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HBX Business Blog

William Tran

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The Intersection of Business and Education in China

Posted by William Tran on July 14, 2015 at 4:49 PM

As an educator, I feel that I am somewhat at a crossroads. Being traditionally educated at a small private liberal arts college, I am a big defender of the Ivory Tower and learning simply for learning’s sake. At the same time, I sensed a disconnect between my educational experience and that of my students’ when I began teaching. Wikipedia was the norm for scholarship, and deciphering answers to big questions began with a Google search.

I am not a dinosaur myself, but I do remember my high school teachers telling my classmates stories of how they had to trudge hours in the snow to do research at the library and use “calling cards.” Having grown up in California most of my life, the idea of a library was as foreign as the idea of snow. I can’t imagine how archaic I must seem to my students.

This year marked my transition to diversify my education experience and to start the conversation about making education relevant to the youth of today. It did not take much to learn about MOOCs, edtech products, and digital schools where every student received an iPad with The Great Gatsby already installed. This research ultimately led me to CORe, and I’m happy to be one of the earlier pioneers of this platform. Branching off in this mysterious, at times for-profit, world, has drawn confusion and even anger from my colleagues in education. Can business and education co-exist?

Surprisingly, the two came to head when a colleague forwarded a part-time college counseling opportunity while I was in the middle of CORe. Initially, it would just allow me to work from home and not disrupt my ultimate plans of studying CORe, volunteering, and applying to business school this coming fall. However, during the phone interview, my now future coworker was so impressed with my education journey and how I thought about the intersection of business and education that we just had a conversation about this instead of my responsibilities. Eventually, he admitted to going “off script” and was hoping I’d consider a different role with the company. It would still be a short-contract position but instead of working from my couch in California, I would be in BEIJING!

I would still do the college counseling I originally signed up for, but I would mainly be hired as a strategy consultant doing personal projects of my own creation to grow the business, train the staff, and develop a model of ethical college counseling in China. What a great bridge to business school! Since it was a self-created position, he asked that I think about how I would handle the business side before my next interview with another member on staff.

"The business skills and concepts I learned through CORe will be invaluable in helping me assess the Chinese market, the demand and pricing of our service, and how to differentiate ourselves from our competitors."

Thinking about what I had learned in CORe along with my prior college counselor experience, I wrote out projects to tackle, including some of the concepts I learned from Professor Anand’s Economics course, like determining the customers' Willingness to Pay and how to assess the market demand and pricing for the service. I also wrote about determining the average amount of time to counsel a student and where there may be bottlenecks in the process; Professor Hammond’s Business Analytics course will play huge dividends here. Lastly, though Professor Narayanan’s tough Accounting course gives me nightmares at times, I have learned enough from it to understand the company’s financials and journal entries. The numbers would help in determining the recruiting and marketing machine. After submitting my outline, my interviewer was impressed and surprised I just called them “some notes.”

I leave for China next month and am excited to start a new adventure. While I originally took CORe mainly for personal enrichment, I hope the concepts I've learned and the education I've gotten will ultimately enrich the company. I still have a lot to learn, but CORe has given me just enough to talk the talk and walk the walk when I’m in China. I really owe it to tools like CORe that allow people anywhere in the world to learn for learning’s sake and also put it to practical use when the moment arises. Years down the line, perhaps I will be a thought leader in both education and business.

Topics: HBX CORe, Student Bloggers