The Northern Illinois University (NIU) College of Business has a three-pronged approach to helping their students become attractive to employers. Highlighting the approach is the school’s BELIEF program, which integrates ethics into the rigorous business curriculum. BELIEF, started in 2006, stands for Building Ethical Leaders using an Integrated Ethics Framework. It is designed to show students that every decision they make has an ethical component—whether in the topic of accounting practices, marketing claims, or the enforcement of human resource policies. The school regularly invites guest speakers such as Joan Dubinsky, retired director of ethics for the United Nations, to talk about their experiences and offer advice. In every case, and throughout their time at NIU, students are asked to bear in mind: “What would your mother think?”
The BELIEF program has been called a “model program” by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and has a long list of regional and national corporate sponsors such as KPMG and Microsoft who off financial support and real-world applications of ethics. And according to the school, while other institutes may find it difficult to add a class on ethics to their core curriculum, NIU has decided to make ethics central to all it teaches.
The College of Business was established in 1961 and is AACSB accredited. It offers students six undergraduate programs to choose from—accounting, marketing, finance, management, business administration, and Operations & Information Management. In fall 2017, the school received over 3,000 application from students wanting to join their four-year undergraduate program. Only 1,789 were admitted. The school estimates the total four-year cost of tuition and university fees to be $54,398 and that students in the class of 2017 probably incur additional expenses for room, board, transportation, and school supplies amounting to another $59,354, again, over four years.
The college moved into Barsema Hall on campus in 2002 and the 144,000 square-foot facility includes a 375-seat auditorium, specialized labs, classrooms, offices, studying and meeting spaces, and a cafe. Over at the school’s Tech Huddle space, mobile furniture and wirelessly connected display screens make collaboration in any configuration possible. College of Business students are always encouraged to gather to study, collaborate on group projects, and explore, create, and engage with peers and colleagues locally and abroad with technology.
“Our entrepreneurial spirit is the engine that helps us experiment, learn and implement initiatives that have a profound impact on our students,” Balaji Rajagopalan, dean of the college, said to the school community. “From day one, you benefit from our ongoing collaboration with more than 100 corporate partners who help us ensure that our curriculum is at the cutting edge of practice and prepares you to succeed in the global business environment.”
CAREER COMPASS AND BUSINESS PASSPORT PROGRAM ROUND OUT THREE-PRONGED APPROACH
At Northern Illinois University College of Business, the faculty believe the best way to learn is to actually do something. The BELIEF program is the first of their multi-faceted approach to developing future business leaders.
The second part of the school’s plan is their eight-week Career Compass program that all freshman business students experience. A “C” grade or better is required to enroll in other classes. To start with, advisors work with students to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and potential organizational culture matches. They are then guided through an understanding of each of the college’s six majors, minors, certificates, and other education opportunities to help them make an informed decision on their learning. Finally, students are taught resume writing and cover letter skills, how to conduct an internship search, and identifying opportunities through job fairs and existing networks.
The third and newest program that the school has implemented is the compulsory Business Passport Program. Students must participate in at least one approved Business Passport activity from each of the seven Passport Continents categories: Business Communications, Career Development, Ethics, Experiential Learning, Global, Leadership, and Service, prior to graduation. The activities offered in each continent is aimed at encouraging ethics, communications, global perspectives, and other skills that help build future student leaders. With this program, the students transcripts will include information on the experiences and accomplishments that make them more desirable as individuals engaged in their community.
Jesse Rivera, a 2015 graduate of the College of Business, said that the Business Passport Program helped make them well-rounded students by exposing them to ideas otherwise not taught in the curriculum. His reasoning stemmed from the experiential learning continent, where students have to complete an internship or service project. On the school’s website, applicable activities range from publishing internship or working as a corporate liaison for the university’s Robotics Club, to interning with The Illinois Business Innovation Association or joining the NIU Formula Motorsports Team.
MORE THAN HALF THE ENTERING FALL 2017 CLASS ARE FIRST-GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENTS
The school reports that 64% of students in the class of 2017 had business-related internships before entering their senior year and within 90 days of graduation, 55% of students had found full-time jobs.
In every class that College of Business students attend, there is also a high chance that they’ll find themselves learning and working alongside someone unlike themselves, much like the global workplace. In order to prepare their students for an increasingly diverse workplace, the school has tried to increase diversity within their walls. At the College of Business, 56% of incoming fall of 2017 students were first-generation college students. The school also reports that 43% of students are from underrepresented minority groups and about 2% are international students.
JUST 3% OF STUDENTS HAVE ‘GLOBAL EXPERIENCE’
From the International Business Seminars program that brings students to the headquarters of large multinational enterprises and to the homes of small local businesses to learn about business environments and practices abroad, to semester-abroad programs where students can choose to visit anywhere from Spain and Ireland, to India or China, there are plenty of opportunities for students to take their learning overseas.
Though the school reports that just 3% of students have a global experience before graduating, some students highlighted their abroad experiences in the P&Q alumni survey.
Becca Clark, who now works as director of sales with White Lodging, said that one of her most memorable experiences was being able to travel to Mexico to work with a client to launch a company after creating a business plan. Another alumni shared that while working on a detailed analysis of the garage door market in Lithuania, the class heard from several professors who traveled to the school from abroad.
TOP-SHELF ACCOUNTING PROGRAM
The College of Business has received accolades for its accounting program. Sarah Woo, an accountancy program student, said that with the help of the school, she did an audit internship with BDO USA, LLP who later asked her to return for a second internship in tax. She was eventually offered a full-time position at the firm upon graduation and has accepted the offer.
“I really commend the accountancy program, the career fair, and the classes here, as they give me the tools to be able to find these opportunities for growth and success,” said Woo, who is working on her master of science in accounting degree. “I couldn’t be more grateful.”
In April 2017, NIU College of Business accountancy alumni, Joe Parisi competed against other “sharks” on ABC’s entrepreneur pitch show, Shark Tank. The 2011 graduate had planned to become an accountant after passing his CPA exam and working in public accounting, but life took him someplace else, something the school hopes the Business Passport Program will help prepare every student for.
Parisi, owner of Guard Llama mobile personal security system, was one of 100 who were selected out of about 40,000 applicants for a chance to pitch his business to investors on TV. Talking to his alma mater, he said that the first step in entrepreneurship is to “bet on yourself,” and to focus on the few reasons why your business will work, and not the million reasons it may not.