‘Chronosynclastic infundibulum,’ or community building in action

The Sirens of Titan

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Business and creativity are not the opposites some people think they are. In fact, in Dr. Richard Pernell’s MGT 502, Management & Leadership, students learn a blend of business and creativity in the form of  chronosynclastic infundibulum.’

This class was Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9’s first. It is designed to foster constructive approaches and methods to enhance creativity, innovation, employee motivation and career success. The cohort quickly built a sense of unity, trust and respect with each other that will strengthen over the next 18 months.

Chronosynclastic infundibulum is defined in Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan as the following:

A point in space where, upon a person entering it, that person’s existence in space-time ceases to be linear, becoming discrete. This means that a person that has entered a chronosynclastic infundibulum exists at multiple points and lines in space-time. For example, such a person could exist at all points in time in one place and also appear at another point for five minutes.

According to Dr. Pernell, chronosynclastic infundibulum’s obscurity is just what makes illustrating it the perfect assignment. “It’s all about their learning,” explained Dr. Pernell. The team members, divided into three groups, were thrown into an ambiguous situation with unclear expectations and a fuzzy evaluation process.

“They are developing as a community through experiential learning,” continued Pernell. “This type of learning has emotion as the glue to stick the learning to their experience and is therefore cemented in different parts of the brain to be retrieved at the appropriate time for use. Their presentations illustrated their commitment, not necessarily to the product itself, but rather to the structured action that produced it. This structured action is essentially ‘community building in action,’ the major outcome of MGT 502. Their presentations let all of us view their thinking in a way that was unrestricted by their previous learning patterns.”

One group created a movie as the platform of its presentation and paired it with a performance. “It was a true representation of each person’s creative talents coming together,” said team member Christina Laemers. “We created an original poem set to representative music and imagery, and further appealed to the senses with an interpretive reading that incorporated elements of taste, texture, scent and sound. The journey of creating the project was the real learning experience, most notably learning how to collaborate as a group, discover each other’s strengths and allowing ourselves to trust one another. I thoroughly enjoyed working and presenting with my team as well as watching what the other groups came up with!”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp3OjFuZ3dw&w=560&h=315]

Another team performed a poetic reading of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (LSD), complete with lighting, sound effects and props. “We were trying to have Cohort 9 travel though time and space into a chronosynclastic infundibulum where all the different kinds of truths fit together and then bring them back to the classroom,” explained student Toshi Matsumura. “Our props included a spinning color ball, flashlights with colored cellophane, rain sticks, citrus and lavender fragrances, train sounds, stream sounds and kaleidoscope motions on the two front white boards (by jones). The team not only enjoyed presenting to Cohort 9, but also the time spent together to prepare for the presentation.”

A third team used its collective artistic talents to create a movie using puppetry and sound effects to show their interpretation. “I really enjoyed this project because the creativity allowed us to let our guards down and act a little silly, which was beneficial during a time when we’re still getting to know each other,” said Lindsay Swantek, a member of the third group. “It was enjoyable to see how each group interpreted the meaning so differently. I have a feeling we’ll always reflect back on the memories of these presentations with a smile!”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goFsPmfPR2Y&w=560&h=315]

With course No. 1 now complete and 16 more to go, Cohort 9 has worked hard to develop meaningful connections with one another, with the assistance of Dr. Pernell and Professor Peggy Stahl.  Members of the cohort are partners in each other’s learning, and their sense of excitement will undoubtedly propel them through the academic journey ahead.

Cohort 9 begins its journey

Cohort 9 is off to a good start, with one weekend behind the students already — and now only slightly less than 19 months left to go!

Class began Aug. 12, and members of Stetson University Executive MBA’s Cohort 9 started their Management and Leadership class taught by Dr. Richard Pernell and Professor Peggy Stahl. “The problem solving and early teamwork was evident as I witnessed small groups working and collaborating effectively,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Stetson University Executive MBA program. “The first weekend seemed to be extremely successful.”

The students of Cohort 9 are just getting to know each other. They started class Aug. 12 learning management and leadership.

The students agreed. “In the last two days I have gained an affirmation that this program is absolutely the right path for me,” said Christina Laemers, a Cohort 9 student who works as a communications manager for Walt Disney World.

One of the features that stands out in the Executive MBA program is the cohort environment, which teaches students to work together, to support one another and to learn from each other.

“Not only do I feel better equipped to be an effective leader,” said Laemers, “but I know the people in my cohort, although all very different, share the same investment in the learning process. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity, and to be surrounded by such fantastic, unique and intelligent people!”

“Just in the first two days, we have witnessed a dynamic group of people that is well balanced with personalities,” said Laemers’ classmate, Duane Trumble, a quality assurance/guest support professional at Walt Disney World. “I can feel that we are going to have a lot of fun, learn a lot from each other, and cohesively walk each other together through this experience. It’s going to be an awesome ride!”

“I thoroughly enjoyed the first week of class dealing with behavioral patterns relating to business interactions,” Danielle VanCola, a member of Cohort 9 and a junior account executive at Wyndham Vacation Resorts. “Rich and Peggy engage and challenge us to be involved and interact with our cohorts.”

The learning doesn’t stop in the classroom, either, as the students begin to apply it in their careers. “Each week, I will make an effort to apply different aspects of the instruction to my personal and professional life,” said VanCola, “and see how it influences others positively.”

The students resume class Aug. 26 and will alternate weekends from now until April 2013.

9 takeaways for Cohort 9

Stetson University Center at Celebration was buzzing with excitement last night, Aug. 10, as a diverse group of 14 women and 11 men from nine corporations gathered for the first time as Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9.

The Cohort 9 orientation dinner was an opportunity for the students to meet each other, members of the staff and a few alumni. The new students left with a little bit of inspiration, as well. Here are a few select pieces:

1. This program will be tough, but you will make it through. “Look to your right and look to your left,” said Dr. Stuart Michelson, dean of the Stetson School of Business and director of the Stetson University Executive MBA program, as he told students an anecdote from his school days. “That’s what my professor told my class as we were beginning our doctorate program. ‘Half of the faces you’re seeing won’t make it through this program,’ he told us. But I challenge you to look to your right and look to your left,” continued Michelson. “I expect that we’ll see everyone in this room tonight still together 19 months from now as Executive MBAs. You will get through this, and you’ll do it together.”

Cohort 9 assembled for the first time as a group at orientation, Aug. 10.

2. Help us help you. “We want you to succeed, and we want you to have everything you need,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Executive MBA program. “Help us help you. Tell me or Dr. Michelson if you want or need something,” Lowe continued. “We’ll do the best we can to accommodate you.”

3. Change your perspective. “What a journey you’re going to be on,” said Dr. Richard Pernell, a director at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a Management and Leadership instructor for the Executive MBA program. “You’re going to change so much over these 19 months. It’s going to be super.” Pernell held up a photo of a lighthouse and asked what direction the light was shining. No one could tell. “From your perspective, you don’t know what direction you’re looking,” said Pernell. “So, change your perspective.” Once he moved the photo closer to the students, they could see that the title of the photo was Evening Light, so it was obvious that the direction was north. “You just had to change what you were looking at to get the whole picture. These are the types of things we’ll discuss in class, which begins Friday: leadership and management (which are not the same thing), and critical thinking.” Pernell ended with a question for the students to ponder that they’ll pick up discussion on tomorrow: If a turtle loses its shell, is it naked or homeless?

4. This is your program; shape it. Michelson and Lowe started preparing the students for their international trip, scheduled for June 15-24, 2012. “You get to help select the destination,” Lowe said, and Michelson asked for a quick vote by the students on where they’d like to go. Among the top spots were Brazil, Chile, Shanghai and Morocco.

5. You are more capable than you think. Denise Edelmaier, an executive in Cohort 8, told the new students that time management and prioritization are extremely important, and sometimes your three “buckets” (personal life, work and school) require a demanding juggling act. But, she said, “You are way more capable than you think you are. You can do this. I realized I had a lot more strength than I knew before I started this program.”

6. Use technology to your advantage. Shariq Khan, a classmate of Edelmaier’s, said it’s best to relax and enjoy the program. The best way to do this, he proposed, was to organize yourself and manage your time. “Use technology to your advantage,” said Khan. “Use Blackboard and Skype for meetings. Manage your schedule online. Make sure you make time for all the parts of your life.”

7. Pay attention to those who matter. Walter Kurlin, a graduate of Cohort 7, said to be sure to pay attention to the needs of your significant others and spouses. “They’ll be one of the most important parts of your program,” said Kurlin. “You’ll need their support.” Cohort 8 student Khan agreed, adding that students should be sure to not neglect their families during this rigorous program. “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy,” Khan said, joking about the stress of keeping everyone in his home comfortable while also maintaining his duties at work and in school.

8. Focus on the concepts, not the grades. Whereas you may have focused on getting good grades in undergraduate studies, spend time now on learning the context, said Tyler Reed, a graduate of Cohort 4. “I would have done better in the beginning of my program if I had worried less about getting a good numerical grade and more about understanding the meaning and application of what I was learning,” she said. “I did figure it out, though, and then the program was much more fulfilling.”

9. Enjoy the routine. “You’ll find yourself planning your life in two-week increments,” said Craig Feldman, a graduate of Cohort 5. “It’s like a video game, with each weekend being a new adventure and progressing through stages to reach a new level, earning knowledge and gaining success along the way.”  Feldman also echoed Dr. Pernell’s sentiments about change: “The experiences you’ll share with your cohort are life-altering, and you’ll come back from the international trip a different person with a more global view and with more business confidence.”

In less than 24 hours, members of Cohort 9 will begin their journey. As they build their network, strengthen their leadership skills and increase their career versatility, these students will change their perspective on business, life and their day-to-day work. And one year from now, some of them likely will be giving pointers to the incoming Cohort 10.