A Letter from the Chair
The Integrated Business Degree program, which launched in spring 2016, is the newest of the seven BSBA degrees offered by UCF’s College of Business Administration.
IB represents a new approach to undergraduate business education and was developed by a dedicated group of UCF faculty members in conjunction with members of the business community and UCF alums. There is nothing like it in the college nor anywhere else at UCF. Indeed, there isn’t another business program like it anywhere in the world. We believe our program represents the cutting edge of undergraduate business education.
So what makes the IB program so different? Many things, including its innovative coursework, use of flipped classroom methodology, intentional teaching of soft skills, and focus on small and medium size, privately-held firms. Let me discuss each of these in turn.
Rather than continue to teach the same things taught by business schools for the last fifty or sixty years, we talked to business owners and UCF alums to find out what they thought should be taught. They told us, “everybody sells something,” (a product, an idea, themselves) so we require students to take a sales class. They told us, “today’s graduates don’t know how to tackle long-term projects,” so we require students to take a project management class. And so on. Each of our eight required classes provides students with exposure to a skill set that is useful across industries and across functional areas of business. Further, our classes teach processes, not answers. So our technology class doesn’t teach how to use specific technologies, it teaches the process of identifying a technology solution to a business problem, whatever the business and whatever the problem. And our decision making class teaches a process of critical thinking that is influenced by careful (but not complex) data analysis.
For years, business education has been (1) read chapter 4, (2) lecture on chapter 4, and (3) exam on chapter 4. But the real world doesn’t come in chapters or lectures or exams. And many students don’t learn well or learn deeply from this approach. So we did away with it. IB classes have no lectures. Students encounter material online in short readings, videos, or exercises prior to coming to class. In class, they break into teams and work on assignments that get them actively engaged with the material. They learn through doing. The instructor acts as a consultant, coach, and mentor, rather than a talking head at the front of the room.
Our alums, employers, and the research tell us that the skills that make for a successful career aren’t usually the technical ones, because technology changes and as people advance from entry level to executive positions, they quickly cease being technicians. The skills that remain important throughout a career are the soft or transferable ones, such as the abilities to write well, convey information verbally, work well in a team, solve problems, think critically, and understand the role of a leader. While we have talked about these skills in business schools for many years, they didn’t get taught. Part of the reason the IB program adopted the flipped classroom approach is to make sure we could intentionally teach these soft skills in an environment in which the instructor can observe, coach, and correct. All of our classes use team-based learning, but in some classes various roles rotate through members of the team, so that, for example, everyone makes a presentation, or everyone writes a summary, or everyone takes on the role of team leader at some point during the semester. We believe that coursework that emphasizes process and intentionally teaches soft skills will produce graduates who are uniquely qualified for today’s every changing career paths.
Small/Medium Size Businesses.
It’s funny, we know that all of the net growth in the economy comes from small businesses, and we know that about 40% of UCF’s business graduates immediately go to work for small businesses, and we know that many of our most successful alums started businesses, but when you look at the traditional undergraduate business class, all of the examples are extremely large companies. Partly that’s because there’s a lot of information available about large companies and it’s much harder to find for small businesses, but partly it’s a bias. Colleges of Business have traditionally thought of success as being the relatively small handful of companies that happened to grow very large, rather than the thousands and thousands of businesses that employ 10 or 50 or 250 employees, produce innovative goods and services, and create a lot of wealth and prosperity. In IB, we want to prepare students for a world in which they will likely switch career paths multiple times and often wear a lot of “hats” (takes on a lot of different roles) during a typical work week. So we have adopted a program-wide focus on small and medium size, privately held businesses; businesses where you know the owner and where advancement can come quickly if you work hard and know how to solve problems. We also want to prepare our many students whose goal is to start a business of their own. In fact, students in IB must take one elective and have only three choices: an internship, the first class in the Entrepreneurism program, or our Small Business Development class. Even better, if you’re ready to wear a lot of hats in a smaller business, you’re going to be a great employee for a larger business, many of which now pride themselves in being “entrepreneurial.”
I’m very excited to be a part of this innovative approach to undergraduate business education. Please know that I’m always available to talk with you about the program and am always thankful for your feedback (positive or negative). We’re not stupid enough to think we’ve got everything figured out, so please give us ideas how to make the program better. I am…
Jim Gilkeson, Ph.D., CFA