Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Students breathing easier in MBA class that focuses on innovation, resilience


Clemson University is opening its MBA entrepreneurial students’ eyes to what has traditionally been a blind spot in graduate business programs nationwide.

Resilience, often ignored but a vital life skill business professionals need to overcome the stressful ups and downs of their career journeys, is taking center stage in an MBA class at Greenville ONE, home to Clemson’s MBA programs.

Student monitors breathing to align heart and brain in achieving resiliency.
MBA students learn how to align heart and brain, allowing a person to think more clearly.

Under the direction of Gail DePriest, senior lecturer and MBA Director of Corporate Relations & Executive Leadership, Clemson is teaching working professionals how to deal with work-life stress as they pursue their MBAs in entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Many of these working professionals ranging from CEOs and physicians to front-line managers, have not been in school for 10 to 20 years,” DePriest said. “These are people balancing careers and family life who have decided to embark on an intense journey to receiving their MBAs. They need calm minds to accomplish creative thinking and we are giving them the tools.”

Resilience training in the classroom can also be applied in the workplace and at home. It involves teaching a breathing method that aligns the heart and brain so that one’s breathing slows down to create a calmer mindset, allowing a person to “reset” and think more clearly.

DePriest is a certified trainer for the HeartMath Institute, an organization with more than a quarter of a century of resilience research. Businesses and professions like law enforcement and the military have embraced this heart rate variability approach to mitigating stress, according to DePriest. It teaches people through monitored breathing techniques and immediate biofeedback to reach a level of coherence.

She said an examination of the world’s top 15 MBA programs showed none offered classes in resilience, yet publications like the Harvard Business Review have written seven articles in the last two years on the importance of resilience.

“The Navy Seals, global companies, law enforcement and other organizations have adopted this approach to helping their people learn how to reach a calm state when preparing for a stressful event or just decompressing afterwards,” DePriest added. “Our students have the combined stress of careers, family and study. It makes sense for us to look at this. In the business world, this awareness of self-care is something companies are embracing as it can help with health-care costs and improved performance.”

DePriest collaborated with neuropsychologist Jack Ginsberg in the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs to research the effectiveness of the heart rate variability method with the nearly four dozen aspiring entrepreneurs in her Innovation and Creativity class.

Over a six-week period, at home and in class, students broke from their busy routines to sit calmly and slow their breathing while focusing on their hearts. They used an app to monitor their heart rate variability and received immediate feedback on when they reached a coherence zone when the heart and brain were in alignment.

“We are still analyzing the data, but we already know there is significantly decreased perceived stress among the students during the six-week period,” DePriest said.

MBAe student Cesar Reyes has found the HeartMath approach to de-stressing very effective. He says it’s aided him in making the transition from helping manage his family’s business to a classroom environment.

“Making the switch from classroom to work, and vice versa, can drain you. The breathing approach to clearing your mind and focusing on the next thing at hand has been very helpful,” Reyes said. “It’s given me energy and focus, and at night, it helps me get to sleep much faster. It’s definitely been a valuable add-on to my education here and a benefit I wasn’t expecting.”

“Resilience is important in every facet of our lives,” DePriest said. “And, for entrepreneurs, it’s a skill that will help them navigate the stressors they will face as they pitch their ideas, pivot to new business plans and complete their MBAe.

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