A “One Anderson” Approach to Curriculum

A “One Anderson” Approach to Curriculum


Vice Chair Elisa Long makes connecting degree programs a priority

September 28, 2023

  • In her new role as vice chair, Professor Elisa Long will focus on UCLA Anderson’s strategic plan to bring more cutting-edge material and methods into the classroom
  • Among her goals is to connect the school’s degree programs and take a “One Anderson” approach to the curriculum
  • Long says, “We want to stay true to who we are, including the idea that our graduates strive to become transformative leaders”

Elisa Long is a professor of decisions, operations and technology management at UCLA Anderson. Her research interests include public sector analytics — that is, using data to analyze topics ranging from hurricane evacuation behavior to the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes to the FDA drug approval process — often with a goal of helping policymakers allocate limited resources most effectively. Trained as an engineer, she has constructed mathematical models to simulate infectious diseases like HIV and Ebola, as well as chronic conditions such as breast cancer. Most recently, she is working to build “interpretable” machine learning models to predict who is at risk of developing an opioid addiction, a timely question given America’s ongoing opioid crisis. In addition to recently revamping Anderson’s core Data and Decisions course, she is developing a new MBA course, Entertainment and Sports Analytics.

Long was recently appointed to a newly established vice chair position that will focus on UCLA Anderson’s ambitious strategic plan to enhance and update teaching and curriculum. Her main objective will be to continue building a curriculum that includes foundational business courses and brings more cutting-edge material and methods into the classroom. She will also support course scheduling and assess teaching effectiveness.

Q: Why don’t we just start with a description of your new position. What are your role and responsibilities?

We wanted the position to be schoolwide — it doesn’t sit within any of the specific MBA or specialized master’s programs. This role, ideally, can help connect our different degree programs and bring a “One Anderson” approach to our curriculum.

One of my goals is to improve the student experience by offering a more curated curriculum based on a student’s individual interests and career goals. For instance, if I’m a new Anderson student interested in consulting, I want a clear idea of which skills I should be attaining and which classes can help me reach those goals. At the moment, we offer a wide array of great courses but it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Q: How do you plan to approach the position?

I’m hoping to provide more structure and organization to the course selection process for both electives and the core curriculum. Although students are here for two years (or three years in FEMBA), many recruiters start interviewing in fall quarter. So we hope for students to have a clear sense of course offerings, specializations and student/industry groups so that they can make the most of their time on campus.

I also hope to broaden our more traditional means of evaluating teaching effectiveness. Currently, we only capture anonymous student evaluations of teaching on a numeric scale. One implication of this is that faculty tend to be risk-averse: If you try something new in the classroom and it doesn’t work, students can penalize you. This creates a culture that makes it easier to teach the same old stuff.

But if we wish to remain a leading business school that offers cutting-edge curriculum taught by experts in the field, then we need to reward teaching innovations. This includes not just the topics themselves, but also how we can most effectively deliver this content. Our students today interact with social media, technology and artificial intelligence in ways that are different from just a few years ago. As faculty, we need to keep pace with our changing world. To help acknowledge faculty who really embrace these changes, we are developing a new Teaching Innovation Award.

I am personally going to try to visit more classes to hear and see what my colleagues are doing, and how they are delivering content. As an instructor, I’m constantly trying to improve how I teach and I love learning from my colleagues. I’ll probably be spending a lot of time this year popping into classes and seeing what people are doing. Eventually, I hope to create a system to share best practices.

Q: The folks at the John E. Parker Career Management Center are on the front line when it comes to knowing what recruiters expect of our graduates. Did they have any input into what comes next?

Definitely, Parker is very involved, along with Chris Weber (’09), who is now Anderson’s assistant dean of business transformation. He has been really instrumental, because he was director of career advising and education at Parker and he heard first hand the kinds of questions our students are being asked in interviews.

One thing I really admire about Dean Tony Bernardo is that he very clearly articulated that we do not want to just copy what other schools are doing. That’s not going to allow us to differentiate. We want to think about what’s best for Anderson and what’s best for our set of students. Our students go into a much broader range of industries compared to a lot of schools, where something like 80 or 90% go into consulting, banking or related roles. We have real estate, health care, technology, entertainment, venture capital. So it’s a challenge as a school to simultaneously create an inclusive curriculum that meets the needs of a lot of different interests, while also getting to scale.

Q: How will the focus on curriculum impact the core courses?

All of the core courses are essential, and one is not more important than another. There’s an analogy with medical school, where students do rotations based individual body parts. You study the brain, you study the heart, you study the bones. But that’s not how humans function, right? These things are interconnected and they work together.

There’s a parallel system in most business schools, where operations and accounting and finance typically operate in silos. But that’s not how firms operate. Firms are interconnected. We need to be able to understand how these core courses fit together to ensure that our students are best prepared for their future careers.

Q: It all seems very complicated, there are a lot of moving parts.

I’m an operations person, an engineer by training. I mean, I don’t have an MBA. (Laughs) When it comes to teaching and curriculum, there are the loftier goals like, what should we teach? How do we deliver high-quality content? But there are also the more mundane tasks of scheduling, matching students to electives and all of that.

I’m hoping to bring what operations folks bring to the process:  efficiency, optimization. I’m looking at how we might make things run smoother.

Sometimes students feel frustrated when they want to take an elective and it’s not offered in the quarter that it should be, or some class is at capacity and there are no available slots. This new role will also involve working closely with staff members to help improve some of that kind of transactional stuff. As simple as that sounds, it’s also important and it helps keep the trains running on time.

Q: How does UCLA Anderson’s new strategic plan factor in?

So much came out of the strategic planning committee. I think one of the most important things is that we want to stay true to who we are, including the idea that our graduates strive to become transformative leaders.

The committee brought together so many different stakeholders, each with unique perspectives. We considered many aspects of our school, including faculty expertise, student career placements, alumni involvement, recruiter aims and so on. We ultimately realized that we are our own, unique organization, one that values technology and quantitative talents and skills, but one that also values the humanity of those in our community. I think Dean Bernardo exemplifies that. He’s very technically qualified, a highly respected finance professor and excellent teacher. But he also cares about fostering an inclusive environment for students, staff, faculty and alumni.

At most business schools, there is a bifurcation between the poets and the quants. It creates a dichotomy that requires you to be one or the other. At Anderson, we’re trying to say, “You can do both. You can excel at both.”