At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Business 101 is a big deal. It’s a course on professional responsibility, and is the first class business students take. But it’s not your typical ethics course. Dean Jeff Brown of the College of Business says it’s meant to help students understand their own personal ethics.
Developed in collaboration with faculty, the Office of Undergraduate Affairs, and the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society, Business 101: Professional Responsibility is divided into three modules: Personal Responsibilities, Professional Responsibilities, and Societal Responsibilities. And while the course focuses on corporate social responsibility and the broad role of business on a global scale, about one third of the time is spent thinking about the students’ own, personal values, and about how professional situations could compromise them.
At the same time, Business 101 is an introduction to the College of Business. Students begin creating formal resumes and participate in their first applied-learning activities. For example, students are introduced to subsistence marketplaces via lectures, virtual immersion exercises, and a poverty simulation.
The first hour of the class is led by a former dean and professors of the College of Business. In the second hour, freshmen break into smaller sections, and engage in discussions led by older business school students, usually in their junior and senior years.
“I had the opportunity and privilege to be a section leader in my junior and senior years,” says Michael Smigielski, an Illinois School of Business alum from the Class of 2014. “It was helpful, both taking it as a freshmen and teaching it, because it’s a theme that never leaves you. Whether you stay in business or move into another field of study, the pressures of work and life continue to grow.”
Smigielski says the lessons he learned in Business 101 have only become more relevant as he gets older. By using the tools and concepts he learned in class, he feels able to take a step back and reflect on how to be ethical and responsible to himself and to his society.
And while Business 101 is meant to provide an ethical framework which students can use as figure out what kind of work they want to do in their professional careers, the rest of freshman year curriculum is also geared toward self-discovery.
MORE THAN 30 BUSINESS-SPECIFIC STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS
Students begin taking Business Core classes in their freshmen year, which include a wide breadth of classes in economics, marketing, finance, accountancy and more. And for those who are eager to explore the different business focuses, Brown recommends taking advantage of the resources and opportunities the school offers.
For example, students are highly encouraged to get involved with student organizations or specialized programs at the schools, which Brown says are ways for them to familiarize themselves with various business opportunities. “There are over 30 business-focused student organizations, and we have a lot of specialized programs,” Brown says. “So if you’re interested in investment banking, or corporate finance, or managing an investment fund, we have a student program designed to help you build the necessary professional skills.”
And in the last few years, the number of opportunities like this been growing, particularly in action-based learning, which Brown says is a big focus of theirs. The College of Business has an action-learning office dedicated to helping students work with real clients, and Brown says within a year or two, they hope that every single graduating student will have experience working with real clients.
“I became dean a little over a year ago, and we have a lot of things going on,” Brown says. “We have a goal to — within a couple years — make sure every student walks out of here literate in data sciences. We have a partnership with Deloitte to create a center for business analytics. And we are undertaking a whole-scale review of our curriculum, which will really bring action-learning to every student. We hope to include it in the Business Core.”
ACTION-LEARNING IS A BIG DEAL AT ILLINOIS
One example of action-learning is a business school operated organization called Illinois Business Consulting. Student teams are hired through Illinois Business Consulting to work on projects for real clients — sometimes aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for help putting together a business plan, and sometimes larger companies who want help with various things, like marketing campaigns. The student teams will provide private consulting, and Brown says the program is enormously successful with very high client satisfaction.
And according to alum Kerry Zepeda, Class of 2014, student teamwork on projects like this was a large part of what drew her to the College of Business. “I was so impressed with the caliber of the students when I visited,” she says. “I witnessed these students helping one another and working together on projects and various club initiatives. While the students were incredibly driven, I never sensed the “dog eat dog” attitude that was very evident at other business schools I had visited.”
And once she was part of the community, she says she learned that the resources and programs at the school are only part of what makes it so beneficial to students.
“Alumnae are very eager to give back, and as a result, the business career services center flourishes at the College,” she says. “On a trip to Asia this summer, I randomly ran into two individuals whom I had met from the College of Business program. Those aren’t isolated incidents either — that’s how incredible and extensive of a network we have.”
HIGH JOB PLACEMENT AND EXTRACURRICULAR OPPORTUNITIES
She says she continues to be surprised by how much of a community the business program is, and says that as a professional in the Chicago area, she runs into people from the College of Business every day, and knows that she has numerous resources and countless professionals who she can rely on.
Zepeda’s enthusiasm is reflected in some parts of P&Q’s alumni survey, and less so in others. Overall, participating alumni reported average scores for the College of Business. They placed in the top six for extracurricular opportunities, but in the bottom 10 for the effectiveness of academic advising.
However, job placement is high. The school reports that 72.4% of the Class of 2017 had an internship before graduating, and that 89.06% had a job within 90 days of graduating. Of those who sought employment, the average starting salary was $62,096 and top employers were Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and KPMG.
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“I often had to work in groups for activities such as simulating building a business, formulating an exhaustive 50 year financial wealth management plan for a married couple, and pitching a Chicago based location for the Obama Presidential Library.” – Class of 2014 Illinois School of Business alum
“Through the College of Business Honors Program, other students and myself had the incredible opportunity to study, and then explore and visit businesses in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, Brazil. It was an incredible introduction to the business world and was an excellent opportunity for me to begin expanding my understanding of business concepts.” – Class of 2014 Illinois School of Business alum
“As a senior, I was able to work on multiple capstone projects with real companies. One that stood out in particular was with eBay through The Hoeft Technology & Management Program. My team visited eBay at the beginning of the semester and spent the next few months identifying strategies for them to improve the cooling of their data centers. As a business major, it was extremely valuable to work with engineering students and understand how the two disciplines can work together to make key decisions.” – Class of 2014 Illinois School of Business alum
Where the Class of 2017 went to work:
Crowe Horwath: 12
Motorola Solutions: 6
Grant Thornton: 5