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Marian University’s Clark H. Byrum School of Business implements a new model for teaching business - 5/1/2012

Textbook. Lecture. Exam. This is not how business works, and it’s not preparing today’s business school students. Mounting evidence shows that a new teaching model is necessary to meet the business community’s growing dissatisfaction with students’ skills head on.

The Clark H. Byrum School of Business at Marian University has undertaken a complete renovation of its business curriculum. The changes are predicated on important research calling for greater integration of business curricula and increased focus on developing practical reasoning, as reported in the book Academically Adrift and in the results of a Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching study. According to Academically Adrift researchers Arum and Roksa, business schools are not providing students with skills development and experiences that allow them to achieve success in a competitive, global, dynamic world.

The Byrum School of Business’s new curriculum, which goes into effect this fall, requires students to complete a series of increasingly complex business experiences over four years. Each experience in the series is delivered by teams of full time faculty with extensive business experience. Freshmen begin the series by competing in a business plan competition that is judged by business executives from the community. Winners are awarded funding and allowed to launch their businesses on campus.

The new curriculum is integrated, collaborative, and experiential—a design that will develop a student’s problem solving, communication, analytical, and interpersonal skills. Marian’s approach emphasizes teamwork and ethical leadership. In addition to the revisions to the core, all business students will be required to take courses in career planning and ethics and complete internships.

“At Marian University, we are deeply committed to giving students real-life, hands-on experiences. Engaging with the subject matter in a meaningful way creates real learning and is a hallmark of exceptional degree programs. After reading Academically Adrift and the Carnegie study, Dr. Kershaw and the faculty of the Clark H. Byrum School of Business took action. They knew something need to be done to better prepare young men and women to be tomorrow’s business leaders. I applaud their efforts,” said Marian University President Daniel J. Elsener.

Dr. Russ Kershaw, dean of the Clark H. Byrum School of BusinessDr. Russ Kershaw, dean of the Clark H. Byrum School of Business at Marian University, led the redesign of the school’s curriculum, which now emphasizes development of a student’s professional judgment over technical expertise. “CEOs and business leaders tell us over and over that many of the technical aspects of a position can be learned on the job. What they need us to do is develop key skills and provide practical experience,” he said. “We think the emphasis on relevant business problems, combined with actual engagement and interaction, represents a real paradigm shift in business education.”

An example of meaningful, hands-on learning can be found in a course that Marian University has offered for the past three years. The Student Advertising Competition class allows students the opportunity to create a marketing plan for an actual client, and then pitch their plan to that client—in this case, Nissan USA—in a competitive setting against other top universities. Marian University’s 2012 team placed fourth, finishing ahead of schools such as University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, University of Michigan, Indiana University, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame. This is the third consecutive year Marian University’s team has finished in the top four. “That experience was the most meaningful of my four years of college,” said Jake VanDeman, a 2012 Marian University graduate. “I was able to take what I had learned and not only apply it, but also receive face-to-face feedback from seasoned business executives.”

Vicki Perry, CEO of Advantage Health in Indianapolis, supports Marian University’s approach to their students. “This is exactly the kind of innovative thinking about education that will put Marian University in a leadership role in our state.” She commented that Marian University was not merely adding one or two classes to an outmoded approach. “What is radically different is the entire core curriculum, which is now organized around business experiences and projects. Every student has to write a business plan. For four years, every student interacts with business people, business-related problems, and business projects,” she said.

“Marian University’s newly innovated business curriculum is almost like dropping its students into the middle of a city with 100 businesses and asking them to make everything run better. That is what I call practical, hands on learning,” said David Mann, managing partner of Spring Mill Venture Partners and a member of the Clark H. Byrum School of Business board of visitors.

“We are focused on driving economic development and prosperity for the Indianapolis region,” said Scott Miller, president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. “We will be even more successful at attracting new companies to Indianapolis if we can further improve the education and skills of our workforce. There’s no better way to enhance our future workforce than through an experiential business degree that equips students with the critical skills required to meet the growing demands and challenges of today’s highly competitive business world.”

Alumni of Marian University's business program are whole-heartedly behind the innovative curriculum. John Yanney, a 1971 graduate and recently retired CEO of Chemcentral Corporation, sees his alma mater providing a creative new curriculum that incorporates all facets of a business operation, beginning with a student's freshman year. "Developing the ability to work together as a team is crucial to a successful business plan. So is understanding every dimension of a business, from the financials to inventory, marketing, and human resources and the new curriculum at Marian does that," he said.