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The standard model at most undergraduate business programs these days is to offer students a standard choice of majors like business and accounting, and give them the opportunity to do a concentration in one of several different areas the school specializes in. At Lehigh University College of Business and Economics, that model has been turned on its head, with students from the school’s Business and Economics program able to choose up to two business majors across eight different fields and dabble in a virtual smorgasbord of over 100 double-major combinations where they can explore different tracks and concentrations within the university.
“It’s pretty staggering when you think about it,” says Katrina Zalatan, associate dean and director of undergraduate programs of Lehigh’s business college. “There’s a lot of opportunity to personalize and a lot of space for students to take courses outside of business. We really believe in giving students the freedom to explore different choices because it helps them develop a perspective they might not otherwise get in the business school.”
That broad-minded perspective is just one of the things that helps Lehigh, a research doctoral university with a small-school feel, distinguish itself in a crowded undergraduate business market. The business program, known for its strength in the accounting and finance sectors, is fairly competitive to get into, with an acceptance rate of 27.06% for the school’s undergraduate business program in the fall of 2017.
NEW DIGS ON THE WAY
Lehigh’s suburban campus overlooks the Lehigh Valley and South Mountain, with many old, traditional Gothic buildings covered in ivy dotting the campus. The business school, located on the lower edge of campus, is one of the more modern buildings on campus, and the business school will soon have an even more up-to-date building with the recent announcement that the school will be building a new facility to expand the business school and allow it to compete more effectively with its peer schools. The expansion effort will be overseen by Georgette Phillips, the dean of the College of Business and Economics, who came to Lehigh in 2014 after serving as undergraduate dean of The Wharton School.
The school is also upping its game with a new advising program for students, which was just launched this fall to help students make better decisions about their coursework and career paths. Advising was an area where graduates from the class of 2014 gave the school its lowest scores, according to the alumni survey, and administrators have taken students’ concerns in this area seriously, Zalatan says. Previously students only worked with a staff advisor up to the point to which they declared their major, and then worked with a faculty member from that point on. Under the new beefed-up advising program, students will now have a staff advisor with whom they will consult their entire four years at the business school, while also being able to lean on their faculty mentors in their disciplines for career-specific advice, Zalatan boasts.
“Anytime you have so many opportunities for students to move between programs, you need strong advising to help them get the most of out their experience and graduate on time,” Zalatan explains. “The advising center we had has grown and grown again this year to be able to better accommodate students.”
STUDENTS HAVE CHOICE OF THREE BUSINESS MAJORS
Students who attend Lehigh’s business school have the opportunity to dabble in one of three different four-year degree programs. The largest one is the Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Economics, but the school also offers two other degrees, a degree in Computer Science and Business (CSB) and one in Integrated Business & Engineering Honors Program (IBE). Both the CSB and IBE degrees are interdisciplinary programs between the business school and Lehigh’s Rosin College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Students begin taking business courses their freshman year for the business core, starting with a class called Introduction to Business in a Global Context and others that introduce students to business and build skills in communication and analytics tools. By their sophomore year, students take the 100-level introductory courses that are required of each of the eight business majors, allowing them the chance to explore and immerse themselves in each subject area before committing to either one or two majors.
“It is very rigorous and gives them a lot of depth. It helps them solve problems better because they’ll have depth across all the subject areas,” Zalatan points out. “It’s also important because when you think about problems in business they’re not usually packaged with a nice disciplinary bow. Students have to draw from a broader breadth of understanding to address them.”
CLASSES END EVERYDAY BY 4:10 P.M.
Lindsay Mayrose, a 2014 Lehigh alum, says she found it helpful to take the introductory-level courses in each major, an experience that has helped her now in her current position as an administrator at New York University and a part-time MBA student at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “I found that part of the curriculum enjoyable and found it really useful to open yourself up to different subject areas, even if you knew they weren’t ones you were going to major in,” she says. “I’m going for my MBA now and I’ve found the basis in accounting and finance I got very useful later on.”
The curriculum for the school’s Business and Economic students culminates their senior year with a capstone course that allow students to participate in complex, real world business simulations or real-world experiential projects that lets them apply their learning from their majors and coursework. All of the classes at Lehigh end at 4:10 pm, an unusual setup that gives students time and space to study, explore the many extracurricular opportunities on campus and meet with professors.
Members of the class of 2014 who filled out the alumni survey were enthusiastic about how Lehigh alums were helpful on the job search front when they were students, but were not as pleased with the school’s career services offerings. The business program’s career advising efforts received the second lowest mark out of all the categories in the class of 2014 alumni survey, an area that the school has placed a renewed focus on in the last three years, Zalatan claims.
For example, Lehigh now has a dedicated career services “liaison” or coach that works directly with the university’s career services office, a role that the business school added about a year ago, Zalatan says. In conjunction with that, the business college also recently developed a new Center for Career and Professional Development that develop workshops on branding, job search planning, networking, interviewing and professionalism for students. Many of those workshops bring in alums eager to share their expertise with students and help them with career networking.
LOW JOB PLACEMENTS BUT HIGH SALARIES
Lehigh’s job report numbers have seen major boosts over the past three years, thanks in part to the efforts of the business school’s career services liaison and the work of the school’s professional development center, Zalatan explains. Within three months of graduation, 52% of the class of 2015 reported taking jobs with an average salary of $60,773. A year later, 67% of the class of 2016 managed to land a job within three months of graduation, with an average salary of $65,995. And this past year, an amazing 87.64% of the class secured employment within three months, however, the average starting salary dipped to $64,964. While only about half of the class (55%) of 2015 had internships before senior year, the number zoomed to 93% for the classes of 2016 and 2017.
The areas where Lehigh alums in the survey gave the highest marks to the school was in the availability of business school faculty for informal mentoring and discussions when classes were not in session. Indeed, nearly 80% of classes in the business school’s undergraduate program are taught by tenure or tenure-track professors, while the remaining 21% of adjuncts are full-time faculty, many with industry experience, who also work closely with students and advise student groups.
“Our faculty is unique in not only focusing on building their research profile and getting into top journals but are genuinely interested in working with undergraduates,” says Zalatan. “It is wonderful for student because they’re able to be in classes, especially in the majors that are small enough where they can get to know their faculty members.”
CONNECTED ALUMNI RECEIVE HIGH RATINGS
Another area the school got strong reviews from 2014 alums was in how helpful and accessible the school’s alumni were in helping current students connect with future employers, with Lehigh receiving the second highest marks in this area out of the ranked schools.
This did not surprise Zalatan, who says that alums give back to the school not only their time and energy, but also help set up special internship and scholarship programs for students. Another area where alums are visible is at the school’s Wall Street Council Financial Services Forum each fall. That event engages 60 to 70 alumni for a full-day conference where they talk to current students about the different career trajectories in fields like investment banking, equity research and other areas.
“Our alums have given back not only in terms of their time but in terms of designing student experiences that help differentiate our students,” Zalatan says. “The alumni are there, and with the new professional development program we’re running, we now have a mechanism to connect students with them that is working out marvelously.”
The school’s helpful, engaged alumni and their strong sense of school spirit is something that helps students be successful when they engage in the job hunt.
Mayrose, the 2014 alum from Lehigh, says she experienced that firsthand when she went on job interviews after graduation.
“People would be like, ‘Oh, Lehigh, I know someone who went there,’” she recalls. “Not only is the school really well respected and well known in the business world, but its reach is really wide for a somewhat small school in Pennsylvania.”
What alumni say:
“I studied abroad in China (Shanghai) with the Business and Economics School. It was over winter break, we took classes at Tongi University, as well as immersed ourselves in Chinese culture. The experience was amazing. The professors who taught us in China were fabulous, and the Tonji students taught us a lot as well, and took us around to many cultural sites.” – Class of 2014 alum
“I did Lehigh Silicon Valley. We analyzed companies in live case studies from pre-revenue to IPOs. It gave me a very broad framework for valuations and real-world experience in a controlled environment. The ability to network was immense, I kept in touch with CEO’s such as Tim Eades and Tom Gillis. I was also part of every portfolio group (3) at Lehigh. It gave me the opportunity to manage real money for three years of college. It continues to be a competitive advantage for me working at a Hedge Fund and understanding trading valuations was an advantage in IBK.” – Class of 2014 alum
“In the ‘capstone’ project for the Integrated Business and Engineering program, a team of five students paired with a local entrepreneur over two semesters to assist with all stages of her business — an app to help pharmacy patients identify the top over the counter medication to address specific ailments. We assisted in algorithm development, business plan writing, and putting together an exit strategy pitch for the product.” – Class of 2014 alum
Where the Class of 2017 went to work:
Ernst & Young: 17
Bank of America Merrill Lynch: 8
JPMorgan Chase & Co.: 8
KPMG, LLP: 7
Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies: 4