kimberly Rios Morrison, a business school PhD student who is doing research on organizational behavior, said the Community Study Group Program helped her expand her abilities as an up-and-coming academic.

“It provided me the opportunity to do some hands-on teaching before I leave Stanford,” she said. “As a teaching assistant for the MBA core and elective courses, I was able to plan assignments and exams, observe professors in front of the classroom, and even deliver a few short lectures of my own. However, I’d never had the experience of creating a syllabus, managing a classroom, and coming up with discussion topics.

“Teaching the MBA and Sloan alumni gave me a better sense of how I could further my students’ professional growth while making sure they thought critically about the subject matter,” she added. “I am currently on the academic job market, and because a few of the schools that I’m applying to emphasize both teaching and research, I couldn’t be happier that I decided to lead a study group. Now I actually have quite a bit to write about in my statement of teaching interests and philosophies.”

Tilghman said the program is perfect for alumni who want to keep coming back to a special place.

“The thing that keeps me coming back is the little flashes of insights, learning something new, seeing something in a different way,” Tilghman said. “I showed up here and said, “ ‘This community is awesome. How do I preserve this opportunity to learn?’ It is such an intellectually rich environment. You don’t find that everywhere. When you do, you kind of want to mine it as much as you can.”

By Ben Pimentel

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