Dean’s Q&A: Lynn Wooten of Michigan

University of Michigan's Ross School of Business

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Does a degree in undergraduate business really pay off? What do you think is the value proposition for students? 

I think a high-quality undergraduate experience has the potential to be the best of both worlds where you get the foundation and key attributes of a liberal arts education but also are prepared for your career and can see the world from a business perspective. Our students have great opportunities. The largest percentage of students when they leave Ross want to go into careers of finance, followed by accounting and marketing. Recruiters come here because they know students have a liberal arts foundation and the business acumen to hit the job running. I think that the students are in a strong position and talk about the way Ross prepares them to be prepared for the employment marketplace, have strong internships and how they can succeed.  Their classroom knowledge, co-curricular experience and leadership development they gain here at Ross gives our students a strong competitive advantage.

How deeply involved are parents in both the application process and the actual education of the students? 

I’ve been in this field now for two decades and I can say that I see a different type of parental involvement. If you think about undergraduate education changing from the undergraduate process to the career search process, we here see the involvement of parents at the initial campus visit. When students visit campus their parents are here, and they’re here at yield events. I see parents more engaged in orientation and then once students get here and get settled, for the most part, the interactions parents have with faculty staff and administrators are limited. However, students are more connected with their parents on a day-to-day basis. I’ll hear students say, “I had an interview with Goldman Sachs and I called my dad for advice.” Once they know their child is in the optimal learning environment and they are having a great experience, they are usually hands off with their interactions with faculty, staff and administrators. But I think students speak to their parents more frequently than previous generations.

Does the MBA program trickle down to the undergraduate business program, and, if so, how do students benefit? 

One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Ross is we try to create synergies and shared services. We have an innovative Ross leadership curriculum, so we have synergies there for leadership development. We have a common curriculum, but it is distinguished for MBAs versus BBAs. We use EMBAs for career coaches and on career panels, where they share their experiences. When possible, we try to create synergies in other ways, especially in professional leadership experiences between MBAs and BBAs. We have common faculty and share a building. The student government is undergraduates and MBAs, so we work together a lot. But we do realize the difference between how we create educational experiences for a 21-year old versus a 28-year old and are mindful of the differences.

I understand Ross recently completely redesigned the undergraduate curriculum, and launched it this year. Why did the school do this, and how will it benefit students? 

We did a two-year research fact-finding community involvement effort to redesign our curriculum. We will launch the redesigned curriculum in September of 2014, and the central tenet of the redesign is that we wanted to be mindful of integrating liberal arts and enhancing action-based experiences. That’s where students go outside of the classroom to move theory to practice and do a consulting project. So there is more action-based learning. We wanted more of that. Our new sophomore class looks at business as a positive force, and we help student think about their own personal development and self-authorship incorporated into our new experience.

Also, another goal of redesigning our curriculum is so it becomes more integrative and boundary-less. We are talking about helping students develop a skillset where they can work across functions and disciplines and have a mindset where they develop an orientation for lifelong learning.  In the global world, we wanted our students to be more global and more culturally intelligent. The ability to work in diverse groups and to be collaborative and diverse in organizations and business situations was important.

We also enhanced our international component with a capstone learning experience and developed a customized leadership development program for our younger leaders, our undergraduates. Allison Davis Blake, the dean of the Ross School, and I came into the dean’s office at the same time and started the curriculum redesign. We’ve been working with the Aspen Institute as part of it. It’s a joint venture with the Aspen Institute and the Carnegie Foundation.

What advice do you have for both parents and would-be students in choosing a quality undergraduate business program?

My advice would be that sophomore or junior year of high school, you would want to visit campuses. You want to select a program that is really aligned with your child’s interests, so you want to think about what goals do you have and what does your child want to achieve in their undergraduate experience. Also, as a parent and potential student, you really want to investigate how that organization and institution creates transformational learning experiences. What is the curriculum like and what is the central experience like? What are co-curricular activities and how will the child develop as a leader? What is the professional development and career coaching my child will get? Those are all important things to think about.

Entrepreneurship has always been popular at Ross, due in large part to the school’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. How does that play out at the undergraduate level?

Entrepreneurship is really popular. When you look at the whole ecosystem of the University of Michigan campus, entrepreneurship is thriving. There are so many co-curricular internships and students here at Ross have a few pathways to pursue entrepreneurship. The Zell Lurie Institute is one of them, and there are a series of undergraduate courses where students are exposed to entrepreneurship, and the capstone elective is where students develop their own business plan.

There also are co-curricular activities where students receive money to launch businesses. For example, a group of students launched a food cart from the winnings of the competition. There are so many undergraduate initiatives that are run from the Zell Lurie Institute.

Similar to other schools I know, Ross is developing an undergraduate wide entrepreneurship campus-wide initiative. The undergraduate School of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts will join classes across campus and look at entrepreneurship from a variety of perspectives. We will launch that in the fall of 2014. It’s a university-wide initiative where students who are interested in Ross can take the entrepreneurship pathway and do the capstone experience.


Lori Rosenkopf of Wharton

Carl Zeithaml Of University of Virginia

Dale Nees of Notre Dame University

Edward McLaughlin Of Cornell

Steven Malter of Washington University

Lawrence Murray of the University of North Carolina  David Platt of University of Texas

Andrea Hershatter of Emory

Lynn Wooten of Michigan

Idalene Kesner of Indiana University


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