Since the merger with Arizona State University became final on December 31, 2014, Thunderbird School of Global Management has been an institution in transition, buoyed by a global reputation for excellence while transforming itself into an institution prepared to meet the challenges of a changing marketplace. While embracing its principles of seven decades, Thunderbird has prepared for a new and exciting future. Today, the School is looking ahead with greater ambitions than ever before. For 70 years, Thunderbird has been a school that innovates, reinvents and responds to the demands of the marketplace – that includes businesses, governments and non-profit organizations searching for talent, but it also means the students we serve. Students today require much more than a traditional classroom lecture format. The School recognizes this and continues innovating to meet these new learning paradigms. Thunderbird is doing this not only in its degree programs, but also in the way it approaches executive education and partnerships with multinational corporations and governments around the world. While some of these advances may not yet be visible in what you see from the outside, Thunderbird is on the move.


In June of this year, the Economist ran a story with the headline, “MBAs no longer prized by employers.” The same story ended with this sentence: “Perhaps, in a world where it seems practically everyone holds an MBA, being the lone person without one may make you stand out.” For Thunderbird graduates who earned an MBA over the past two decades, there is no doubt that it was a career enhancing investment. As we look to the future, however, it makes sense for Thunderbird to be forward thinking about market forces on the horizon.

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TEM Lab (MBA 2015) consultants (from left) Dallin Kauffman, Michael Allen, Tom Yu, and Fiona Teerlink (2nd from right) with their Romanian clients

So, the School has embraced a strategic perspective that evokes its past. The Master of Global Management (MGM) is a specialized degree that provides fundamental business and crosscultural education for those who want a career in business, as well as those who want business skills for a path that may be in government, nonprofit organizations or NGOs. It blends core business skills with what many now refer to as soft skills, such as a global mindset, cross-cultural communication skills, career attributes and emotional intelligence, that give students the tools they need to succeed in a global environment. The MGM favors workplace experience for admission to the program. The Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management (MAGAM) is a sister degree, offered to students who come straight from a four-year undergraduate degree (although it also attracts early-career professionals with a few years under their belts). Designed for the student who is more interested in a service career than a corporate career, the MAGAM delivers specialized cross training in international affairs and all facets of global management. Students graduate with the tools and insight to effectively change lives, communities and circumstances for the better. Undoubtedly, the most easily identifiable innovation is that Thunderbird has moved back into the undergraduate degree space. In partnership with Arizona State University, Thunderbird now offers both the Bachelor of Global Management (BGM) and the Bachelor of Science in International Trade (BSIT). While very new, both programs are growing and show the potential to grow even more. And more than that, both programs attract the same student that has always been drawn to Thunderbird’s degrees: well-traveled, globally minded explorers who see no borders. As a part of our efforts to meet the demands of today’s student, Thunderbird is also expanding its online presence, which broaden access to the unique educational opportunities at the School. One initiative we are pursuing is online coursework designed specifically for emerging markets – an underserved and growing market with a hunger for higher education. As the School expands its focus on online education, Thunderbird’s online programs will always offer and encourage a hybrid option that provides on-campus and immersive experiences in addition to the distance-learning ones. Our commitment is to respond to what the marketplace demands, while still offering what we know to be important building blocks in a Thunderbird education.


Real-world experiences outside the classroom have always been a major part of what Thunderbird has to offer and are critical to creating the Thunderbird Mystique. And our offerings in this area are poised to get bigger and better. The opportunities for our students to learn and to bond are maximized when they engage outside the classroom—and we continue to build that into everything we offer. The Winterims and Summerims that T-birds remember exist today in different forms and Thunderbird has plans to expand those opportunities. The School will offer immersive field experiences for every degree program, as well as certain executive education offerings and—in the near future—alumni-focused programs. Today, the Thunderbird Emerging Markets Laboratory (TEM Lab) and the Executive TEM Lab are provided for our MGM students. The TEM Lab is a five-unit client-facing, project-based capstone course that involves a five-week immersion in either an emerging market or an economically unsettled country around the world (including the U.S., which is an international experience for our international students!). TEM Labs allow diverse T-bird teams to fully integrate every aspect of their coursework into real-world projects with real-world consequences. 

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 TEM Lab (MBA 2016) consultants (from left) Emma Livingston, Isha Rao, and Drew Himmelreich working for USAID in Kathmandu, Nepal 

MAGAM students can now participate in their own iteration of the TEM Lab, called the Global Consulting Laboratory (GCL). Structured similarly to a TEM Lab, the GCL often includes a faculty member on the ground with students and is a three-unit client-facing, project-based applied learning immersion experience . 

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Global Consulting Lab (MAGAM 2017) consultants Tomas Thomas, Alex Marino, Stefani Chaney, Ana Zajas, working for Johnson and Johnson in Lima, Peru

Don’t confuse GCL or TEM Labs with field trips. They are not. These programs are curriculum-based, and apply course processes that involve either extensive use of simulations or team-based, client-facing, project-driven engagements. Simulations require participants to use either discipline-specific course content (e.g., finance) or complex trans-disciplinary content. While program names will change, locations will change, and most certainly, students will change, Thunderbird’s commitment to immersive field experiences and applied learning will never change.


 Executive education, and the lifelong learning and professional development it provides, is an extremely important component of Thunderbird’s future. Our work in this area has been behind the scenes, in many regards, and to some extent always will be. The most lucrative and sometimes most interesting parts of the School’s executive education initiatives occur with our corporate partners and their employees. The custom program side of Thunderbird’s executive education business is built on quality, competence and relationships.


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Thunderbird has rebuilt its global sales staff and now has Key Account Directors and Client Relationship Directors across the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In addition to working with government and corporate partners, Thunderbird is developing initiatives to partner on joint programs with universities in key markets.. These are long-term efforts that require a truly globalized school. Thunderbird’s open programs for individuals have been re-evaluated and revamped. The biggest change is in the way we offer these programs to potential participants. In the past, Thunderbird simply presented an a la carte menu of programs. Pick the one you like, take the program, and, if you like it, come back. Under the executive education leadership of Dawn Feldman, our team has developed a new approach. While Thunderbird continues to offer online courses and programs that can be taken individually, like the popular Advanced Management Program for Oil & Gas Industry Executives, other programs have been rede - signed as Journeys. These new programs recognize that professional careers are not always linear but are, in fact, journeys. Journeys may include multiple steps, stops and detours along the road to a destination. In the same way, our Executive Education Journeys are designed as comprehensive programs that may be taken as stand-alone pro - grams or in succession to deliver an in-depth, full-circle learning experience in a particular global management focus area. The first two Journeys launched are the Global Marketing & Growth Strategy Journey and the Transformational Global Leadership Journey, with Crisis Management and Latin American Business Journeys in development. While the program format of the Journeys is innovative in itself, a key distinction of these programs is that each includes its own immersive experience that takes executive education participants out of the classroom and puts them in an environment that adds a field experience ranging from the intellectual (a day at Mt. Ver - non focused on leadership values) to the physical (a rope-climbing, team-building experience that teaches the value of trust and cooperation). No matter which part of Thunderbird Executive Education you look at, we are on the move. 


Being global means always moving forward. Thunderbird can only live up to its global reputation and continue to grow the institution’s global footprint if its base of operation expands well beyond metropolitan Phoenix. The Thunderbird School of Global Management of the future needs, itself, to be more global. To that end, Thunderbird has reinvested in, and recommitted to, its efforts in Geneva and Moscow. Orphaned during the turbulent times of the early 2010s, these two offices are being brought back into the fold and will anchor important axes of the Thunderbird global footprint. In addition, we envision hubs around the world – not classrooms, not campuses, but strategically selected geographic locations, with offices, that serve executive development, student recruitment, student job placement, and the facilitation of programs like TEM Labs or executive education. The hubs will also serve as locations for alumni engagement and regional bases for communications and marketing. This year, we expanded our presence to Washington, D.C., with the help of ASU. In addition, we opened an office in Dubai to better advance Thunderbird’s opportunities across the Middle East. In the future, we envision Thunderbird hubs in Asia Pacific, India, and a yet-to-be determined location that addresses South American markets. Thunderbird needs more than a label and field experiences to be truly global; it needs an expanded footprint. The School intends to move prudently, yet steadily, in that direction.


Another important step in preparing Thunderbird for the future is investing in our infrastructure. The School website was redeveloped and redesigned this year and launched in September. This was much more than a cosmetic adjustment; it was an investment in modernizing an important tool for reaching and serving our global audience, in all of its forms. In addition, Thunderbird has invested in new Information Technology and is in the process of determining its capital needs for the Glendale campus, long left unattended. It is everyone’s desire – alumni, students, staff, administration and ASU – to keep the Glendale campus and improve it as enrollment and executive education revenues return to health and new vibrancy. The Thunderbird faculty, which also suffered losses prior to the merger, added five new members this fall and continues to grow. Finally, the School has rebuilt is executive management team over the past year and added new members to its recruitment and career management services teams. Many of these roles were left empty before and immediately after the merger with ASU.


Perhaps the most important part of the entire equation is the type of student Thunderbird attracts. Is what the School offers still relevant? Does it still attract the best and the brightest and do they go on to be successful in their careers and valuable members of the alumni network? The answer is yes, and we know that Thunderbird alumni would be proud of the caliber and passion of the students who continue to join the T-bird ranks. This year, new students from 42 different countries came to Thunderbird. They have the same enthusiasm, energy and intellectual curiosity as students have for decades. And while the students of today – the young people of this decade – may not look like, or learn in the same way as, our students from earlier decades, their global mindset and their embrace of what is unique and different about Thunderbird is just the same. Our current cohort of T-birds has the desire to conduct business in a global context, the intention to use their Thunderbird education to make the world a better place, and embodies a sense of adventure, openness and enthusiasm matched by T-birds from every decade. You can be confident, as we are, that what is happening today at Thunderbird ensures that this will continue to be true for students in 2020, 2030 and beyond.