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Rachel Sturm and her mother were walking around the James Madison campus following a tour for newly admitted students when they wandered into the College of Business to take a peek at the facility. Immediately, an upperclassman business major spotted them and asked them if they needed help. Upon learning that Sturm was interested in becoming a business major, the student went out of her way to show them around the building. She introduced them to several of her professors, told them about her study abroad experience as a business student in Antwerp, Belgium and shared stories about her recent marketing internship in New York City.
“That was the kind of experience I wanted. I wanted to know how I could be her,” Sturm recalls. “Everyone there was super warm and welcoming. I went home after that and said, ‘I think this is the school for me.’”
Indeed, that friendly, welcoming feel is a trademark of James Madison, a public university nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and rolling farmland. James Madison may be among Virginia’s largest public universities but the university’s College of Business offers students an intimate and personal college experience, with small class sizes, professors that go out of their way to help students and an innovative curriculum that sets the school apart from its competitors.
SMALL CLASS SIZES FROM THE GET-GO
Students enter the business school in their junior year, and admission is guaranteed as long as they maintain a 2.7 GPA in their Bachelor of Business Administration core classes. This liberal admissions process helps cultivate a sense of community at the school, rather than exclusion, says Molly Brown, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the College of Business. “We’re not pitting students against one another to get into the school, so it fosters an environment of collaboration,” Brown says.
Students who enter the school can expect small class sizes, with introductory classes that are no bigger than 40 students, an unusual feat for a large public university, she said. Full-time faculty teaches the vast majority of classes, with only 5% of classes taught by adjuncts.
“It’s a vastly different experience when you have a full-time faculty member teaching a class and there are 40 students in the class, as opposed to a graduate assistant teaching a class of 250,” Brown says. “It’s our focus on undergraduate learning that I think parents really appreciate and is what high school students are looking for.”
STUDENTS MAY EARN A ‘CONCENTRATION IN EUROPEAN BUSINESS’
James Madison has been a groundbreaker in curricular innovations since the 1990s when it first introduced its COB 300 integrated curriculum for juniors, a unique semester where students take marketing, management, finance and operation courses that are team taught by faculty. The class culminates with student teams learning how to develop and present a business plan to business professionals and compete for scholarship money. Recent examples of ideas to emerge from the class include the Campus Cookies business, now a successful business that delivers cookies to students on several campuses, and The Oak Bar, a single pour wine kiosk idea that won the top prize in the school’s business competition last year.
More recent curricular additions include a concentration in entrepreneurship that will become a minor next fall, Brown said. Students also now have the chance to participate in an undergraduate research program, which pairs students with faculty for 100-hour long research projects over the academic year.
About 22% of the class studies abroad, with many flocking to the business school’s popular “Semester in Antwerp” program, where students who attend earn a Concentration in European business.
‘STUDENTS JUST REALLY LIKE OUR UNIVERSITY’
James Madison alums from the class of 2014 gave the school high marks when it came to student satisfaction. James Madison is among the top three undergraduate business programs that alumni would recommend to close friends, the alumni survey showed. The school also scored above average compared to its peer institutions when it came to access to faculty and quality of teaching.
“Students just really like our university,” Brown says. “They don’t just come here for the College of Business. They come here for the James Madison University experience. We have very high student satisfaction.”
JMU business students will soon be even more satisfied as the College of Business prepares to break ground in 2018 on a significant expansion to the school’s current business building, slated for completed in 2020. The new building will give the school a better space for its collaborative learning classrooms and more room for career networking events, Brown explains.
INCREASED RESOURCES GOING INTO ALUMNI CONNECTIONS
It comes at a time when the school has been putting increased resources into strengthening connections with alumni and bolstering its career service efforts, two areas that alumni from 2014 indicated they were dissatisfied with in the survey.
For example, Rachel Sturm, the 2014 graduate, says she felt career services was lacking in some areas back when she was a student seeking out opportunities at big-name companies like Google and Amazon.
“I was interested in some companies that James Madison’s career services office didn’t have a relationship with,” Sturm remembers. “But where career services lacked, I was able to find engaged professors who were willing to step up and help me out.”
James Madison’s job report shows that within three months of graduation, 82% percent of the class reported percent taking jobs with an average salary of $57,585, and an average signing bonus of $4,672. About 55% of the class of 2016 reported taking an internship before their senior year.
STRENGTHS IN ACCOUNTING
One of the areas where James Madison fares best on the career front is in the accounting sector, where it is a top-tier recruiting school for the Big Four accounting firms, Brown says. Twice in the last six years, James Madison accounting students have had the highest pass rate in the nation on the Certified Public Accounting Exam, Brown said.
Career services and bolstering relationships with alumni are areas that administrators at James Madison’s College of Business has have been working hard to improve over the last few years, Brown said. Two years ago, the College of Business established a new Office of Experiential Learning, which offers workshops on topics such as how to create an effective LinkedIn profile and table etiquette. This culminates in a professional development day called the “Sophomore Connect Conference” where sophomores get to work with alums on building their resumes and elevator pitches.
The school has also launched learning tours, where students get to travel to New York City, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC to visit employers and network with James Madison University alums.
“Our connection with alumni has improved significantly in the last two years, through the Office of Experiential Learning, and we’re doing a lot of outreach,” Brown says. “It’s an area of significant emphasis for us now and we view alumni as our strongest resources.”
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“COB 300 gave me so many invaluable experiences and lessons that helped me get to where I’m at today. Through it, I mastered my skills on working in a team environment while still having the opportunity to hone my individual craft and work ethic. The experience was the ultimate test image of hard work pays off and I reaped the benefits of it for years afterwards.” – Class of 2014 alum
“AWEA Wind Energy Competition. I was required to work with engineering students to coordinate a marketable business plan for a micro-wind turbine and present the business plan at the AWEA conference. Collaboration, market research, and business plan construction experience.” – Class of 2014 alum
“During the spring semester of my senior year, I was one of 16 JMU marketing majors selected to participate in the Google Online Marketing Challenge. I took a class from a marketing professor during which we learned how to use Google AdWords. Each team selected a real non-profit client and used AdWords to help their business. We also created and managed a Google+ account for the client and wrote about the success of both the AdWords and Google+ accounts based on metrics we viewed (impressions, clicks, interactions, etc.). Google judged all of the teams and my team was named a Global Finalist in one category of the competition.” – Class of 2014 alum
Where the Class of 2016 went to work:
Booz Allen Hamilton