Dean’s Q&A: Charles Whiteman Of Penn State’s Smeal College Of Business

We also have what I think is a very robust curriculum. It has several interesting features that I think are worthy of note. We require all of our majors to get out of their comfort zone a little bit and take a two-course sequence in a related area not in their major. So a finance student might take a two-course sequence in accounting, for example.

Another new initiative we’ve started in the past couple years is sustainability. And we put up a new two-course sequence in sustainability, which allows students interested in that field to take courses in sustainability.

A couple other things that are worthy of note, we take social responsibility, sustainability, and business ethics very seriously. We have a course for students that has that title and even though we are as large as we are, we also have a capstone experience for all of our undergraduates called analyzing business and industry which takes place during the senior year and really brings together all of the things they’ve learned and their disciplines. The students actually work in teams in that class on a business simulation, and it’s really a very nice feature of the curriculum.

What are some innovations at the undergraduate level you’ve spearheaded as dean?

The honor and integrity effort is college wide, but we’re undertaking some efforts to solidify our efforts at diversifying the student body. At Penn State, the most diverse part of our student body are students transitioning from our Commonwealth Campuses to Smeal for their junior and senior years. And we’ve instituted some new programming to make sure that transition is as smooth as we can make it. Because we want to make sure those students succeed.

The sustainability effort is something that began in earnest right about the time I arrived. I had a group of faculty very interested in doing this that came to me with the idea of creating a sustainability strategic plan that I OKd early in my first semester here. That sustainability strategic plan which we approved at the end of the fall semester in 2012 ultimately became the role model for academic units at Penn State, for their strategic sustainability plans.

We also have undertaken a project largely using student input to seek LEED-EB certification for the business building. That’s leadership and environmental engineering and design for existing buildings. It’s a new project for Penn State. On campus we have a number of buildings that are LEED-EB certified as new construction, but the university had never taken over a project to certify an existing building. And the paperwork for that just went in within the last few weeks and we’ll probably find out early in the fall semester. And we had lots of student help in gathering data, conducting surveys, doing the sorts of things that need to be done to document where we are with sustainability efforts here at the college.

During the time I’ve been here, we’ve established an undergraduate Net Impact chapter. That’s the student organization associated with sustainability. The undergraduate version of that organization, I think, was created in the spring of 2013. Last summer, they were runners-up for chapter of the year and in the running again this year. So it went from nowhere to one of our larger student organizations and one of the larger Net Impact chapters amongst undergraduate institutions everywhere in a very short rate of time.

Related to the business curriculum, but actually intended for another audience, here at Penn State, we have just recently established a business certificate for non-business majors to get a business credential while they’re here at University Park. It’s a five-course sequence with the usual suspects of finance, marketing, management, supply chain, and business law, with pre-requisites including economics and statistics and accounting. And so, that certificate program, which was offered this summer for the very first time, is a route for non-business students to get business education from the faculty here at Smeal and that’s been a very nice innovation. It was a number of years in the effort to create it and I’m very happy that we’ve launched that this summer.

Undergraduate students at Penn State's Smeal College. Photo courtesy of Smeal College of Business

Undergraduate students at Penn State’s Smeal College. Photo courtesy of Smeal College of Business

How do you think people perceive Smeal today and how has that changed in the past decade or so?

Certainly amongst the people who know us, know that we’re high quality and we are a very popular destination. We had over 8,600 applications for freshman admissions to Smeal for this fall semester and we will have a freshman class of under 800. Now those students are joined at the junior year by students who are coming to us from the division of undergraduate studies here at University Park as well as Commonwealth Campuses. So our overall size is really quite large, we’re at over 5,400 undergraduate students at this point, which is large by the standards of the schools you’re talking to.

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