The University of Michigan Ross School of Business is feeling the pressure to get more diverse. It’s coming from the state and from recruiters, says Paul Kirsch, managing director of the Ross BBA program, and that’s a big part of the impetus for the Ross Summer Connection, a new four-week program for incoming freshmen that is particularly focused on under-represented minorities.
Ross placed 10th overall in the inaugural Poets&Quants undergraduate rankings, but landed much lower — 35th out of 42 reporting schools — in diversity. The school reported a minority population of just 7.58% in 2016, the highest-ranked school in the bottom 10 for that measure. (It was joined in the lower tier by a handful of other public schools, including the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and, in dead last at 5.40%, Michigan State University.) For a few years now, Kirsch tells Poets&Quants, Michigan Ross administrators have known the problem was growing and the responses were insufficient; now, as Ross opens its doors for the first time to freshmen students — a momentous shift from a three-year program to four years that presents its own bevy of challenges — the school is stepping up efforts to be seen as an inviting destination for minorities, first-generation students, and those from under-resourced schools.
“The Ross School has gone to primarily freshman admissions, and this fall is the first cycle that we’ll have freshmen in the building,” Kirsch says. “We no longer have that huge benefit of starting the curriculum with sophomores who have already transitioned to college and got their freshman year under their belt, so we are acknowledging that we have to take a more active role in our students’ transition to college. …
“We have a lot of pressure from different sources to support under-represented minority populations, and that comes from the state, it comes from our constituents, it comes from recruiters who are looking to hire these types of students. By providing the resources that these students need to transition and be successful at the University of Michigan, we hope to get them off on the right foot.”
THE ‘AUTHENTIC ROSS EXPERIENCE’
Program Director Rhonda Todd says Ross Summer Connection, which began July 12 and concludes August 4, began as a pure concept and has transformed into a complete experiential learning program. Developed in partnership with Ross’ Office of Undergraduate Programs and Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the program courses are modified from prerequisites that all Ross students must take their freshman year, designed to give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the University of Michigan and Michigan Ross culture and “to provide students with an authentic Ross experience” through “a host of academic and social opportunities so that they are well prepared and confident in their ability to succeed here and beyond,” Todd says.
Since Ross Summer Connection began, students have participated in identity and cultural seminars, attended prerequisite courses in math, economics, and writing, worked collaboratively on projects, and received mentorship from current undergraduate students and alumni. They have been introduced to the Ross curriculum, including calculus and Economics 101, culminating with a case competition where “students are given a voice on how to improve the initiative for cohorts to come and possibly rename the program,” Todd says. But that’s not really the end of the program, Kirsch notes, as the students will receive coaching and advising throughout the academic year. He adds that while 19 students took part in the pilot program this year, eventually the program will “mature” up to 80.
“Things are going very well,” Todd, who also is director of academic success at Michigan Ross, tells Poets&Quants about the inaugural summer course. “They’ve had lunch with the dean (Scott DeRue), we’ve had different presenters come in, they’ve had career services sessions, and they’ve worked with me in a sort of business administration course — they all have LinkedIns at this point, they’ve taken head shots, and they’ve had a lot of guidance in social media presence. And they’ve worked on time management and already plugged in their schedule for the fall.”
‘PUSHING FORWARD TO ENSURE STUDENTS EXCEL PERSONALLY & PROFESSIONALLY’
Business is by far the most popular major at Michigan. In 2015, some 9,000 university applicants expressed interest in studying business, yet only 260 were admitted to Ross; this year, with the freshman floodgates open, Ross expects 500 incoming freshmen undergraduate majors. While Ross Summer Connection was designed to help them prepare for business school culture and curriculum, it’s not the only helping hand Ross offers. In answer to that mandate from the university and state to “increas(e) the pipeline and supportive space for women, students of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, military members/veterans, and other groups at Michigan Ross,” the school also organizes the Preparation Initiative, designed to help under-resourced freshmen; and facilitates a pair of programs aimed at high school students: MREACH, which provides career enrichment and academic preparation for under-represented minorities, and LEAD, a national program that aims to expose students to business principles and the skill sets needed for successful business careers.
As new evidence shows decreasing diversity in high finance, Ross sees its diversity efforts paying off down the road. It starts with that first summer before fall classes.
“We are excited to bring this program to life,” adds Taryn Petryk, director of diversity and inclusion at Ross. “RSC is just one illustration of how Ross is pushing forward to ensure every student has the opportunity to excel personally and professionally.”