Dean’s Q&A: Lynn Wooten of Michigan

Lynn Wooten of Michigan's Ross School of Business

Lynn Wooten of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is one of the few top schools that have done a significant overhaul of their entire undergraduate curriculum in the last decade. One of the forces behind this overhaul is Lynn Wooten, Ross’ associate dean of undergraduate programs.

When she stepped into her current role back in 2011, she started working closely with the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society program to develop a curriculum that would help students realize how business could be a positive force in society. She was the perfect person to undertake this effort; prior to becoming associate dean, she served at the co-director of Ross’ Center for Positive Organizations, a research center that focuses on leadership, ethics and culture in business settings.

The new undergraduate curriculum will launch this September, with students taking classes with titles such as “Business and Leaders, the Positive Difference” and a senior capstone course that culminates in a consulting component.

The curricular revision experience has been an exciting one for Wooten, who got her PhD from the University of Michigan and has been teaching undergraduates for two decades.

“I am one of those people that just love undergraduates, and the opportunity to create transformational learning experiences for them is for me one of the best jobs,” said Wooten, a clinical associate professor of strategy and management and organizations.

Wooten recently spoke with Poets & Quants’ Alison Damast about the launch of the new curriculum, an upcoming campus-wide entrepreneurship initiative and why she thinks a three-year business program is the right fit for the school.

There has been an explosion in undergraduate business education in the last few years. What do you think are some of the reasons for it?

I think there are national and global trends going on. There are several macro environmental factors contributing to this interest. If you’ve seen the book Tight Rope Generation, it talks about the pressure students now have as they come into college or have to think about their career. When I was an undergraduate, people were not as pressured to think about what they will do when they graduate. People are starting to become career savvy and think about that before they enter their undergraduate school.

Parents want students to invest in a degree that will have a return on value, and a certain group of parents think that an undergraduate degree will have a return on investment.

The third thread is students throughout the campus are seeing the value of an undergraduate business education, even if it is not pursued through a traditional business job. For example, even if you’re an engineer or a musician, students know one way or another that the skills business provides them will help them be successful in their endeavors.

What are you seeing at your school in terms of application numbers and general interest in an undergraduate business degree? 

We have a two-prong admissions process. We take approximately 25 percent of students as preferred admits straight out of high school and 75 percent come after they’ve done a year at the University of Michigan as sophomores.

We started the preferred admits program about six years ago. We realized that there were very highly talented students who knew right away when they were seniors in high school that they had an interest in business. They had demonstrated this interest on their academic profile, so we wanted to create an opportunity to have them come in as a preferred admit.

We are definitely seeing an increase in preferred admits with our applications. I have a theory that the application increase is due, in part, to the ease of the common application in checking the box.

At a school like Ross, where the majority of students are doing finance concentrations and management, I’m seeing two different types of students. There’s the student who wants to pursue something in the public or nonprofit sector, and the student who wants to be entrepreneurial. That is where I’m seeing more of the changes in the profile of what students want to do up to graduation.

I’m seeing the same kind of interest drawn from the pool applying to Ross, but I also see demands from students who are not undergraduate business majors. We have a small undergraduate minor of 100 students, and that has increased.

Most undergraduate business programs have either four-year programs or two-year programs. Why did Ross decide to have a three-year program?

We came to the conclusion that the best curriculum is a three-year program that allows us to integrate efficiently and effectively the liberal arts experience and bring students on board their sophomore year.

It’s a double helix model. Students not only get liberal arts from the general college, but we use the opportunity in our curriculum to bring in liberal arts from the classroom. The three-year model is the best for that as far as integrating the liberal arts. Only a few schools have a three-year model, but most schools even if they have a four-year model have the students spending time doing liberal arts credits.

The way our curriculum is designed helps them as freshmen get intermixed and then instead of a two-year program, we bring them on sophomore year. We work with students in mapping out their courses and select liberal arts courses dovetail.

The traditional finance, marketing and organizational behavioral classes bring in that mindset and use humanities to teach the concept of how you think about analytical thinking and liberal arts in comparison to traditional business practices. The new course we have that is the most productive has students look at business as a societal entity in the whole ecosystem. It allows us to bring in liberal arts concepts, too.

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