Carnegie Mellon University

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October 29, 2020

The Accelerate Leadership Center Gets Curious

The Curiosity Project, created by the Accelerate Leadership Center, helps MBA students make new connections in a largely virtual world while simultaneously expanding leadership and networking skills.

What made you decide to pursue an MBA?

What motivates you to work hard?

Is there a piece of advice or insight you received that has significantly shaped the direction you’ve taken your life? If so, what is it?

Do you feel comfortable discussing race relations in the United States? Why or why not?

How can someone earn your trust?

These are just a few of the questions Tepper School of Business students encountered over their month-long orientation, BaseCamp, due to a new Accelerate Leadership Center program. The Curiosity Project, an optional program for incoming first year full-time MBA students, was created to expand key leadership and networking skills by teaching students to ask questions, listen with curiosity, and increase personal empathy and awareness.

Curiosity: A Trait that Hiring Companies Seek

“The concept of curiosity as it relates to leadership success in business is well-established and continues to grow as a trait that companies seek when hiring,” said Leanne Meyer, Executive Director of the Accelerate Leadership Center.

“Curiosity is linked to creativity and deep thinking about solutions, and it helps to eliminate confirmation bias. Through our coaching and workshops, the Accelerate Leadership Center has long stressed the importance of curiosity as a leadership skill.”

Each participant was tasked with meeting with a randomly-assigned fellow MBA student three times before the end of BaseCamp. During these meetings, the pair asked each other a series of questions, with the structure and goals of each session changing and building upon the previous one. These questions covered a range of different topics, from personal preferences and work styles to race relations and cultural biases.

The project also focused on developing other key leadership traits, such as empathy and self-awareness, by practicing the art of conversation with someone new. By strengthening these attributes through practice, students would have a host of tools to draw from during professional occasions such as interviews, networking events, and coffee chats to advance their careers.

A Catalyst for Connection

In addition to personal and professional benefits, the program also served as a catalyst for students to foster connections and relationships during a time where communication is largely virtual, and the need to encourage inclusivity has never been greater.

“The students’ worlds are being shaped right now not only by their past experiences and the fact that they are in graduate school, but also heavily by all that is happening in this historical moment, especially COVID-19 and the renewed calls for racial justice in the U.S.,” said Michelle Stoner, Accelerate Leadership Center Academic Program Manager.

“The idea that we could curate a space where two randomly paired people would spend time getting to know each other not just as classmates, but as fellow human beings with nuances and complications, even contradictions, felt like an important opportunity. The work of creating an inclusive and equitable world is huge, and students are throwing themselves into that work.”

The Curiosity Project was met with great praise from students. Of the 88 participants, 100 percent of post-project evaluation respondents said that participating increased their sense of self-awareness, and 96 percent indicated that it increased their empathy for their Curiosity Project partner.

The Accelerate Leadership Center is now in the process of running a second Curiosity Project for the Full-Time MBA group, with over 100 students currently enrolled. In this round, first-years are partnered with second-year MBA students, and the groups are triads rather than pairs.