The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business isn’t nameless. While they may joke about being the “No-name School,” there’s a good reason why the B-school is simply titled, “Wisconsin,” says Steve Schroeder, assistant dean of the Wisconsin BBA Program.
Ten years ago, Schroeder says, 13 alumni each chipped in a minimum of $5 million dollars for the rights to name the school for 20 years — and chose to name it after the state. So Wisconsin is no different, he says, than its peer schools that carry the name of a generous benefactor.
“We’re no different than Kelley, or McCombs, or Ross,” he tells Poets&Quants. “The difference with us is, it was 13 alumni who came together to pool their money to make a significant contribution. We sort of refer to ourselves as the ‘No-name School,’ but we are the first school in the country that did this. And I think it says something about our alumni that they came together and pooled their resources. It says something about the culture of Wisconsin and about wanting to make an impact.”
MAKING A GLOBAL IMPACT
Wisconsinites’ desire to make an impact can readily be seen, Schroeder says. The school constantly tops lists of Fortune 500 alums. It leads the country in participation in the Teach for America program. And it paces all other schools in the number of Peace Corps volunteers.
“There’s a sense of service,” Schroeder says, “and service to make an impact — not only within a community, but in this country and in the world. And I think that relates back to why so many of our students study abroad. Our students want to make a global impact, and that’s not just a mission statement for us. Our students actually do it.”
Of the 2016 Wisconsin B-school graduating class, 35.3% had some global experience. The school offers only three global courses, none of them required, but the university as a whole has 190 semester-abroad programs where students can study from Spain to Singapore, Norway to Hong Kong. Twenty-nine of the programs are business school-supported.
The B-school now has its own study-abroad unit, Schroeder says, and regularly conducts site reviews to maintain partnerships. He himself will travel to Dublin, London, Germany, and South Africa this school year to visit international business schools that Wisconsin has established relationships with. But discussions are underway in the school’s Curriculum Committee to figure out how to expand the offerings and grow the number of students who participate.
“We are in the early stages of talking about what we should require from an international standpoint, knowing that not all students can study abroad,” Schroeder says. “Should we require students to take our Intro to International Business course if they don’t study abroad? We’re having some preliminary discussions now about where international fits.” Wisconsin also is mulling Australia as a new international destination for its students, he adds.
BADGER IN BEIJING
Jason Shapiro, Class of 2014, took full advantage of Wisconsin’s international opportunities — and then some. The finance and international business double major studied abroad twice: first, a three-month summer language immersion program in Tianjin, China, then a six-month spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
After studying Chinese in Madison for two years, Shapiro, now a senior treasury analyst with Navistar International, says he decided that the summer immersion program was a great way to “pull it all together, practice the tonal aspect of the language, and see how I can carry my own only using Chinese.”
The first trip was language immersion, but Shapiro also learned about Chinese culture. Each student had to choose a “cultural class,” he says, with such options as calligraphy, Chinese paper cutting, and Erhu (Chinese guitar). Essentially, it was like taking a whole year worth of Chinese in three months — with a week off to travel China and see the sights.
After that, he added an international business major to his finance major. “I took business classes and Chinese language classes. It was a great opportunity,” he says.
GETTING IN, AND ONCE YOU’RE THERE
Wisconsin moved from junior-based admissions to sophomore-based admissions 11 years ago. It added its own admissions team and learning center, which serves as a tutoring office, and has since grown from about 1,800 admitted students to its current size of more than 2,500. The school’s acceptance rate was 35% this fall. A good portion — about 36% of total admits — are direct admits from high school. Average SAT/ACT for admits is 1300/29.
Most business students at Wisconsin begin in their sophomore year through the pre-business process. Pre-business students typically apply the spring of their first year, says Jamie Marsh Finco, director of career services for the Wisconsin BBA Program; those who are admitted begin in the fall semester of their second year. The school requires admits to take four pre-business classes: Psychology, Calculus, Economics, and Communications, though some students “test out” with AP credit.
Wisconsin recommends that students start “chipping away” early at the university’s general education requirements, Schroeder says. Overall, Wisconsin BBA students are required to complete 52 credits (approximately 17 courses) in liberal arts studies including communications, ethnic studies, quantitative reasoning, social sciences, ethics, and more. In their sophomore year, they will be expected to start taking what are called “prep classes”: Economics 102, two semesters of accounting, a professional communications class, and the first part of the Compass Class, a one-credit required course in which students talk about their values, career preparation, academic planning, global citizenship, diversity, and inclusion — “helping them understand their own identity,” Schroeder says. The Compass Program is designed as a multi-year program that supports students’ development throughout their time at Wisconsin, Finco says, with students completing career development, academic planning, and leadership and engaged citizenship requirements as they go.
In addition to the Compass Program, Wisconsin recently implemented two new courses for all students: Business Analytics I & II. All students also complete a MS Excel proficiency course, which provides a foundation in basic skills needed for business analytics.
How many of these course involve experiential learning? About 21, with six required depending on major. However, Schroeder notes that the school likes to think of many of their classes as applied learning. “Especially in the core classes, students have to take management, human resources, finance, operations, technology management…they have to take two business analytics courses, and then they have to take a marketing and a business law class. There are so many group projects in almost every one of our classes, because obviously the element of teamwork is important.”
Jason Shapiro remembers the course that meant the most to him: Professional Communication, taught by Mark Lindquist. “I’ve noticed many of my colleagues and friends at other schools are unprepared to communicate in the business world — resumes, emails, cover letters, etc.,” he says. “In my opinion, a class is most effective when it teaches the student not only the whys, but how they’ll apply these skills in the real world. Professor Lindquist’s class prepared me for the real world while I believe many of my colleagues could benefit from the teachings of that class.”
Wisconsin costs a total $177,918 to attend for out-of-state residents (excluding Minnesotans, for which the university has special dispensation). Some 36% of the graduating Class of 2017 graduated with debt, according to university figures, and the average amount was $32,597.
Wisconsin saw 90% of 2017 graduates score pre-senior year internships, and 86.54% secure jobs within 90 days of graduating. That was up only slightly from 2016 (86.41%). Recruited by such top firms as Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Kohl’s, they earned an average salary of $58,031, slightly down from 2016’s average of $58,741.
ABOUT THE WEATHER …
The Wisconsin School of Business is a small, intimate enclave in one of the biggest universities in the U.S., Schroeder says. Wisconsin, as a whole, has 43,000 students, 17,000 faculty and staff, and about 450 buildings. The B-school has one building, and a tight-knit community.
“We’re Midwest nice, so we never say that we’re better than anybody else,” Schroeder says. “So not only do you get the scale of a big university with the small-feel community within the business school, you can be assured that the English classes and the chemistry classes and the botany and the art history classes are going to be in the top echelons within the country. And that’s important, because most of our students take more classes outside the business school than they take in the business school.
“It’s great to have a great business school, which we believe we have, but we also have a great university. Students are going to get a well-rounded business education with its foundation in the liberal arts.
“The other piece of that is Madison, which is almost always in the top 10 cities to live in. So if you can handle the cold, it’s a really great city.”
Yeah, about that weather …
“The weather sucks,” Shapiro says. “That’s the only demerit I can give to Wisconsin. The professors, classes, and overall academics are great. The career services are very helpful. If the social life is what you’re looking for, UW can’t be topped. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who said, ‘I regret my decision to go to UW.’
“The only thing I can — and have — complained about is the weather.”
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“I took part in two separate (but very similar) dynamic simulations where the class was divided into seven to eight small groups and we were launching competing products on a global scale. At a high level, we were tasked with sourcing, target markets, pricing, product features, freight, risk assessment, and how to react to competitors. We were given beginning budgets that increased with success or, conversely, decreased by failures. The goal was to maximize profitability and market share. The simulation was dynamic in that it incorporated the actions of our competitors. The takeaway was that decisions in business are rarely one-dimensional and the part that various decisions have in success, with each requiring thoughtful planning and vision.” — Class of 2014 Grad
“I took part in the School of Business study-abroad program in London (spring semester, 2012). The soft skills and cultural awareness I learned while spending time abroad is unable to be replicated in the classroom or on a domestic campus. I also learned to be independent and how to effectively communicate across language and cultural barriers.” — Class of 2014 Grad
“Studied Abroad in Oslo, Norway. Learned how to work with students and professionals from a broad and diverse background, as well as language and cultural differences. Key experience which helped me land a full-time position with a Global 500 employer.” — Class of 2014 Grad
Where the Class of 2017 went to work:
Allstate Insurance: 8
Baker Tilly: 8
Deloitte Consulting: 7
General Mills: 7
Wells Fargo: 7