Presidio Graduate School takes an innovative approach to graduate level management education, integrating sustainability into all aspects of the educational program, including:
- Three degree programs (MBA and MPA in Sustainable Management, and Dual MBA/MPA)
- Executive Certificate program
Each of these program elements inspire visionary leaders to bridge the gap between commerce and the public good.
Presidio pioneered the field of sustainable management education in 2003 when it launched an MBA program with just 22 students, a handful of faculty and an educational philosophy grounded in pragmatic concepts that integrate systems thinking and sustainability into all of its programs.
Over time, even as “green MBA” programs have started to dot the landscape, Presidio has continued to lead the field in recognizing that true sustainability – the ability of a business, community, indeed capitalism itself to thrive in the long term – requires an understanding of the interdependent systems of our world. A traditional MBA curriculum that has an environmental affairs elective tacked on is simply not sufficient to develop the leaders we need to transform business and public policy and create a more just, prosperous and sustainable world.
In its first decade, Presidio launched:
- an Executive Certificate program in order to reach professionals already in senior management positions who are looking to move their organizations in more sustainable directions.
- the first Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Sustainable Management degree. In the MPA, as with the MBA, Presidio redefines and enlarges the frame of management education for the public and civic sectors.
- a Dual Degree (MBA/MPA) program that highlights the critical nexus of public and private sectors and sets the stage for new thinking about bridging traditional divisions.
Beyond the curricular innovations in management education seen in these programs, Presidio also innovates in course delivery, with a hybrid program that capitalizes on the impact of face-to-face teaching and learning, and the broad reach of online delivery.
At present, Presidio fields an accomplished team of over 45 faculty and staff, an outstanding board of directors, 250 current students, over 500 alumni at the forefront of the sustainability field, hundreds of partners in business, government and civil society, and a global reputation.
In the 1970s, visionary leader Dr. Richard Gray founded World College West, a small school devoted to bringing a new paradigm to liberal arts education focused on experiential education with a global outlook. After retiring for World College West in 1988, Gray went on to found Presidio World College in 1993, based on the same philosophy. This school initially focused on seminars for those in their 50’s and above, but Gray recognized that market research consistently showed a growing demand for a master’s degree for men and women in their 30’s.
Dr. Gray also saw a new group of entrepreneurs entering public awareness – social entrepreneurs founding social enterprises – and recognized that these entrepreneurs could benefit from many of the same tools and analytical frameworks that made traditional capitalist entrepreneurs so successful.
At the same time, concerns about climate change were escalating around the world, and the dot.com boom was transforming notions of business and entrepreneurship. These two areas of thought were especially powerful in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area. The dot.com bust in 2000-01 brought questions to the fore about how to manage businesses for long term resilience and sustainability.
In 2003, in collaboration with Alliant International University, the Presidio School of Management opened its doors. The Presidio MBA in Sustainable Mangement program focused from the beginning on systems thinking, stakeholder engagement, and the integrated triple bottom line: People, Planet, and Profits. Experiential, or project-based learning, became the central element to this program, and subsequently in all Presidio programs. A “live case study” approach meant that every student worked on multiple real-world projects with external partners. This kept, and continues to keep Presidio programs intrinsically tied to the needs and challenges of actual business leaders. (http://presidiograduateschool.org/programs/mba-sustainable-management)
As pressure grew on business executives to respond to citizens’ and stakeholders’ increasing demands for transparency, reduced costs and energy usage, and preparation for the risks to business associated with climate change, the demand for a non-degree Executive program also grew. Presidio developed an Executive Certificate program. (http://presidiograduateschool.org/programs/executive-education)
Recognizing the critical role of government, which sets the rules by which businesses abide and the context within which capitalism will thrive or falter, Presidio also launched an MPA (Master of Public Administration) degree program. The first cohort of MPAs graduated in May 2011. (http://presidiograduateschool.org/programs/mpa-sustainable-management)
With MBA, MPA, and Executive Certificate programs in place, all built around concepts of sustainability and systems thinking, and grounded in reality through applied experiential learning and research projects, the school began to explore the places in between and to build bridges. Through our integrated curriculum and shared conceptual foundations, Presidio builds bridges between the public and private sectors; between for-profit and for-public benefit organizations; between theory and practice; between global and local; between the present and and the future. Interest in Presidio’s new MBA/MPA Dual Degree program is burgeoning, indicating a demand for leaders who can navigate the spaces in between and take us to a more sustainable future. (http://presidiograduateschool.org/programs/dual-mba-/-mpa)
Like most higher education institutions, Presidio is commited to student learning and leadership and excellence in teaching. What makes our program unique and highly relevant to our world’s future is our focus on sustainability. The important innovation of Presidio’s graduate level management education is the integration of sustainability into all aspects of our programs. At the time of our founding in 2003, this vision, and its reflection in our original curriculum was revolutionary and unique.
Since then, we’ve worked continual innovation into the curriculum and program. The evolving iterations reflect changes in society, business, public policy, and technology.
- 1973: World College West founded
- 1993: Presidio World College founded
- 2003: Presdio School of Management founded
- 2005: first Presidio MBA in Sustainable Management degrees awarded
- 2008: Executive Certificate launched
- 2009: MPA in Sustainable Management degree launched
- 2010: Dual MBA/MPA degree launched
- 2011: Strategic Planning egages wide range of stakeholders in designing Presidio's ongoing work leading the transformation of management education for a sustainable future
- 2012: short intensive courses offered, in response to demand from the field
As each new program was added (Executive Certificate, MPA, and MBA/MPA Dual Degree) new courses, assignments, and external partners were brought on board. New courses on Clean Technology, International Entrepreneurship, and Market Failures intentionally brought students and faculty together across programs, and across sectors, continuing Presidio’s bridge-building innovations. Major policy developments, like California’s ground-breaking AB32, have been integrated rapidly into multiple courses, as implications for business, government agencies, and citizens become clear. Feedback from our partners has led to a new suite of intensive short courses, offering just-in-time training in critical areas like Life Cycle Analysis.
Developing and preserving this level of agility has been and continues to be a priority for Presidio; it is, however, a strain on a small organization and small faculty and staff, necessitating a number of management practices to support the ongoing innovation. Systems are built into regular Faculty Meetings to facilitate sharing, coordinating, integrating and updating courses. Onboarding and mentoring processes bring new adjunct faculty up to speed and fully integrated into the community quickly. Expert in Residence, Mentor in Residence, and Visiting Practitioner programs bring new perspectives and resources to students. A new Strategic Plan helps faculty and staff prioritize the large number of important projects that are always underway. While these are not innovative management practices in and of themselves, they effectively support the school and its people, the innovators.
As a result of the constant innovation in the educational programs, Presidio must constantly be innovating as an organization; the people who choose to work, teach, and study at Presidio are passionate, skilled, and flexible enough to thrive in such an organization.
Founding any new graduate school would present many implementation challenges, but founding a school that called on business students and leaders to think beyond profits and market share, to consider long term consequences on people and the planet, presented even more challenges.
Dr. Gray had to find faculty, administrators, and external partners who were willing to go beyond the constraints of a traditional business school curriculum and venture into new, interdisciplinary work in a field not-yet defined. Presidio had to find students willing to by-pass bigger name business and graduate schools and take a chance on a more meaningful program. We believe we have met this challenge fully, as evidenced by the Nobel Prize winners, professional scientists, and successful serial entrepreneurs who chose to join the Presidio student body.
Presidio faces the ongoing implementation challenge of staying relevant and timely, addressing immediate and pressing concerns in the economy while teaching for long-term sustainability. Continual consultation with external stakeholders helps us address this challenge. Employers that hire our gradates, professionals who serve as adjunct faculty, Experiential Learning partners, and students themselves keep Presidio at the cutting edge of graduate-level management education.
These challenges were and are still met through careful selection of people. Presidio values audacity, humility, and compassion, and the school cultivates critical thinking and rigorous questioning within a culture that embraces both collaboration and diversity of thought and experience. The people who thrive at Presidio are the ones willing to question their own beliefs about business and capitalism, government and society, management and leadership, and the present and the future.
Presidio’s mission is to educate and inspire a new generation of skilled, visionary and enterprising leaders to transform business and public policy and create a more just, prosperous and sustainable world. We judge our success by the work of our students and our graduates, who are bringing benefit to the world at large.
We are confident in the work of our students, as they consistently garner comments from their external partners like these from REI:
“The team delivered an excellent, nuanced and well-thought out report and added significant analytical muscle to the project. In a short timeframe, they absorbed our current processes and built a data-driven framework for analyzing our project. The work they developed will be directly useful in moving certain sustainability initiatives ahead. In addition, the students were savvy, critical thinkers who were a pleasure to work with.”
And we are proud of our graduates, who include:
- The founder of People Powered Savings, which harnesses the power of online communities and group savings to mobilize capital for the financially underserved.
- The founder of Mission Motors, manufacturer of the world's fastest production electric motorcycles, dedicated to producing radically sustainable transportation that is on the cutting edge of technological innovation.
- The founders of EOS Climate. the market leader in delivering verified emission reductions from destruction of ozone depleting substances, which won the 2011 Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), California's highest and most prestigious environmental honor.
Other graduates have gone on to found web-based resource companies, like TriplePundit.com; manage programs at major investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric; advise mayors and public leaders in cities like Berkeley, CA and Austin, TX; and strategize for leading companies like Saatchi & Saatchi S.
While we cannot measure with any specificity the benefits associated with the work of Presidio’s graduates, we note with pride the growing influence and significance of the innovative, long term perspective supported in our MBA, MPA, and Executive Certificate management education programs.
The most important lesson another educational institution could learn from Presidio’s experience is that creating a new management education program focused on long term sustainability requires deep rethinking and rebuilding of every part of the curriculum. Genuine rethinking of capitalism, markets, and government cannot happen in isolation, in an elective tacked on to a traditional curriculum. Fundamental concepts such as systems thinking and sustainability must be infused throughtout.
Transforming management education is not a journey for the faint of heart. Academics must be willing to question core principles of their disciplines; practitioners must be willing to transform or even abandon programs and practices that got them ahead professionally; students must be willing to be forge ahead into new territory, on unmarked paths, and become leaders in an unknown future.
While many people have contributed significantly to Presidio and its integrated curriculum, founder Richard Gray and early Board member Steven Swig must be called out. Both men still serve on Presidio’s Board of Directors. Additionally, President and CEO William Shutkin is moving Presidio forward to a position of global leadership.
Presidio Graduate School’s website, www.presidioedu.org, provides extensive information on the curriculum, the degree and non-degree programs, our alumni and students in the news.
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