By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Student 'spring exercise' is done!

As I've mentioned in a previous blog post, at the end of our master's students' first year, the entire class does a two-week project called "Spring Exercise." This gives them a chance to use the material they have learned in their first-year curriculum about economics, statistics, politics, management and ethics to address a big real-world problem in a setting as close as we can make it to the real world while still being in school.

During the first week, students individually prepared l,000-word memos on an assigned topic related to the theme of each year's spring exercise. During the second week, they divided into teams of five and prepare a briefing book and a 30-minute briefing for a role-playing senior official. After practice briefings on Wednesday, they presented their final briefings Friday morning. So now the students are done.

This year's topic, as I mentioned, was international negotiations for a climate change treaty, and students briefed someone playing the role of Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations (for my four student groups, the role was played by my colleague professor Christine Letts, who teaches nonprofit management and runs our executive education programs).

The students really got into this. One student sent me an e-mail message: "I hope you [faculty] have all been getting the positive feedback about the assignment that has been going around MPPs. Everyone was so engaged and excited about the topic. We feel really lucky." My four groups all had some pretty significant problems in the Wednesday dry-run briefings, and three of the four groups staged a significant recovery in today's final briefings. I think they got minimal sleep (at least for them) the last two nights. But generally the students were self-confident, good presenters and had good team dynamics in terms of hand-offs and division of labor.

The groups made relatively similar proposals, setting international targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a point that the average global temperature would rise only 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, which would fall short of a catastrophic increase. They believed that was the maximum goal that was economically and politically feasible. All the groups, in one way or another, put obligations on the developing countries as well as the developed world, which has been a key issue inhibiting U.S. participation in the 1997 Kyoto accord. (About a quarter of our first-year students are non-Americans, most from developing countries.)

The students sometimes were not sensitive to the extent to which the U.N., politically, can and cannot get involved in the domestic politics of member nations, or of the maxim that one should never put on paper something one is not willing to see on the front page of The Washington Post. (An extreme example was one student whose first-week memo suggested that the U.N. get involved in congressional races for members of Congress who opposed American participation in a climate change agreement.) And they tended to overuse economics jargon that Ban Ki-moon would likely not understand.

But in all the students did a great job. They certainly gave it their all.

Government employers, do what you can to get these kids!

The end of spring exercise means for me that after an intensive bout of paper grading mid-month, I move into summer mode. That means few meetings and a lot of time for research and writing, blue jeans and T-shirts, and a lot of travel.

Posted by Steve Kelman on May 05, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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