Duke University Alumni Magazine


by Nannerl O. Keohane
President, Duke University

n June 1996, Dean Rex Adams welcomed thirty-nine students from eleven countries as the first students in the Global Executive M.B.A. program at the Fuqua School. He called GEMBA "the most significant innovation in management education in fifty years." Back then, of course, there were plenty of doubters--here at Duke and elsewhere in the academic community, and possibly among our students' families, friends, and colleagues as well.

Last December, our first global M.B.A.s reassembled here on campus to complete what they describe as one of the most intensive, challenging, and gratifying experiences in their lives. It also has been a deeply gratifying experience for Fuqua and Duke because, thanks to their nineteen months of hard work, GEMBA's students have confirmed the dean's statement, dismissing all doubts.

GEMBA has captured the attention of the academic world, the corporate community, Business Week, and other leading print and electronic media here and abroad. We have a hit on our hands, and one that has left us with at least two important questions: "What have we learned from GEMBA?" and "What do we do with it?" How do we take the knowledge and insights from GEMBA and apply them to enhance teaching and learning in other areas of the university? What does GEMBA mean for our medical school? For Law? For Divinity? What does it mean for our undergraduates in engineering and the humanities? Most immediately, what does GEMBA mean for Fuqua itself?

Through GEMBA, we have learned some very important lessons about globalizing education, about using technology, and about building community in a non-traditional environment. And if there is a grand answer, it must be that all three goals may be achieved, given the right program and people.

First and foremost, we have seen that technology-based instruction does not have to lead to diminished academic quality. The first class posted an outstanding level of performance and our faculty successfully--and resourcefully--adapted their own individual, proven instructional methods to this new format. I understand that faculty also developed a keen awareness of time zones worldwide and learned a whole new meaning to "office hours." So it is, after all, possible to deliver a degree program with the rigor and richness of Fuqua's other programs to students continents apart.

We also confirmed what we believed to be true--that it is crucial to retain face-to-face instruction as an integral part of the sort of distance-learning process Duke values. In GEMBA, it is the combination of face-to-face contact with distance learning that yields enhanced results over standard technology-based education. This is a crucial difference between the GEMBA model and other courses that rely solely on technology.

GEMBA has taught us something else: that it is possible to engender a true sense of teamwork, camaraderie, and school spirit within a program that involves a significant amount of communications technology, geographical distance, and marked cultural differences among its students. The students forged strong personal ties with one another and their professors. They tell me that, in many ways, they share the same sense of "connectedness" to the university that our campus-based students experience. It certainly seemed so the night they joined the Cameron Crazies in cheering Duke on to victory.

GEMBA has reinforced our desire to build a class that is internationally diverse. The eighty students in the first two GEMBA classes represent twenty-three different countries, which introduces an extraordinary range of cross-cultural perspectives to the classroom. Our goal must be to reflect the diversity of region, culture, gender, and professional background that are part of the global workforce itself.

Finally, GEMBA is helping Duke explore new and effective ways to address growing pressures on educational access. Today in the United States, reduced government and public support has created new barriers to higher education, while at the same time the demand for higher education is growing rapidly. This increased demand is far outstripping traditional "on-campus" facilities and resources.

At the same time, education is becoming--more than ever--both a lifelong pursuit and an economic necessity. Much of this need is driven by advances in information technology--advances that demand that managers must work harder and smarter if they want to stay on top of the latest developments in their fields. A 1995 IBM study estimated that managers in the Information Age will need to spend at least 20 percent of their time engaged in learning. As with the first GEMBA class, mature, experienced professionals are seeking to enhance their knowledge and skills to compete in the global economic arena. Fuqua and other business schools are attempting to meet this demand, through executive degree programs as well as non-degree courses.

For an ever-larger number of students, computers and networks will be essential components in the educational environment. I do not believe that distance-education technology can or should take the place of the traditional, campus-based experience for eighteen-to-twenty-two-year-old undergraduate students, although it surely can enhance that experience in many important ways. But, as GEMBA demonstrates, technology can help individuals, companies, universities, and societies address the issue of access to the highest-quality education in ways that traditional education simply cannot.

Earlier this fall, in my annual address to the Duke faculty, I cited GEMBA as one of the growth enterprises of this university. I believe that GEMBA represents a bold new venture in education, building on traditional strengths and marketing them in a changing environment for a changing clientele and a changing future.

As the needs and expectations of career executives and other professionals evolve, it is critical that we meet the demands of our potential customers and those who hire our graduates. Today at Fuqua, as well as at Duke's other professional schools, such examinations are now an ongoing part of curricular review and planning. GEMBA has shown us that we should not be complacent about the successful programs of the past. We must adapt and refine those programs to reflect new realities.

Even as our world continues to shrink, the role of the modern university must continue to expand. As a university with global aspirations, we at Duke must reach out to students and faculty the world over as we seek to create a learning community enriched by many creeds and cultures.

Our goal is to become more thoroughly international in our curriculum, our outreach, the people who teach and learn with us, so that being a global institution is not an add-on, but an intrinsic part of everything we do. Fuqua and GEMBA have helped us take a crucial step toward this goal.

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