Business starts from the get-go for first-year students at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. All freshmen at the school are immediately enrolled in the same fundamental business courses to expose them to the central elements of entrepreneurship and develop a solid understanding of the workings of business. From accounting, management, and information systems to strategy, marketing, and organizational behavior, every Saunders student must attend this set of core classes as part of the school’s Freshman Experience: Biz 1+2 program.
It’s a tight-nit community at Saunders where class sizes never exceed 20 and all students are expected to bring a business plan from idea to creation within their first year. Working in a cohort model, students begin forging friendships and working in teams from the start.
The college reported that they received 1,124 applications to their undergraduate business program in fall 2017 and admitted 797. The school offers students a bachelor of science degree in accounting, finance, management, international business, marketing, new media marketing, supply chain management, and management information systems. Because they understand that many students may not be ready to declare a major freshman year, incoming first-year students can choose Business Exploration, the undeclared business major program where they can work on coursework in the general studies discipline and business core. After a year and a half, students will be asked to select a business major.
‘NOT JUST WALKING THE HALLS ON AUTOPILOT BETWEEN CLASSES’
All first-year students at Saunders spend a semester brainstorming and exploring possible business ventures. Regardless of which major they declare, the school believes that every student should understand the entire business process, the obstacles, and challenges.
Under the guidance of the faculty, students work in small teams to create business plans that they present to the Saunders faculty and a panel of experienced judges at the end of the semester. Michael Crowley, a Saunders alum, is one of the judges who sits on the panel.
“Very few freshmen at any school get this kind of experience or are allowed to be totally creative, innovative and entrepreneurial. I enjoy seeing how excited students are to give their ideas life,” Crowley said. “These students are alive. Not just walking the halls on autopilot in between classes. They are having fun learning as a team.”
Other judges include Rob Giacchetti, a finance major from the class of ’92, who is now managing partner at The Avanti Group, and Patrick Benz, a business hospitality major from the class of ’84, who is now principal at RFP Advisors.
CO-OP PROGRAM REQUIRED FOR ALL STUDENTS
Throughout their education at Saunders, students can expect to have many opportunities for hands-on learning.
At the RIT Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education, staff work to place over 4,400 students with more than 2,200 employer partners annually. It is compulsory for all business students at Saunders to take on a co-op experience that is directly related to the field of study during their time at the College. In most cases, students begin their co-op experience after completing two years of coursework. Students can choose to work full-time for a fall, spring or summer semester, or work part time over the course of two semesters, to fulfill this graduation requirement. Companies that worked with the school’s co-op program include Prudential, Walt Disney World, Bloomberg Television, Caterpillar, Ernst & Young, PwC, and Goldman Sachs.
The Career Services Office also sponsors and promotes two major university-wide career fairs every fall and spring, that draws over 250 companies who are actively recruiting students for co-op and full-time positions.
Every student who graduates from Saunders has to complete a capstone project in their major field. From building websites for nonprofit organizations to developing mobile apps, Capstone is intended to be a culminating experience where students integrate knowledge from across all business disciplines to plan and test their skills, knowledge, and strategies in a real-world, consulting partnership that lasts a semester. Capstone clients that students have worked with include Goodwill, CP Rochester and Kodak Alaris.
In previous years, Saunders students have done market opportunity analysis on the future of 3D printing and worked with engineering students to create a marketing plan for the commercialization of a motorized pediatric stander.
“Coming from a design background, I did not have any experience with the business field,” Aman Jot Kaur, who was part of the team that studied the 3D printing market for their client, said. “This capstone is giving me a chance to explore opportunities and learn new things before entering into the corporate world.”
On top of that, Saunders students also participate regularly in competitions to put their skills to the test. Tom Weekes, an alum of the school who now works as a digital marketing analysis for CPI Security, got to participate in the Google Adwords Challenge during his time at the school. He told Poets&Quants that the experience of partnering with a local company to create an Adwords campaign made him stand out to potential employers.
The result of the school’s efforts to give their students real-world experience is clearly reflected in their employment statistics. The school reported that 72% of students in the class of 2016 found full-time jobs within three months of graduating, with only 0.6% of students still looking. Almost 18% of students were seeking continuing education and the average starting salary for Saunders graduates was $53,967.
STUDENT-RUN INVESTMENT FUND HIGHLIGHTS MANY INNOVATIVE OPPORTUNITIES
The Financial Management Association at RIT manage an investment portfolio worth about $150,000. The unique portfolio opportunity not only provides financial literacy but also an opportunity to real-life experience and a safe space for learning as a group. The group meets weekly to engage in market commentary and personal finance discussion before evaluating stocks to be bought or sold for the portfolio.
Finance majors at Saunders College also have access to state-of-the-art facilities such as the Business Analytics Lab, where there are 12 workstations with Bloomberg Financial Markets software, movable free-standing desks and the S&P 100 Index stock market ticker.
At the Saunders Active Learning Collaboratory, students are encouraged to engage in technological, interactive learning. The room has a Cisco telepresence, digital whiteboard, and individual computer hookups for students to use the monitors when working in teams.
Accounting students are prepared for the CPA exam and guided into the next part of their careers as the school’s Next Generation of Accountants chapter regularly hosts guest speakers from the Big Four accounting firms and hands-on workshops with chances to network and get a foot in the industry before graduation. The list of top ten employers for graduates from the school include KPMG, Liberty Mutual Insurance and Southwest Airlines.
At Rochester Institute of Technology, the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has also been ranked the No. 1 student incubator in the nation by BestColleges.com. Set up in 2007, the center has a Magic Co-Up Program, where they partner with the university’s MAGIC Center. Together, the program seeks to bridge the gap between research and prototyping, to support multidisciplinary RIT teams that create “startup” products and commercial activities in digital media. To join the summer program, students must submit a prototype, a business plan, a financial statement detailing how funding will be used and what will be produced. Under faculty mentorship, the team is guided closer to being market-ready by the end of the season.
Outside campus, students at the school also have many opportunities to take their learning abroad. The school said that business administration students have over 200 partner schools to choose from, including the Paris School of Business, Oxford University, Tsinghua University, Yonsei University, and Barcelona School for International Studies.
In the Dean’s message to the school community, Dean Jacqueline Mozrall said: “Strong corporate connections, built upon our world-class cooperative education, allows Saunders College to offer programs that are relevant to today’s business needs and produce graduates that are in demand and ready on day one.”