Talent knows talent. And winners surround themselves with other winners. That may explain the appeal of the Foisie Business School at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Here you’ll find some of the most promising business students. After all, 100% of Foisie business majors graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes.
Such talent has helped fuel Foisie’s surge in the P&Q Undergraduate Business School rankings. This year, the program jumped from 35th to 20th, thanks to high admissions standards, competitive outcomes, and high survey marks from alumni in areas like improving socioeconomic status and placing graduates in their dream careers. Foisie has also carved out a distinct identity in business education, one based on hands-on learning, technology training, and international exposure.
According to Riley Doherty, a 2019 Foisie grad, WPI’s project-based approach starts freshman year and doesn’t let up until graduation. This includes the famed Major Qualifying Project for seniors, where business majors tackle a major issue, business or social, and present their solutions to faculty and sponsors alike. In Doherty’s case, that involved studying the impact of opioid abuse on foster care and providing ways to reduce the time children spend in “the system.” Such projects often include an overseas element as well. Doherty’s classmate, Lily Olsen, gained real world experience by spending eight weeks in Morocco. Working in an interdisciplinary team, she was able to help produce a solar decathlon.
Emily Wilson, a 2020 grad who studied Management Engineering and Operations Management at Worcester, was able to complete several projects as an undergrad. “In my junior year, I was given the opportunity to travel to Windhoek, Namibia. There I worked with the Namibia University of Science and Technology, the Namibia Ministry of Education, and UNESCO. With these partners, my team and I were able to develop three online STEM labs that required minimal resources for primary school-age children. The goal of these labs was to spark interest in STEM at a younger age in order to get more students interested in studying STEM at the higher education level. For my senior year project, I am working on a team with a non-profit in El Paso Texas. We are working on developing recommendations for starting a shelter for survivors of human trafficking. These include recommendations for program offerings, processes, shelter layout, and estimated costs. These are just two of the projects that I have had the opportunity to work on here at WPI.”
Yes, projects enable Foisie business majors to build wider networks and gain valuable experience. However, such programming provides something even more critical to success. “Project work helps students become better collaborators, critical thinkers, public speakers, and communicators — vital to success at WPI and the skills that distinguish WPI graduates throughout their careers,” Laurie Stokes, associate director of Business Programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, tells P&Q.
What can business majors expect from Foisie in the coming year? What separates the program from other business schools? In January, P&Q posed questions like these to Adrienne Hall-Phillips, the director of undergraduate programs at the Foisie Business School. Here were her thoughts.
5 QUESTIONS WITH ADRIENNE HALL-PHILLIPS
P&Q: 100% of students accepted into your business school ranked among the top 10% of their high school graduating classes. What are two key qualities that prospective students must possess to land a spot in your program? Why are they so important?
Hall-Phillips: “We are laser focused on the intersection of business and technology. As such, we look for students with strong quantitative backgrounds, who tend to be top performers within their high school class. The quant background allows students to quickly pick up and apply different modeling and analytical tools during their 4 years at FBS and use these tools to make data-driven business decisions.
We also look at what applicants are passionate about. While technology is a common thread among all WPI students, we have a very eclectic mix of students. We are a project-based business school – students work in teams from day one. Being on a team with students from a broad range of backgrounds and with a wide array of interests adds great value to the team experience.”
P&Q: What are your undergraduate business program’s two biggest strengths and how do make students better prepared for business once they graduate?
Hall-Phillips: “All businesses and organizations are seeking people who can be both great team members and team leaders. From our freshman year Great Problems Seminar, to our junior year Global Project, to our senior year Major Qualifying Project, our students are engaged in team-based projects from the moment they set foot on campus. They learn group dynamics, how to navigate difficult personalities, the importance of effective communication, how to keep on task, and how to deliver data-driven, impactful results.
FBS students also learn how to work fast. We do four, 7-week terms per academic year. Our students are taking mid-terms 3 weeks into their college career, while their friends at other schools are still trying to figure out where the library is. Our students take just 3 course per term, so they are focused, learning quickly and efficiently, and delivering results. Our students often report that when they are off doing internships, they are moving twice as fast as their fellow interns from more traditional universities. That’s a huge competitive advantage.”
P&Q: You climbed from 36th to 20th in our newest undergraduate business ranking. What are some new and upcoming developments in your program that will enhance the business program for future business majors?
Hall-Phillips: “Our faculty is fully engaged in the life of our school, and we are always measuring, assessing, and re-evaluating our curriculums to ensure we are setting our students up for success. As a STEM-focused B-School, things are always changing, and we are nimble enough to keep up with those changes to make sure our students remain on the leading edge. For a recent example, we have injected business analytics into all our programs, as this is a skill we’ve found students across all our FBS majors rely upon heavily early in their professional careers. We are also building our Financial Technology offerings, a huge growth area in Massachusetts and world-wide.
P&Q: The business program is known for strongly infusing innovation and technology into the curriculum, all while injecting a strong dose of project work. Talk to us about how this approach works in a student’s day-to-day?
Hall-Phillips: “Virtually all our undergrad business courses involve team projects. We also have a large number of non-business majors in many of our FBS courses, as the science and engineering students on campus recognize the advantage gained by supplementing their technical knowledge with some business acumen. The vast majority of WPI graduates go to work for some type of business, and if they can go in understanding not just their technical specialty, but the larger business context within which they are operating, it gives them a big leg up on both the purely tech and purely business folks.
For our business majors, this means they are working in teams with mechanical engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, etc. and they learn to communicate across those different languages and mindsets. They can bridge the gap between the technical and business units of any organization.”
P&Q: What is the most underrated feature of your undergraduate business program and how does it enhance the experience for your business majors?
Hall-Phillips: “I think because WPI is one of the world’s leading technological universities and Foisie is a top tech-focused business school, our emphasis on the softer skills can be overlooked. Our students are learning leadership, group dynamics, change management, ethics, and social responsibility. They graduate not just with the skills to enhance an organization’s bottom line, but with the tools to make a positive societal impact. We talk a lot about impact at WPI. Learning, practice, and impact are the foundation of all we do.
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