Before she stood before the group of Under Armour executives, awaiting judgment on her team’s semester-long project, Ava Havrilko didn’t like public presentations. They made her nervous and unsure.
But for this project – presenting their outline for a connected fitness app that would track customers’ workouts and let college and high school athletic teams compete against each other to increase motivation and engagement – she felt confident. Passionate even. She and her team rehearsed extensively and it gave her confidence to stand in front of the executives.
“We included a lot of information in our presentation about how we would personally use the app and told our own stories in the presentation. I think it gave us an edge. We were passionate about creating an idea we could possibly use one day,” says Havrilko, a member of Towson University’s Dance Team, which she credits with shaping her life and time at college.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” she says of standing in front of the Under Armour executives in Fall 2021 as part of the Live Strategy Case Competition at Towson’s College of Business and Economics. “But I could include my own comments relating our app to my own life.”
Havrilko’s team, The Focused Performers, ended up winning the Competition after going several head-to-head rounds against her classmates. The competition was a requirement for her major – Business Systems and Process with a double major in Project Management – which is rare for undergraduate business programs. She’s now a first-year graduate student at Towson studying Supply Chain Management and is on track to earn her PMI certification through coursework from her business studies.
“I would describe the business program at Towson as current. I feel a lot of times classes focus on a textbook and learning how to memorize what happened in the past. All of my classes focus on what is currently happening,” she tells Poets&Quants.
“Going into a career, employers want to know what you know about the industry as it is now, and how you would adapt to changes, as the industry is always evolving. This goes with technology as well. I feel I am always learning technology that is relevant and professors make it clear what is currently being used and what the future looks like.”
UNDER THE RADAR
In its tagline, the College of Business and Economics (CBE) at Towson University professes to “transform students into professionals.” The college’s success here is a big reason we are featuring them in our Under The Radar series. In our periodic feature series, Poets&Quants aims to highlight the hidden gems, the best kept secrets, and innovative programs punching above their weights in undergraduate business education.
“(Towson University) has a great reputation in the Maryland Business Community for getting their students ready for the real world,” says Jimmy Lien, regional business director for Cintas Corporation which worked with the school for its Live Strategy Case Competition. He is also a 2002 graduate of Towson’s business college with a degree in business administration and a concentration in marketing.
“The business school has greatly grown with their connections to major companies in the Mid-Atlantic Region since I graduated. It has done a great job growing relationships with major Fortune 500 companies like Cintas in the area, and created meaningful connections between students and these businesses,” he tells Poets&Quants.
“Towson has a strong reputation for preparing their graduates to make an immediate impact in the real world upon graduation and I think this Live Strategy Case Competition is a big part of that.”
CBE is the largest undergraduate business program in the Maryland State University System with more than 3,200 current students, 29,000 alumni, 4 undergraduate majors, 11 concentrations or tracks, 7 minors, and 3 accelerated B.S./M.S. programs. It is accredited by the AACSB in both business and accounting, a distinction achieved by just about 1% of schools worldwide.
At the same time, it can feel like a small college. Average class size is 30 and 80% of its students come from Maryland and most stay after graduation.
The two biggest factors in Havrilko’s decision to go to Towson were its location and size: It was close to home but far enough away to make her feel like she was embarking on a new phase, and it was big enough to offer a broad range of study areas while also feeling like part of a tight-knit community.
“I feel as though you can create close connections with people while still constantly meeting new people and having new experiences.”
‘TRANSFORMING STUDENTS INTO PROFESSIONALS’
While it’s hardly unusual for an undergrad business school to offer experiential and career preparedness opportunities to students, Towson’s CBE builds them directly into the curriculum. Business students leave Towson with a Microsoft Excel and HubSpot social media certification for their resumes. Other certificates and credentials are available in different concentrations, including Bloomberg Terminal, SAP Recognition Award, and Google AdWords. In fact, during the 2021-2022 academic year, College of Business and Economics students earned almost 3,000 professional certifications for their resumes.
Further, all Towson Business Administration, Accounting, and Business Systems and Processing majors – about 650 students per year – are required to compete in the Live Strategy Case Competition, a relevant career-oriented internship, and a business communications course that features a professional development lab.
“Our students really are the workforce of the state,” Judy Harris, interim dean of the college and a professor, tells Poets&Quants. “Our business community has good relationships with us, and one thing they tell us that they like about our students is their readiness to work and willingness to hit the ground running. We make sure that they have the competencies to do that.”
We highlight a few of CBE’s professional preparedness initiatives below, but it is now way an exhaustive list.
Internship and professional reflection class: Students who take the upper-level Professional Experience course (required for every business major but economics) must secure a 120-hour professional internship. But, the course also includes a reflective classroom component, which is somewhat unique for undergraduate business degrees. In the class, students talk about their jobs and how to immediately apply what they are learning. The school also brings in guest speakers from industry to make connections in the business community.
The Student Academic and Career Services team approves every proposed internship to ensure it meets school standards for credit, but students are required to apply and interview for them on their own.
“I like to say that we educate to empower,” says Lisa Michocki, director of the business college’s Student Academic and Career Services Center. “We teach students to empower themselves, to advocate for themselves, and to find internships that either will translate into a job or help develop the skill sets that they need to secure a job when they graduate.”
Business communication course: While this is an advanced writing course at its core, CBE added a one-credit professional development lab to it in Spring 2022. The lab includes a series of workshops on topics such as “how to network effectively at a career fair, “how to use your resume to create the perfect elevator pitch,” and “researching employers and internship search strategies.”
The lab also added an emotional intelligence workshop in which students can assess their own EI and reflect on strategies to improve where needed. It includes a DEI panel to discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace, bias and privilege, and other topics.
“A big part of what we do is bring connections from the community into the classroom to provide a different experience,” says Lisa Simmons, assistant dean who previously taught the course. “We have industry professionals coming in not only for traditional recruitment, but to provide feedback to students about how they can continue to grow as professionals.”
Business systems and processing major: This STEM-designated technical major, unique to Towson CBE, combines study of applied information systems and business knowledge to train students to analyze big data in order to make an impact.
Two decades ago, CBE created its first e-business major in its quest to remain current with industry trends. That major was reorganized into Business Systems and Processing in the 2017-2018 academic year, and it provides hands-on experience in technical fields such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) designs and applications. The major builds the SAP (Systems, Applications, and Products in data processing) Recognition Award into its curriculum, so all students can add the credential to their resume.
“We’re not training them to be coders, although students are trained to utilize and understand it to be able to have conversations to manage those processes,” Harris says. “So there’s a lot of technology and software use integrated into the program.”
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