by Simon Oberhoffer
This summer, I had the honor to spend six fulfilling, productive and very insightful weeks at the University of California, Berkeley. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Friends of UTokyo, Inc., for making this stay possible through their exceptionally generous financial support in the course of the FUTI Global Leadership Award.
During my time at UC Berkeley (also referred to as “Cal”), I participated in the Berkeley Summer Sessions, which allow international students to choose from a wide variety of regular Cal courses. I selected two courses, namely “Leadership” and “Special Topics in Operations and Information Technology Management”.
Before I report on the actual course contents and insights, let me first explain which reasons motivated me to participate in the Summer Sessions.
First and foremost, I wanted to get a better feeling for the unique aspects of U.S. universities in terms of culture, teaching methods and atmosphere. For me, this point was particularly important as I had completed my Bachelor’s degree at a German university and will soon complete my Master’s degree at a Japanese university. Contrasting my experience in Europe and Asia with an experience in North America therefore promised to give me some insights into the unique strengths and weaknesses of each educational system.
Second, I was very much interested in discussing and understanding aspects related to the differences and interplay between various cultures. For instance: What defines internationality? How do U.S. universities celebrate internationality and diversity? How does language relate to this topic? Where do I see myself in the global context? How is Japan perceived in the global context? UC Berkeley promised to be a great medium for discussing all these questions with peers from all over the globe, not only due to the large diversity of its student body, but also due to its very open debate culture (see for instance UC Berkeley’s role in the Free Speech Movement).
Third, I aimed on further improving my skillset, not merely with respect to my direct major (mechanical engineering) or research background (multiscale simulation), but rather with respect to developing a more well-rounded personality, as well as educational background benefitting me in the future. I therefore enrolled in the two abovementioned courses “Leadership” and “Special Topics in Operations and Information Technology Management” in order to further develop skills that I felt had not been addressed adequately in my previous education.
Although both courses were exceptionally well taught, I am not exaggerating if I am saying that the course on “Leadership” was the best course I have ever taken as a student. The class itself was exceptionally interactive, as the professor constantly encouraged the students to participate, e.g. through dialogues, group plays, presentations or case studies. Before the actual class, every student had to furthermore conduct a personality and a leadership test. For the latter, I had the chance to invite my professors, former bosses, colleagues and friends I have worked with to rate my personal leadership characteristics. The course explained through various theories how good leadership works, how different personality types contribute to a well-functioning team or how to lead, even without authority. Personally, I must say that these theories, the many case studies and “laboratory” sessions (i.e., small-scale social group experiments) very much contributed to my own understanding of what leadership is. I also had the chance to analyze and discuss my personal previous leadership failures and was able to find out why I had failed in these situations. During another interesting part of the lecture, the professor introduced his wife, who served as the former governor of Michigan. She took her time to answer a variety of questions, e.g. related to leadership in politics, and also introduced some of her personal leadership experiences. At the end of the course, I submitted a piece on corporate leadership in Japan as a final report.
The second course, “Special Topics in Operations and Information Technology Management”, discussed various concepts of operations management and put particular emphasis on solving consulting-style case studies. We for instance analyzed how companies like IKEA, Amazon, McDonald’s or Ralph Lauren manage their supply chains and later on introduced some case studies in final group presentations. Although this course tended to be more lecture-oriented, it still had a very interactive character and allowed everybody to actively participate and discuss. Particularly for people who are aiming on a later consulting career, this sort of lecture seems to be a good introduction. As a special surprise, the professor further organized two company tours in San Francisco. First, we visited the company McKesson, which is one of the largest revenue generating companies in the U.S., focusing on health care logistics and infrastructure solutions. Second, we went to the nearby Autodesk Gallery. Here, the CAx company Autodesk exhibited various products designed or simulated with its different software solutions, e.g. FEM or CFD simulation packages. The latter were particularly interesting for me, as these types of simulations very well matched my research background.
Besides the actual classes and time spent on campus, there was still some time left to enjoy the Bay Area. Together with my friends, I was able to visit various parts of San Francisco, different beaches and even participate in wine tasting tours in the Sonoma Valley. These weekend activities were, however, rather the exception, as the course content was very high. In my six-week stay, I had to read more than five books, write a large number of reports and prepare further materials, e.g. case study presentations. Accordingly, I mostly used my spare time during the week to visit the very well-equipped gym and squash facilities on campus. Generally, all facilities and systems were very well maintained and designed in order to allow the students to use as much of their valuable time for their studies as possible. Particularly the well-integrated IT infrastructure and consequent elimination of paperwork saved me a lot of time; other universities could certainly benefit from similar systems.
In summary, I am extremely thankful that I had the opportunity to join the Berkeley Summer Sessions. Besides the knowledge I gained from my courses, I got to know many good friends from all over the globe and also found the time to reflect about my next career steps. I was also able to further refine my English academic writing skills, even up to the point where writing longer reports almost became a routine. This was of great benefit for writing my Master’s thesis.
I would like to recommend everybody to embrace this opportunity and apply for the Berkeley Summer Sessions, as well as the FUTI Summer Scholarships. UC Berkeley is a great university, which will allow you to further deepen your knowledge in your particular field without making you narrow-minded, thus still allowing you to develop your character.
Again, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the members of Friends of UTokyo, Inc., whose financial support was invaluable for my stay.