When speaking of undergraduate business programs in terms of sheer size, Penn State’s Smeal College of Business should be at the forefront of the conversation. The college now has a massive undergraduate population of more than 5,400 students. But the size does not mean a watered-down applicant base. This past year, the school received more than 8,000 applications for about 800 spots for freshmen. Smeal Dean Charles “Chuck” Whiteman predicts the average high school GPA of this incoming class will be 3.96.
Whiteman, a trained and seasoned economist, took over the program, ranked 17th out of all American undergraduate schools by Poets&Quants, in 2012. He has more than three decades of experience in education and business. After starting as a professor at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business in 1980, Whiteman rose through the ranks to senior associate dean in 2006. He’s published two books, served as an editor for several academic journals, and has published dozens of journal articles.
Since taking over at Smeal, Whiteman says he feels he “hit the jackpot” and leading the school has “been a delight.” Under his lead, the school has invested more into its honor and integrity program, made efforts to develop sustainability education, started one of the largest undergraduate Net Impact chapters, and created a business certificate for non-business majors at Penn State.
Whiteman recently took the time to speak with Poets&Quants about a variety of topics from Penn State’s expansive alumni network, to what it takes to get into Penn State, to the application rebound after the Jerry Sandusky scandal that saw the assistant football coach convicted of sexually abusing young boys.
What do you think makes Smeal unique in such a crowded undergraduate market?
There are a number of things that I think make it unique, first, the nature and the bond that really ties Penn Staters together. Penn Staters are like family members—it’s not like they are acquaintances. And that provides a lot of opportunity for our students. It doesn’t guarantee that they get the internship or position or whatever it is. But with now about 75,000 alums of the Smeal College and over 600,000 Penn Staters out there, it really does represent a large amount of opportunities for our students going out into the world and I really needed to come here to understand that.
I was an undergraduate at the University of Kansas and PhD at Minnesota. And was on the faculty for many years at the University of Iowa, and those schools all have a lot of great spirit but Penn State is different. It just seems like it’s at another level. People are incredibly loyal supporters of the institution. Many of them were really given a leg-up in life by attending Penn State. We still have a high percentage of first generation college students coming to Penn State—system-wide it’s about 30% and it’s even higher at the Commonwealth Campuses. Certainly for the students who graduate from Smeal, the degree in many, many cases has been a rocket ship to success. And they’re wonderfully supportive. They give back of their time and resources. I think it’s a distinguishing feature of the place.
We also have a very strong commitment here at Smeal to honor and integrity. And when I say that, I’m not talking so much about the compliance and enforcement process. What I’m talking about is the culture of doing things the right way and committing to doing things in the right way. We have an honor and integrity director whose job is to build on our quite good culture. One element of that culture goes back to the student-led effort to initiate an honor code here at Smeal. We were the first college at Penn State to have an honor code that was adopted very quickly by students at all levels of the college.
But that’s just the beginning. The honor and integrity director’s job here is to not only ensure we have awareness of academic integrity issues on the part of students, faculty, and staff but to move the needle through accountability to advocacy. And we really take it quite seriously.
We have programming throughout the year that gets together students, faculty, and staff to talk about ethical issues in the classroom and workplace. It’s very much a part of what we do and we know that employers, who come here in droves, are very excited about the attitudes of the students that is consequence in part to living in this culture that we have here.