Monday, July 14, 2014

Marquette's College of Business has a new vision: Character and self-awareness

Character and self-awareness in business education? Great — let’s get started

By Dr. Mark J. Eppli, Interim Keyes Dean of Business Administration, Marquette University

 I recently asked a group of alumni, all esteemed, seasoned business veterans in their 50s or better, “When you graduated from college, how self-aware were you?”

Met with a measured pause followed by a few nervous laughs, I knew I had their attention.

“We’re going to teach that here at Marquette Business,” I said. “We’re going to graduate business leaders with self-awareness and character.”

If they were skeptical, it didn’t show — each was as excited as the next. “Great — let’s get started.”

Truth is, we already had. It was these same alumni who, working side-by-side with our faculty, helped shape our new “Day 1” vision. Knowing — just as hundreds of other AACSB schools do — that business education must change to meet the demands of industry, we sought industry wisdom.

While their input varied by sector, age and life experience, there were two resounding themes: 1) Business students aren’t fully prepared to add immediate value to organizations upon graduation, and 2) they lack the character and self-awareness to lead.

Over time, the answer became clear to us: A Marquette Business education will start on Day 1. From that moment we will ensure every graduate is prepared to lead with a depth of business expertise, character and self-awareness.

But what does that mean? More importantly, how do we successfully execute on such a promise?

Diligent business educators, we started with the research. A May 2014 Gallup report on workplace and employee engagement sets the tone for how we will implement the Day 1 vision. Gallup surveyed 30,000 college graduates and found that people who feel happy and engaged in their jobs are the most productive — yet only 39 percent are considered engaged employees.

Gallup then looked at what college activities correlate with workplace engagement, which ultimately leads to personal well-being and employee satisfaction. The primary contributing factors, in order of importance:

1.       Feelings of being “emotionally supported” at school by a professor or mentor

2.       Learning from a professor who excited you about learning and encouraged you to pursue your dreams

3.       Student internships

4.       Projects that took a semester or more to complete

5.       Involvement in extracurricular activities and organizations

 At Marquette Business, we believe that a brick and mortar learning environment is important to student development.  Personal interactions are critical to the overall education and formation of our students.

To be clear, we haven’t developed a magic formula. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to education. But for us, a Jesuit business school in Milwaukee with our own unique challenges and opportunities, we want to ensure that every Marquette Business graduate is prepared to lead with a depth of business expertise, character and self-awareness, and we will do so through three strategic initiatives.

First, our students will be internship-ready as sophomores. To that end, we are moving major courses earlier in the curriculum and adding a required first-year course on how businesses make money and create value. To be competitive, students need to quickly understand how business operates as a whole, rather than in isolation by major disciplines.

Second, we will capitalize on the success of our applied centers and programs in applied investment management, supply chain management and real estate. We will scale these up and use them as models to develop new centers and programs. In fact, we recently announced the expansion of our Applied Investment Management program, which will now feature a private equity track — a direct result of industry demand.

Lastly, that pesky character and self-awareness bit. How do we even begin to make good on that promise?

In part, our Catholic, Jesuit foundation gives us an advantage — but we will do more. The cornerstone of Day 1 will be the Center for Leadership and Career Development. Led by an assistant dean and guided by non-tenured faculty from industry and executives-in-residence, the center will combine traditional career services with a required leadership program built around character and self-awareness that permeates every Marquette Business student’s experience.

We will not do this softly. A hallmark of a Jesuit business education is rigor, so we must — and we will — measure student progress. The executives-in-residence and professional mentors will be accountable, too. We invite them in not to simply tell war stories, but to guide and mentor, helping our students to reflect on their experiences and solve real problems.

The Gallup report authors write: “…Answers lie in thinking about things that are more lasting than…traditional measures of college. Instead, the answers may lie in what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it. Those elements — more than any others — have a profound relationship to a person’s life and career. Yet they are being achieved by too few. It should be a national imperative — owned by higher education institutions, students, parents, businesses, non-profits, and government alike, to change this.”

At Marquette Business, we heard this and said, “Great — let’s get started.”

Dr. Mark Eppli is the interim Keyes Dean of Business Administration at Marquette University in Milwaukee. A professor of finance, Dr. Eppli also holds the Robert B. Bell, Sr., Chair in Real Estate.