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New Clubs Creating Community

Clubs with a bold new mandate debuted this Fall to the MBA community

Earlier this year, nearly a thousand RC’s descended upon Shad Hall’s 2nd floor to sign up for HBS clubs and communities. This time-honored tradition may seem overwhelming at first, but the abundant choices give new and returning students the opportunity to tailor their MBA experience with the interests most relevant to them.

The ‘market’ for clubs does not stay idle, evolving year to year to reflect changing student needs and preferences. Newly appointed student leadership each Spring are on the lookout for how to improve offerings to students. The Harbus got a chance to connect with a few of these club leaders who have either created a new club from scratch, renamed to reflect its change in offerings, and those with a new for the upcoming year, and we learned more about why they’ve shifted focus and the new ways they’ll bring value to students this year.

An exciting addition to the HBS club roster is the Public Speaking Club, a new club focused on helping students improve their skills delivering speeches or comments to large groups of people. “Both Talal (Kabbani, MBA ’24) and I have a historical interest in Public Speaking. For me, it was the debate club and for him it was Toastmasters”, says Daniel Silberwasser (MBA ’24), co-President and co-founder of the club. “The reality is, there’s not a lot of opportunity at HBS to get better at public speaking,” he continued. “You don’t get a ton of feedback in class and there’s not a ton of broader opportunities to develop this skill”.

The club plans to host several meetings throughout the year for its members to improve their public speaking skills, with an innovative format atypical of most clubs. Meetings intend to be structured with an introduction from a faculty member on effective public speaking (both Kabbani and Silberwasser mentioned that MBA chair Matt Weizenrl and Lawrence Quartana – who teaches a course on public speaking at the Kennedy school – may attend sessions). From there, students have the chance to deliver a 5 minute speech prepared, and receive anonymous feedback via a webform that attendees fill out, as well as real-time feedback from the audience. “Topics are incredibly varied”, says Kabbani, also co-president and co-founder of the club. “Students talk about everything from Taylor Swift to the future of France as a nation…it’s also a great place to practice and get feedback on your MyTake. But it’s not limited only to that…the club is about building skills.”

With 120 members, the club is off to a great start, and with no dues required, it hopes to be a resource for students trying to improve this fundamental business skill. Silberwasser finished, “The best way to get better at public speaking … is to get comfortable being in front of an audience”.

Silberwasser also co-leads the Conservative Club, repositioned from the Republican club, along with co-president Lee Senter (MBA ’24). They’ve renewed the focus to better reflect diversity of background and viewpoints on the HBS campus. “The club was active last year, but had a small membership. Through conversations, we identified that the name was really holding us back…it felt really exclusive to only focus on US students. In addition, there’s a diversity of conservative views that go beyond the Republican party.” After conducting informal discussions with club members and prior year leadership, as well as conducting a poll, it was clear the club needed to make a change.

Senter mentioned a number of key objectives for the upcoming year to live into the club’s new identity. “Our first priority is to build a ‘Big Tent’. This is a club for anyone regardless of political affiliation. It’s an inclusive space to have interesting discussions”. He continued that several interesting initiatives would follow this, including welcoming members of an American conservative think tank to speak to club members about anti-poverty measures through a free-market lens. “We also plan to host a global conservatism meeting, with speakers from various countries about what it means to be conservative in their nation, which can really differ from how we think of conservatism here”. An example speaker he mentioned was Carlos Larreategui (MBA ’24), who has worked on a few political campaigns in Ecuador (where he was born and raised).

“To us, success looks like having more active members, and changing the perspective of conservatism on campus – which today may have some negative stereotypes. A school like Harvard is usually thought of as being particularly left-leaning, so we hope that this is an outlet for a diverse group of people with different opinions to freely express their thoughts. This is especially important at a place like HBS, in which open discussions in class are core to the educational experience."

The AI club also underwent a meaningful evolution, repositioning to a more concise name from the Coding, Analytics, Machine Learning club. Co-president Ankit Tandon (MBA ’24) explains, “At the surface level, it’s a name change. But it goes deeper than that.” He walked me through the history of the club, with humble origins from the ‘hacker’ community on campus excited by cloud technologies and code a few years back, and that its mandate continually broadened as these technologies grew in importance, adding “DSM is now a required course, we have the D3 institute, the Harvard Data Science institute”. He also noted the key differences between the AI club and tech club, mentioning that the AI club is focused more on “sharpening a toolkit” whereas the tech club has broad offerings with a more career oriented focus. The club plans to continue hosting mixers and small group dinners, and aims to combine with initiatives happening outside the business school, leveraging the renewed energy and enthusiasm to continue building the AI community at HBS.

The Coffee and Tea Club has also undergone a revitalization. Co-president Katherine Strong (MBA ’24) shared, “They told us the club was going to die if we didn’t do something… we held coffee and tea pop ups last year which really proved the demand for connecting over a shared interest of coffee and tea”. But in her view, the purpose of the club is broader. “We also hope to shine a light on small businesses involved in the coffee and tea sector,” she added. “With coffee conversation groups and tours of local roasteries, we hope to help students connect while also helping support local business. “Annie, Katherine and I have a long-term goal of opening up a coffee shop together one day, so this really made sense…we love the discussions that come from getting a large group of people together over coffee” added, smiling, Vijay Edupuganti (MBA ’24), who’s also another co-president of the Coffee and Tea club,. In addition, they plan to host High Tea events, Latte art, and additional coffee pop ups featuring beans and tea from local businesses.

Feeling the high spirits and energy through these conversations about the changes these clubs are making, one thing has remained consistent: the immense focus on building an inclusive community that is additive to the MBA experience.

Shayne Gelbard (MBA ‘24) was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Prior to HBS, he founded a venture-backed software startup and worked in brand management, and worked in consulting this summer in New York.

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