One of the key differentiators for Cambridge when I was looking for an MBA programme was the flexibility to build and shape my own experience, both in and out of the classroom, both within Cambridge Judge Business School and the wider University of Cambridge. One element of the programme that allows me to do this, but one that perhaps receives less attention than the academic program and careers recruitment, is the role of the Student Interest Groups, or “SIGs”.

Each year, after everyone settles into their lecture schedule, the class is encouraged to form groups focused around career interests (i.e., industries, functions, geographies). Often these began with a post on Facebook – “Is anyone else looking to work in APAC?”, or “Who else has an interest in the energy sector?”

Each MBA class forms a different ecosystem of SIGs. This year, for the first time, students formed groups around Energy, Manufacturing and eCommerce. I myself started the Marketing SIG and joined the Technology, Entrepreneurship and Women and Leadership groups.

One unique element to the SIGs is how each operates in a different way, with different goals, to meet the needs of that year’s members. When formed, SIG members work together to cement their objectives for the year, from case study practice to networking to knowledge sharing. By putting the SIGs in the hands of the students, the programme office allows us to tailor the experience to get the most value out of our participation.

For the Marketing SIG, our objectives are four-fold:

  1. To discuss and challenge the latest marketing trends facing global enterprises in monthly events planned and hosted by SIG members
  2. To network with potential employees and Cambridge alumni
  3. To share relevant conferences/seminars with the group to maximize our time at Cambridge
  4. To find and enter relevant marketing case study competitions

The Marketing SIG targeted eight challenges facing marketing executives in 2012/2013 for monthly discussions/events/panels. These events feature marketing executives, faculty and thought leaders and are organized by self-selected SIG members.

With a little help from a Linkedin Premium account and the Cambridge brand name, we recently welcomed the CMO of Disney EMEA, Tricia Wilber, for a discussion on social media – “The Magic of New Media: How Disney Harnesses the Power of Social Media to Engage Consumers.” New technologies and media platforms are disrupting today’s business models and consumer behavior, but Disney embraces all manner of technology and media to reach their core consumer base – today’s digital natives. It was a clear first choice for our first Social Media event.

The Disney session was a great success, with roughly 70 JBS students in attendance. In an hour and a half, Tricia Wilber spoke about the challenges new platforms and technologies present, and shared several case studies illustrating how Disney uses these channels to further engage with their consumers. She even extended her time to answer questions from the audience for almost an hour, a hugely valuable portion of the event. How often do you get to openly discuss and question a C-level executive from a Fortune 100 company?

With the SIGs, the class accelerates knowledge sharing, takes a greater responsibility (and in my opinion, thus receives greater value) in networking, and gains an even better view of how their fellow classmates can support them in their next career move. It’s one small example (amongst many) which illustrate the immense amount of learning outside the classroom in the Cambridge MBA programme.