Have you ever pictured yourself as the dean? At some point, every business major imagines sitting behind the big desk away from everyone. Fed up with being ignored? Make a call – and brace yourself for the apologies. Toying with making some changes? Send out an email – and watch your inbox fill up with volunteers asking when and how.
It’s a great gig: big bucks, authority, and esteem. You get to boss around the faculty too. Just one caveat: Everything is on your shoulders. These days, expectations are rising in proportion to budgets being slashed. Let’s face it: Everyone has very definite – and very different – views on how the program should be run.
STUDENTS GO PUBLIC ON WHAT THEY TALK ABOUT IN PRIVATE
That includes business students. Where could business schools do better in both measures? This year, as part of Poets&Quants’ nomination process for the Best & Brightest Business Majors, we asked students to pretend they were the dean for a day. In the process, they shared what they’d do to make undergraduate business education better. Turns out, there were no shortage of opinions.
Not surprisingly, grades were one area that the Class of 2018 would reform. The University of Maryland’s Cece Ukejianya, a scholar award recipient and Deloitte hire, wasn’t a student who had to worry about her grades. However, she views grades as a measure of how well business students can temporarily memorize material for a test. In place of written exams, Ukejianya suggests a more intimate means of displaying what students learned over time. “I would make each individual’s grade based off an informed discussion with their teacher,” she suggests. “Successfully talking through a subject proves much more understanding than completing a multiple choice exam.”
MAKE WAY FOR DATA ANALYTICS
For U.C.-Berkeley’s Elyse Weissberger, the issue extends far beyond tests and class grades. As dean, this student body president would work to lessen the emphasis given to GPAs by both schools and employers. In her experience, GPAs have transformed into touchstones that stir fear and deter risk-taking. They drive many students to consciously avoid classes that might dilute their GPA and make them less attractive to employers. This, she notes, reduces learning opportunities for students.
“It has become quite clear that GPA is a near-arbitrary measurement of ability and should, at least, be supplemented with some other measure,” Weissberger argues. “As dean, I would try to bring the school’s focus back to education by encouraging students to take the classes that interest them, even if they are difficult, and by pushing employers to assess my students using a more meaningful measurement.”
Beyond grades, the Best & Brightest also bring some ideas about their classes. For them, business is far more than management, marketing, finance, and operations. To many, technology has elbowed its way into the mix. That’s certainly true of data analytics, the processes and tools inherent to uncovering value from data sets. Here, data can be used on anything from detecting banking fraud patterns to better understanding consumer behavior – and the driving emotions behind it.
Considering the enormity of its applications, Matthew Jegier, who studied finance and data science at Elon University before joining Ernst & Young, believes data analytics should be required coursework, let alone a standalone major. “Looking at where the world is going today and the growing importance of data in every corner of the business world, I believe that it is essential for the business school to embrace this change and prepare the students for it,” he emphasizes.
CODING AND DESIGN RACE TO THE FOREFRONT
Equally important, says the University of Michigan’s Danny Sheridan, is coding, an increasingly in-demand skill that enables professionals to develop custom models and functionalities. Sheridan’s vision involves teaching students how to use the core tools of coding: Excel, SQL, Python and R. While data science majors could opt out of the course, he would make a required three credit course during sophomore year so business majors can deploy these tools throughout the program.
At the University of Virginia, Brian Alexander Mitchell suggests a more scaled back one week coding boot camp for business major. That doesn’t negate its importance. “The ability to program has allowed me to dig deeper into projects and fluently work with large amounts of data that companies provide.”
Data analytics isn’t the only subject re-framing the business school experience. Laura Gao, for one, would revamp the design curriculum and position it as an alternative to traditional teaching on entrepreneurship.
“Business education can often be too focused on shareholder satisfaction instead of user satisfaction,” observes the Wharton grad who joined Twitter after graduation. “Regardless if you’re a bank, a paperclip manufacturer, or the next Facebook, crafting a service or product that is more convenient, intuitive, and user-centric than your competitors can make a huge difference. More specifically for entrepreneurs, many non-technical founders make the mistake of jumping straight into the development phase of a product before testing it with real users, resulting in completed apps with no users. Teaching design and prototyping skills to business students can help them validate which ideas have true market need with just a fraction of the time and cost it would have taken them to fully build it out.”
STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT AND EXPLORE NEW CULTURES
Tech isn’t the only area where business majors are clamoring for additional coursework. During a study abroad trip to China, Rakiya Cunningham learned, in her words, how to navigate through various cultural differences. It was an awakening that led her to suggest that business majors would benefit from a required course that intertwines cultural and business issues.