At Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business in New York City, we wanted to infuse the undergraduate program with elements that are often found in MBA programs: experiential learning, critical thinking, multiple perspectives, cross-disciplinary courses, and courses that develop oral and written communication. But because sweeping curricular change can be difficult to implement, we began by developing a small-scale operation within the business school: the Zicklin Undergraduate Honors Program (ZUHP).
ZUHP launched in 2011 as a series of multidisciplinary seminars that we call the Advanced Business Analysis minor. Students take the 12-credit sequence in addition to their traditional majors so the course enhances, but does not replace, other discipline-based courses.
We initially worried that requiring students to take an extra class each semester would discourage potential applicants. While these classes may fit as electives into the 124 credits needed for a BBA degree, some students—particularly transfer students—will have to earn more than 124 credits if they take these four additional courses. Even so, the program has attracted motivated students who view the classes as opportunities rather than requirements.
The ZUHP classes are run as seminars with enrollment caps of between 12 and 25 students. Although this small class size is one of the most expensive parts of the program, it is also key to achieving our educational goals.
Students in the Advanced Business Analysis minor choose among a series of multidisciplinary electives. Because we want students to see problems from multiple perspectives, ZUHP classes are taught by teams of instructors and feature faculty from different departments. For example, a class that analyzed the tech industry was led by an information systems professor, but related cases were taught by visiting faculty from accounting, economics, law, and marketing. Students could observe how faculty from different disciplines reacted to each other’s perspectives—not unlike a real-world situation in which lawyers, accountants, marketing managers, and tech personnel interact.
Students also must take a prerequisite Business Cases course, which involves a series of cases taught by faculty from each department, as well as outside executives. Before class each week, students must submit written analyses of assigned cases. In a recent semester, topics included actual ethical dilemmas that had confronted the participating executives. Students also analyzed the causes of the economic crisis in a class team-taught by a bank executive and an executive from Freddie Mac.
In addition, students complete weekly written assignments, receiving feedback and coaching to improve their writing skills. Students who need additional help can visit the school’s Writing Center.
Finally, students must decide between taking three capstone options: They may take one of two experiential capstone courses or write a thesis. One capstone is a business consulting course in which undergrads team with MBA students to address real-life projects for paying clients. The course is team taught by a faculty member and a retired partner from a major consulting firm. In the other capstone course, which is still in the planning stages, students will work in teams to develop business plans for new ventures. We plan to invite working executives in to judge the results alongside faculty.
We complement our academics with co-curricular programming. Successful alumni and New York City executives come to school to meet with small groups of students in informal settings or host off-campus lunches for students in their own boardrooms. Many executives seem to enjoy this format more than making formal speeches to large audiences, and students gain confidence as they interact with executives outside the classroom setting. In addition, we provide a business mentor for each student in conjunction with the Zicklin School’s Executives on Campus program.
THE PROGRAM SO FAR
To be admitted to the program, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.6, submit two essays on specific topics, and participate in group interviews. We plan to admit a cohort of 20 to 25 students from the Zicklin School each semester. While we offer no financial support for the program, we do provide stimulating classes, personal attention, and the chance to be part of a small, high-achieving group. In fact, members of the first cohort bonded quickly with each other, socialized after classes, formed their own Facebook page, and engaged in volunteer work as a group.
Although we have yet to graduate a class of ZUHP students, we feel we are on the right track. Applications for the current admissions cycle are up. Our first cohort obtained prestigious summer internships at a higher rate than our general population—one even became the first business student to win NASA’s John Mather Nobel Scholar Award. We’re convinced that the ZUHP is just the beginning for these students—and that Zicklin is just at the beginning of ZUHP.
Gloria Penn Thomas is professor of marketing in the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College in New York City. She also is the inaugural director of the Zicklin Undergraduate Honors Program. Phyllis Zadra is the associate dean of the Zicklin undergraduate program.