In this episode of Admissions Straight Talk, host Linda Abraham interviews Dean Robert Salomon, the inaugural Dean of Stern at NYU Abu Dhabi. They discuss NYU Stern’s groundbreaking one-year MBA program in Abu Dhabi. The program is open to applicants from around the world, but it is particularly aimed at those interested in building a career in the Middle East. The program will offer the same core courses as NYU Stern’s MBA program in New York, and students will have the opportunity to study in both Abu Dhabi and New York City. The program also includes an experiential component, with students working on live projects for local companies. Dean Salomon emphasizes the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Abu Dhabi and the opportunities for students to engage with start-ups and gain hands-on experience. He also discusses the importance of diversity in the student body and the availability of merit-based scholarships. The episode concludes with Dean Salomon discussing the reasons behind choosing Abu Dhabi as the location for the program and the opportunities it offers for students to be part of the region’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.
Are you interested in doing business in the Middle East but want an MBA from a top US business school? And would you prefer a one-year program? Today’s episode is all about NYU Stern’s groundbreaking one-year MBA program in the UAE’s Abu Dhabi.
Welcome to the 548th episode of Admissions Straight Talk, Accepted’s podcast.
Sometimes I’m asked, is the MBA worth it? And my answer is, it depends on your individual circumstances, but I’ve got good news. We’ve developed a tool, the MBA ROI calculator that will help you evaluate whether an MBA is worth it for you and your individual circumstances and by how much. And using the tool won’t set you back even one cent. Use of the tool is free.
It gives me great pleasure to have for the first time on Admissions Straight Talk, Dean Robert Salomon. Dean Salomon earned his bachelor’s from Michigan Ross and then moved to NYU Stern, which has been his home almost ever since. He earned his master’s in PhD in strategy and international business there and has been a professor of management at Stern since 2005. Dean Salomon will lead the NYU program in Abu Dhabi and will actually be the inaugural Dean of Stern at NYU Abu Dhabi.
Dean Salomon, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk. [1:49]
Thanks for having me.
I’m so glad you can join me. As we were talking about before, it’s morning for me, night for you. It’s amazing that we can… I think you’re 12 hours ahead of me, right? [1:53]
11 this time of year. Once you change your clocks, I think it’ll be 12.
So we’re literally on other sides of the world and yet we can still have this delightful conversation. Let’s start with an overview of NYU’s Abu Dhabi MBA program. Can you please provide us with one? [2:07]
Sure. So we are opening here a full-time MBA program. It’s going to be a 12-month, accelerated MBA program that will run from January through December, and the first class will start in January of 2025.
So you’re really just getting going. You’re not going to have a class this year, you’re just getting going for the following year, really? [2:36]
We’ll start a year from January, although the website is now live, the application is available, it can be downloaded, people can start it, and we are accepting applications now. The first deadline comes up January 15th, but people can start applying now.
It takes a while to put together a good application, so that makes a lot of sense. [3:00]
Is this program for people in the Middle East who want a US MBA or is it for people anywhere in the world who want to focus on business in the Middle East? What’s the goal of the program? [3:06]
So the program is for anybody in the world, and what we would like however, is that people who are interested in the region, people who are interested in the potential of building a career in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, places like Dubai or the broader region. So we’re happy to consider applications from anybody anywhere, but we are hopefully going to be preparing people for careers in the region. Now that said, what people get in the classroom here isn’t going to be very different from what they get in the classroom in New York or in MBA programs elsewhere. They’re going to be prepared to be business leaders and business managers, so they’re going to get the same kinds of core courses that they get in New York. We are bringing the same robust MBA program that we offer in New York here to Abu Dhabi, and we hope that this program will be appealing to people the world over, not just in the region, but also beyond.
Will the professors be traveling from New York City to Abu Dhabi or will there be online courses? Part of the robustness of the NYU program is the faculty. [4:15]
Yeah, and this will be an in-person program, so at the moment we don’t have any plans for online content. And just as we have a top-notch faculty, world-class faculty in New York, we will be building a faculty here in Abu Dhabi as well. So we will be hiring to the standards that we have in New York, the kind of faculty that we have in New York. Now saying that, there is from time to time, every once in a while faculty might come over here and there to teach a specific course if they have a specific expertise and they will offer that course here in Abu Dhabi. In addition to that, we also have a module of the entire program. One module or about two and a half months of the program will take place in New York City. So students will be in New York during the summer months. I think it’s from the end of May to mid-August, they’ll be taking classes in New York and they will be taught by our faculty, our renowned faculty in New York City.
We’ll get to that part of the program in a minute too. Will the program focus at all on the business of energy since it’s going to be located in the Middle East and specifically in the Persian Gulf? [5:27]
That won’t be a specific focus of this program. We will have several specializations in this program. So the specializations we intend to offer at the beginning include finance, leadership and strategy, technology innovation and entrepreneurship, marketing, and potentially we’re also considering sustainability. So if anything, yeah, I mean, there might be sort of a slight energy focus, but on the next wave of energy is sort of how do we transition into the next energy regime away from fossil fuels, away from petroleum-based energy.
Thank you for that answer. It kind of fits with what I understand the Persian Gulf is trying to do, whether it’s Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi or any of them, the UAE, they’re all trying to prepare for a non-fossil fuel based world. [6:15]
Yeah, they’re preparing for future without oil, without fossil fuels, and they are diversifying their economy now in order so that once that day arrives when the last barrel of oil rolls off the assembly line or however we want to describe that analogy, that they have other industries that are here and vibrant that can sustain the economy.
I noticed that you mentioned just a minute ago that there’s going to be roughly three months or two modules of the program in New York City. Can I ask why? [6:54]
Well, we are-
What’s the purpose of it? [7:06]
We are an NYU program. We are NYU Stern as well, and one of the reasons that we want to bring students to New York City is so that they get to know and make connections to the home university. So that’s part of it. So they get to know New York, they get to know NYU, they get to know NYU Stern. The other piece of this is that this is a global degree program. This is a program that is preparing students to participate in the global economy, and what better way than to have them learn about the global economy than to be not just in one singular place, but to also have a global experience?
And for those in this program, that means not just being in Abu Dhabi, but also going somewhere else. And we just so happen to have a campus in New York with an outstanding faculty, a world-class faculty there. So why not bring the students there? And that’s part of, if you look at many of our other programs at NYU Stern, they also have global components, and those global components are meant to prepare people for the realities, the business realities of the world that they live in.
Also, New York City is one of the capitals of business in the world. [8:13]
It may no longer be the capital, but it is certainly one of the capitals of business in the world. [8:19]
It’s funny, we’re fond of saying that NYU is in and of the city, in and of New York, and when I think about Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi is increasingly becoming a world capital as well. I mean, it is a world capital, but it’s increasingly becoming more and more connected to other world capitals with each passing day. And so now sort of with this program, we’re not only in and of New York and in and of the city, but we’re also now in and of Abu Dhabi and in and of the city because Abu Dhabi itself is a vibrant global city.
On one hand, NYU Abu Dhabi has the benefit of a one-year structure, which means lower opportunity cost, less time out of the workforce and the working world. On the other hand, applicants sometimes worry that a one-year program will limit the educational and networking opportunities or benefits of the MBA. Could it also hamper the possibility of getting an internship and possibly a career change? Could you address those concerns? [8:52]
Yeah, and there’s a lot in there in that question to unpack.
There is, I realize. [9:24]
Let me try and address a few of those issues and then I’ll come back. Keep me honest. If I don’t touch on some of the issues, questions that you ask, just remind me and I’ll come back to it.
So with respect to the one-year program, I mean, certainly it’s shorter than the standard traditional two-year program, and we often hear from our students, or at least people who are thinking about applying that two years now is a long time to be out of the workforce. So it’s not just, well, a one-year program costs less in actual terms. From a monetary standpoint, it’s less expensive than a two-year program. But also from an opportunity cost standpoint, it’s also you’re not out of the workforce for two years where you could be earning money. You’re only out of the workforce for one. Now, does that mean that they’ll have a lesser or a less than experience? I don’t think so, and we have experience with this format also in New York.
What we find is in our various one-year programs, because of the intensity of the program, that intensity creates connection. It creates networks, it creates opportunities for students to become closer and tighter knit with each other because they actually spend more time with each other, they spend more time with each other in a compressed period of time. So they do develop those relationships.
You asked about internships, and this program does not have a traditional internship in the two-year MBA sense where people go away in May when the program is finished after their first year, they work for the summer and then they come back in September. But it does have an internship that’s built into the program. It has a novel internship, it’s an experiential internship. It’s actually part of the curriculum. So students will be doing internships as they go through the program during that one-year. So they will be working on live projects for corporations operating in the area to perform those projects as they go through the program. And this provides several benefits. For the companies that sponsor the projects, and we’re already working with several companies that have agreed to sponsor those projects, but for the companies that are sponsoring those projects, they get to evaluate and see the talent that is in our MBA class.
And for the people who are in our MBA class, the students, they get to evaluate those companies and assess, is this the kind of company that I would want to work for? And in some sense, they get two opportunities to do that because they’ll have one of these variational learning courses from January to May in Abu Dhabi, and they’ll have another one, a second opportunity, so almost like a second internship from September to December. So we’ve designed the curriculum in a way so that they almost get two internship-like opportunities. And they could do a consulting-based internship, say in the January to May period, and they might decide, I didn’t really like the consulting one so much. Maybe next time I’ll try the finance one, or I’ll try one with a consumer packaged goods company, or I’ll try one with a government agency that’s aligned with the kind of work that I want to do after I graduate. So there will be different kinds of internship opportunities than what exists in the traditional MBA program.
I think you’ve addressed two of the three possible side effects, but the one part that I think you didn’t address fully was the career change aspect. A lot of one-year programs are quite clear, they say, don’t come to us if you want to change careers. [12:45]
We have no explicit policy in that respect. I’m sure there will be people who come to the program who are sponsored by their companies who say, “Hey, you can take a year off and then come back when you’re done and come back and plug right back into where you were, but now you have an MBA.” But there are those who will come to our program and will come and be a full-time MBA student. They will not be working for any company. They will not be sponsored by any company, and they might want a career change, and that’s perfectly okay too. They come in, they do the one-year MBA, and then they switch to a career that aligns more with their interests. We’re not making any warrants or representations about what students should or shouldn’t be doing before they come into the program and after they leave.
Will there be career support at NYUAD? [13:46]
There’ll be much parallel to what’s offered at NYU in New York? [13:51]
Yeah, very high touch career services offering that we have here that will guide students through the job search process.
You’ve touched on, and this NYUAD site emphasizes experiential components of the NYUAD program. Can you go into it a little bit more? Is it going to be cases, is it going to be consulting projects, startups, and running a business or a fund? How do you see that part of the program playing out? [14:02]
So there are two principal components of the experiential piece. The first one I talked about a little bit before when I talked about those experiential internships that the students will be doing. So they will be attached to a particular project for a local company that is a live project that the companies want them to complete. So that is very hands-on. They’re going to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it outside the classroom on these projects with these companies. So that’s one element of the experiential component.
The other piece is when we are in New York City, there will be a course that is called Doing Business In or Doing Business in New York City that will engage local companies in New York City. Students will go on onsite visits to go visit local companies in New York. They will hear from managers at companies in New York that will come to their classroom to speak with them and engage them. And we will have cultural elements for them to engage with as well, because part of learning is not just about what happens inside the classroom, it’s about part of your experiences outside the classroom too. And we have a healthy, robust cultural program for the students as well.
And that actually leads to a question I meant to ask earlier and that is, are there any language requirements for NYUAD? Is Arabic something that’s encouraged or required? [15:32]
No. Look, I think languages are encouraged, all languages are encouraged. I think if you have the opportunity to learn another language, the answer should always be yes. I mean, that’s an amazing gift and an amazing thing to be able to speak multiple languages, but there is no requirement at Stern, at NYU Abu Dhabi for people to speak anything other than English and English is spoken widely here in the UAE. Just about everybody speaks English, all the signs are in English, and the classes will be in English as well.
I noticed that NYUAD, like NYU Stern in New York City, NYU Stern in Abu Dhabi accepts many tests and also offers a test waiver option. Who should seek a test waiver and who shouldn’t seek a test waiver in your opinion? I mean, you’re going to be processing applications very soon. [16:11]
Yeah, I mean, I personally won’t be processing applications and I have to-
I didn’t mean you personally. I meant the- [16:36]
I know what you meant, but I wanted to preface it this way because when it comes to sort of admissions, I’m not an expert. I come from the program side. So I’ve been a scholar, I’m a professor, I’m a researcher, that’s my background, and I’ve come from running programs. I’ve been running different kinds of MBA programs for Stern and master’s programs and executive programs for Stern for quite a while. So I’m really familiar with the programmatic side. I’m less knowledgeable when it comes to admissions kinds of things, but let me just try and answer the question as best I can with the caveat that I may not… I mean, generally I think the answer I’m going to give you is accurate, but I want to just caveat it with that I might be making some mistakes on the margins. So when it comes to test waivers, the kinds of folks who should be seeking test waivers, I would say are those who feel like they are well-equipped in the areas that are associated with an MBA degree, and what areas are those?
I would say if you have a STEM degree, if you already have a degree in engineering where you can demonstrate and you did very, very well in school in your engineering program, and you can demonstrate that you performed very well, especially in your math classes, that would be the kind of individual who might want to request a test waiver. If you went to an undergraduate business program and you’ve already demonstrated through your completion of that program that you can handle the rigors of an MBA program because you already have the qualifications and you did very, very well in your undergraduate business program, those are the kinds of folks that should or could potentially be requesting a test waiver or might be granted a test waiver. So basically, if you have a STEM-y background and your degree is from a widely respected accredited university, and you’ve performed very, very well in the classroom, especially in your math-based classes, those are the kinds of folks who typically qualify for test waivers.
You did a great job. [18:37]
Thanks. I might be slightly off a little bit, but that’s the general idea.
I think you’re right on. Obviously as a professor, you want people in class who can perform, and I think it’s the job of the admissions office to provide you with people who can perform. [18:43]
And one of the things I want to be clear about too, and this made me think about it, the question that you asked, is that not only are we building a world-class faculty here at Stern at NYUAD, and we have the benefits of tapping into the NYU Stern faculty in New York, but we also will be building a class that meets typical NYU Stern standards. So on the student side, our goal is to maintain the highest quality student body that is on par with the student body that we have at NYU Stern in New York.
How many people do you anticipate enrolling in the first class? [19:24]
The first class will be probably around 50 students.
And then do you want to grow it from there if possible? [19:31]
Yeah, depending on the reception, and we’re hoping for a solid reception, I don’t see why we couldn’t grow it. And in an ideal world, about 100 to 120 students per year, but it’ll probably take us a few years to build to that. [19:34]
You also mentioned a little bit earlier the entrepreneurial aspect of the program. Can you touch on that? I mean, the Persian Gulf is maybe incorrectly, but it’s not known for being an entrepreneurial hotbed. San Francisco is, Boston is, New York City is, Abu Dhabi is I think more known for financial and obviously the energy industry, but is there really an entrepreneurial ecosystem there? [19:52]
Believe it or not, this is becoming more and more of an entrepreneurial center.
That’s why I want to ask the question. [20:25]
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was a book written a few years ago called Startup Rising that talks about the ecosystem that is developing in this region and the kinds of companies that are coming out of that ecosystem. And so yes, there is a bit of it. There is still a need to grow it more. So it’s still early days, I would say, and we are hoping to be a part of that ecosystem. And the question is how? I guess what we hope to do there is an entrepreneurship center here at NYU Abu Dhabi. It’s called startAD, and we are hoping that our students will be able to tap into the resources offered by startAD.
And startAD, you could think about it as sort of like a kind of accelerator-ish program, but our long-term goal, what we’re hoping to do is in New York, at NYU Stern in New York, we have a program called the Endless Frontier Labs, and the Endless Frontier Labs, insofar as I’m concerned, is a best in class accelerator program that brings about 75 ventures into the lab every single year. And each one of those companies gets paired with a student group that provides consulting services to that venture, a VC mentor who’s attached to that program, and a subject matter expert, typically a faculty member who knows about the area that the venture or the science behind the venture itself. And so all of those create this fantastic ecosystem. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to replicate that here, but in the meantime, we have startAD, which is an accelerator located right here on campus.
What advice would you give to someone, again, you have a background as a professor, you have obviously program design and you’re now a dean. What advice would you give to someone aiming to send an application for the January, 2025 inaugural class? The first deadline, as you mentioned, is January 15th, and there are three more on March 11th, June 10th, and August 12th. I mean, maybe I should ask the question differently, who would you like to see in your classes that you might… Are you going to be teaching any classes or are you going to be strictly an administrative position? [22:09]
For now, I’m going to be an administrator. I’m hoping to get back into the classroom sometime soon, because I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, but even if I’m not teaching, the students will probably get sick of me after a while because I’ll be around and I’ll be around to bother them. So that’s-
Who would you like to be able to bother? [22:59]
The best and the brightest, that’s who I’d like to be able to bother and from all over the world. We really do want a mix of students from different nationalities from different places in the world. Now, I think you asked about recommendations for those who are applying, and the one thing that I would say is that we do have merit-based scholarships available, and so the one piece of advice that I would offer is, I would encourage people to apply early, because the earlier people apply, the more likely it is that they-
No money is available. [23:34]
The bigger pool we have available, once we start granting those merit-based scholarships, the pool gets a little bit smaller. So the earlier you apply at some level, the better.
This is a question I’m asking everybody. Are you at all concerned about the use or possible abuse of ChatGPT among applicants or students in your classes? [23:44]
The short answer is yes and no. As a teacher, it bothers me a little bit that students might rely on ChatGPT and not hand in their own original work, that they use it as a crutch. Especially those who sort of use it when they’re short for time; they’re being a little lazy. They were like, oh, well, I’ll just have this program do it. So that bothers me a little bit. But I think now the onus, again, as an educator, the onus then is on us to create assignments that maybe leverage the benefits of ChatGPT and bring it as a tool to help enhance learning. So we’re all still trying to figure it out together. In the meantime though, we can’t have students just using it to copy and paste to their assignments, and we have a policy against that.
On the applicant side, we do have a policy. One of the things that we ask our students is to verify that they have not received any outside support in preparing their essays and their application. And that students who are found to have gamed the system and to have used outside support, we can revoke their admissions. So we do have those policies, but again, the onus is on us to create prompts that make it difficult to use things like ChatGPT. On the admission side, we want to know who the students are, and we don’t want to know what ChatGPT thinks, we want to know what you think. And in the classroom, we want you to learn. We want you to push yourself, we want you to enhance your capabilities, and you can only do that if you really are putting in the effort and not relying on an outside tool to do it for you.
I think there’s also a difference between using an outside tool and relying on an outside tool. [25:41]
Yeah, I don’t mind them using outside tools. And I’ve been designing a little bit assignments that leverage ChatGPT in a way to help students learn versus-
Would you be willing to share an example? [26:01]
Yeah. One example could be you actually put the prompt in ChatGPT that you want students to answer, and then you ask them to critique the response from ChatGPT.
What did ChatGPT get right? What did ChatGPT get wrong and why? Another thing that I do in my classes is I have students work together in class and I go from group to group. We have discussions in small groups, and they have to think on their feet, so they’re not prompts. The discussions that we have are not prompts that ChatGPT would know how to answer. So those are the ways that I approach it. But yeah, I mean, you’re exactly right, we want students to use it as a tool. We don’t want students to rely on it to do their work for them.
A wonderful answer. Thank you. What would you have liked me to ask you? [26:52]
So I think one of the questions that I was thinking about in preparation for this is why here and why now?
Go for it. It’s a great question. [27:05]
Why Abu Dhabi and why-
Great question. Why didn’t I think of that one? [27:05]
I mean, I think part of it is that if you think about Abu Dhabi, and again, going back to something that I mentioned before, Abu Dhabi is increasingly becoming a world capital that’s connected to other world capitals and it’s connected to other world capitals more each and every day. It’s becoming more, as you mentioned, it’s becoming more of a finance capital. It’s becoming more of a sustainability capital. It’s becoming more of a business capital. It’s becoming more of a consumer products capital. It’s becoming a technology capital. It’s becoming a FinTech capital. All of these things that the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular are investing in because they see the need to diversify their economy away from fossil fuels and towards a more knowledge-based, services-based economy. For us, when we were researching and thinking about this as a location, when you speak to companies and you talk to them and you say, what is it that you need in order to accomplish these goals that you have? We hear the same answers over and over and over again, which is, we need people who have managerial skills.
You talk to even private or public employers here in the region, they say there is a need for people with managerial skills to help us with that transition, to be a part of that, to help propel it. Ultimately, these are the folks who are going to become the leaders in this region, and they are going to be a part of that transition away from an energy fossil fuels based economy towards this new knowledge based services based economy. So when we were thinking about it, what better location than to do that right here? We already have a campus here. We’ve already built a stellar faculty here. We’ve been operating here for more than a decade. We know the market, and so we feel like now is the right time to be the first ones, the first top US business school to offer a full-time MBA in the region.
There’s tremendous talent here too. There’s a lot of young people who have an incredible desire to upskill too. So that was also part of it. So the employers are asking for it on the demand side for our graduates and on the supply side, the prospective applicants, the students really want it because they see the need to upskill as well.
Spoken like a true economist, supply and demand. Thank you again for the question and the answer. Thank you for the entire interview. It’s been wonderful. Thank you for joining me today, Dean Salomon. [29:29]
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