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An Interview with Richard Freishtat

10.29.18

Faculty member of our Communications Excellence program joins ExecEd as VP of Curriculum

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Walk us through your professional background in communication and curriculum studies.

RF: My first ten years of professional work were in the area of faculty development- applying my background in course level pedagogy or innovations of teaching and learning to faculty of all disciplines through programs or one-on-one consultations. I was the Director of Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley, then I ended up getting into Berkeley Executive Education teaching the Communications Excellence program. Now, as Vice President of Curriculum, I’m still teaching, coming up with new and inventive ways of learning in the classroom. Our job is to align the needs of three key stakeholders–companies, governments and universities–with what we can offer, working with our faculty to offer the best experience, innovative methods, and addressing challenges.

What has the transition from undergraduate education to executive education been like?

RF: It's been fascinating in a few ways. I think from a personal perspective, the biggest difference is when you are working from a central campus unit the breadth is enormous. Here, it is still broad, but much more focused. We have very clear goals and a very specific portfolio. Even as we grow, the scope is much more about depth than breadth compared to a campus-level perspective. I think my greatest advantage here is having been a faculty member with BEE- I have taught at the undergrad level, the graduate level, and at the executive level and I can see where the differences are. In my view, what makes Berkeley Executive Education so unique is the challenge. There are two things that ideally should happen at all education levels: what new insights or learning gains are made from the course, and what is the learner experience like. Is it positive or negative? Maybe you learned a lot but hardly tolerated the experience or vice versa. At the executive level, you just can’t just deliver one: you have to achieve both. There must be both a tangible learning outcome that people can bring back to the office and a transformative experience; Berkeley Executive Education delivers both the experience and the learning.

Why do you think executive education is important?

RF: If we know anything about the individual process towards economic and societal development, we know that we don't need people who have a degree and just execute it. We need lifelong learners. We need space for people across their careers to learn new things so that they can continue meeting their own, and their organization's, need to grow and adapt. The world is changing: if you don't know how to adapt and accumulate new knowledge in order to stay on top of what’s happening now and in the future, you’ve already lost. Berkeley Executive Education fills the need for continuous learning and the ways in which it makes your organization stronger.

Some believe that business is better learned outside the classroom. What are your thoughts on the role of class time and theory in business education?

RF: Some of the best learning has to be in a space where you feel free take risks as learning happens through failure. If people think that the only valuable learning is through their job within their organization, the ability to take those risks and fail may be non-existent because the stakes are simply too high. The value of coming into a classroom–set up as a space for you to have failures and learn and grow from them– is the ability to reach mastery alongside others experiencing the same learning process. This then allows you to go back to your office and execute this learning and mastery. That’s what the classroom provides: an insulated space, still connected to everyday work, but external enough so that you can actually engage in a rigorous learning process to positively impact your organization. If you're only learning in the same context with the same people from the same place, this does not create a flexibility or diversity in mindsets that produce new insights and new ways of solving problems. Get out of your organization, see how other people are thinking about it, and infuse new life into yourself and your organization.

What do you hope to contribute to BEE? What is the future of curriculum at BEE?

RF: At Berkeley Executive Education, I hope to leverage my background and expertise from the academic side–teaching, using the science of learning–to push programs forward as we continue to grow so quickly. With this growth, we have to ask ourselves: “how do we scale up?” We must continue enhancing our program quality, pushing pedagogical boundaries, contributing to the Berkeley ethos. I’m most looking forward to contributing in any way to help inform and drive excellence. I have a passion for helping people be better at doing whatever they do. Berkeley Executive Education is unique because we are able to harness the uniqueness of Berkeley through our programs. We are able to utilize the ethos of this strong academic institution to better the customization our programs while remaining nimble. The more flexible and scalable BEE is able to be, the more we can be proactive than reactive. This means we are better suited to adapt to new changes before they hit, rather than figure out how to respond.

Are there any lessons or skills you’ve found particularly useful here at BEE?

RF: Again, the most valuable takeaways from Berkeley Executive Education so far include the ability to anticipate what comes next. One must be ready for anything, capable of predicting and incorporating change. The question changes from how does one survive in a fast-paced world to how do you thrive? I appreciate the culture we have here because it allows for this kind of anticipation.

Have you had any memorable moments at BEE so far?

RF: I can answer both as a faculty member and as a VP! As faculty, my favorite moment comes at the end of a program when a participant comes up, shakes my hand, leans in, and says: “I’ve taken a lot of these kinds of programs before, but this is the best one. It’s not like anything else I’ve done, and it’s the one that’s going to positively impact the way that I show up in the office.” Our programs in this space are uniquely ingenuitive, concrete and relevant, and it is so rewarding to hear that acknowledgment from participants. As a Vice President, the most valuable experience has been getting behind a common goal as thought leaders and moving forward together. It creates a strong sense of community here at Berkeley Executive Education, determining and pursuing a common mission.

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