Gies Business’ Purpose-Driven Undergraduate Experience

Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois

Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois

Byrne: Another thing that I think reflects on the culture is that in the fall of last year, you launched a living and learning center. What purpose does it serve in building community?

Jackson: At the center of the culture that we want to build in Gies is a culture of community and this represents one of these platforms by which we can do that. The business living-learning community is at one of the nicer resident halls on campus. It has students who all have an interest in business. Half would be Gies students, and they are exposed to different types of programming, some of it community building, some of it having to do more directly with business, some of it skill development. Those types of things.

Byrne: How does it play into the culture that you’re trying to build and nurture?

Jackson: It’s about having shared experiences. So in the business living learning community, they have programming like a lock-in that is part of their orientation.

Byrne: What’s a lock-in?

Jackson: Where you bring them into a room and you lock them in.

Byrne: Really? But why?

Jackson: It’s a way to build rapport, provide them with a bond. It’s a way for them to share what they hope to get out of becoming a Gies student, or even different ways in which they view business. We’ve also offered a communication course in the resident hall for students.

Brown: And we bring guest speakers there on occasion. Lots of things. It’s really a great opportunity for people to bond, socialize, create those relationships outside of the classroom as well. I can tell you, it’s very popular. We have far more students that want to live there than we have space for at the moment, and it’s something we hope to continue to expand going forward.

Byrne: When students graduate from the Gies College, what do they say they most admire? What has had the most impact on them?

Brown: We really try to allow each student to create their own experience. We don’t let them go wild on curriculum. We’re very intentional about what they learn here, but it really depends on which path a student chose. We encourage all of our students to get involved, and we have a lot of very active student organizations that have a business focus. So for some students the answer to that is going to be I was in the joint technology and management program with the college of engineering, and that’s where I developed my friendships and all this knowledge. For other people, it’s going to be Illinois Business Consulting, or maybe they were in the investment banking academy, and that led them to learn a lot about the industry and end up with a job at one of the big investment banks. So it really is an individualized experience.

What ties it all together is that they all come out and they’re very happy, because they’ve got a great job at a great firm, good pay, and they’re hitting the ground running. They look back and think they just had a good experience here, they developed friendships, they had faculty who were important to them.

Jackson: I would add a couple of things. As far as experiences, I think the opportunities that students have had when they travel abroad is a high point. We’ve taken groups of students to Brazil, to South Africa, to Israel, and New Zealand. Students in those settings have raved how it helped them see the world in a new way.

The other thing I think that you hear from students who graduated maybe five years ago is that they felt prepared not just for their first job out, but they feel prepared for their career. In my mind, I feel like that is the model of a business school’s success. We have a 99% placement rate, but we’re preparing students for more than just that first job.

Byrne: I imagine a good reason for that 99% success rate is you’re converting a lot of internship opportunities into full-time offers.

Brown: It’s one of many really important elements. If you walked through our atrium today, you may have seen literally hundreds of new freshman lined up to work with corporate partners on resume reviews. They’re on campus for just a couple of weeks, but we really start working them from day one. They’re smiling, they’re happy, taking the feedback. We really work with them from day one all the way until they graduate to make sure they’re on a path. We have career advisors in addition to academic advisors. There’s a plethora of opportunities in terms of companies coming through and speaking on any given day. But yes, the internship is clearly a really important path to full-time job.

Byrne: You just started an undergraduate success lab. What’s that all about?

Jackson: I’m really excited about it. We are stewards of the students that come into Gies College of Business, and I think we take that seriously. We have students that may not have had an opportunity to have exposure to what the college provides, what obstacles they’re likely to face, and we want to make sure that each student has their best chance to succeed in our college. So the success lab is the first place where students can go if they have a question or concern or something that they need help with. Whether it’s a financial crisis and they need to learn about our emergency scholarships for those who have financial emergencies, they can learn about that.

The success lab plays a role in helping students find the resources that they need whether it’s financial, emotional or psychological. We now have a licensed counselor who resides in that success lab space along with we have peer advisors, peer tutors. It really, again is another one of these examples of how we do community here. How we have a take in each other’s success. Students are the ones that are overseeing many of the goings on in the success lab. The two north stars for what we try to accomplish is community and access, and the success lab really touches both of those in ways that is very gratifying for someone who values the success of the students.

Byrne: Going to college is often an anxiety ridden journey, not only for students who are leaving home for often the first time but also for the parents who wave goodbye to their kids. What advice do you have for people who are taking this journey to calm their nerves?

Jackson: I think one thing you say is that they’re cared for, that there has been intentionality about all the things that we’ve planned for that student. But the second thing I would say is that you may be dropping them off, but you’re not out of the loop, because we intend to communicate with parents, and give them a sense about what’s going on in their student’s life and their time here at Gies. We send out regular newsletters to the parents who can get information about when midterms are coming up. We offer advice on how you might talk to your student. Maybe it’s time to send a care package. Those types of things.

Brown: And we do, both at the college level as well as the university as a whole. What you’re seeing when you walk around is the people here really, really care. We wake up every day motivated by a concern for our students’ well-being, a concern for their education. This is a pretty great environment for a student to be on that fast track to maturity as you pointed out, but in a way that’s safe, where they can take some risks and fail as well as succeed and learn from it, and come out at the end of it really ready to go out into the world and do great things.

Byrne: So for someone who’s interested in an undergraduate education at Gies, what advice do you have for them?

Brown: Be authentic about your interests and about how you portray yourself in the admissions process. We do look at grades and test scores, but we look at a lot of other things too, and what we’re really looking for is students who have demonstrated a commitment to something. That could be anything from playing high school sports, to being in the boy scouts, to volunteering to being involved in a religious organization. We’re looking for students that are not just spending their time sitting in a library, who are out trying to make a difference in the world.

Jackson: We have a lot of students from a lot of different backgrounds, and that’s what makes us strong, and can make our experiences a transformative experience, if you allow yourself as a student to be open to meeting new people who come from different backgrounds and different cultures, you can put yourself in a position to have not only a rich experience, but be in a position to contribute to the community as well.

Brown: We do have an important focus on access, both as a college and university. If you’re interested in coming to Gies apply, don’t assume that financial reasons won’t allow you to come. We as a campus recently unveiled something called the Illinois commitment. If you’re an in-state Illinois student and you are accepted here and your income is below the median income in the state, you come tuition free. We’re making some important financial commitments as well to make it possible for people to come here and access the great education we have. It’s work hard, get involved, be authentic, be open to new experiences, and above all apply.

Byrne: And come visit. I think you need to come and feel the culture, the atmosphere, have lunch with some students, sit in a class, talk to people to get a sense for what it’s going to be like.

Brown: That’s right, and I would encourage them not just to visit here, but to visit a number of different places, because at the end of the day it often comes down to gaining a gut feel about where they feel most at home and most comfortable. I always tell them listen to that gut. Even if they decide they really want to go to a different type of institution, that’s fine. Making those college visits, and meeting with students, meeting with faculty is a really important part of the process.

Byrne: Jeff, thank you. Kevin, thanks very much.