Seminars for Leaders

At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., we recently revitalized the undergraduate curriculum with three key goals ...
Seminars for Leaders

At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., we recently revitalized the undergraduate curriculum with three key goals: We wanted to foster a global perspective in our students, give them greater exposure to ethics and social enterprise, and provide more opportunities for them to develop critical thinking skills.

We have met these goals in large part through instituting a First- Year Seminar (FYS) program titled “International Business, Public Policy and Society.” Launched in 2010, this seminar program has become so popular that it now consists of seven sections. Each class is an optional three-credit course in which senior faculty teach interdisciplinary topics. Classes are kept small—about 20 first-year students—to maximize discussion. Each seminar requires multiple writing assignments and includes a service component built around a case competition for a local nonprofit.


While the seminars cover different subjects, they all emphasize improving writing skills and understanding global issues, as these two examples show:

Patterns of Global Commerce examines the evolution of commerce between nations from geographical, historical, political, business, and ethical perspectives. It focuses on the dynamics of trade in scarce resources, food, minerals and fuels, armaments, legal and illegal drugs, human beings, intellectual property, and services.

We want to transform students’ understanding of these issues and encourage them to ask more analytical questions. For instance, why and what do nations trade? How does East meet West and North meet South in international trade and investment? What trade-offs exist between economic and social interests? Can nations be open to trade and still protect their domestic economies?

Through readings, discussions, and written assignments, students learn how critical issues in commerce have evolved over time. They examine issues through non- U.S. perspectives—an experience that is enhanced by the presence of international students. The seminar encourages students to discuss core issues in the form of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis while discussing opposing points of view.

In Competing in a Flat World, students explore how faster information technologies, expanding foreign markets, wage rate differentials, and improved transportation are breaking down barriers of time and space between countries.

Students analyze new ways to work with suppliers and strategic partners in the global supply chain, and they learn to align the incentives of different players to develop collaborative relationships. They choose a company they’re familiar with—such as Nike or Amazon—to see how supply chain concepts apply to multinational corporations. Students take strong positions and must defend them in both oral and written formats. This seminar introduces the concepts of global logistics and also helps students think critically about topical issues facing multinational corporations.


To see how well the FYS program was meeting its goals, we surveyed students before and after the first seminar in 2010. We found that FYS students were more likely than non-FYS students to agree that the coursework helped them understand the moral responsibility of management, improve their communication skills, and integrate the Jesuit ideal of “service to others” into their studies. In general, they found the small-class aspect of the program to be the most valuable.

We’ve also learned important lessons about running the program. From the beginning, we knew we had to offer support in key areas. For instance, during the case competition, juniors and seniors coach the student teams as they work on challenges presented by real nonprofits. We also provide Writing Fellows, graduate students in the English department, who mentor the students as they revise their written work.

But other parts of the program still need tweaking. For instance, we know we must increase consistency across all sections, enhance communication between students and faculty, and find ways to recognize the extra effort students devote to the case competition. In addition, we continue to revise our common assignments across sections that ask students to reflect on how FYS contributes to programmatic learning goals.

During the past two years, we’ve seen students embrace the classes as opportunities for learning and self-expression, and we’ve observed that the small seminar venue helps them build self-confidence in speaking and arguing a case. We’ve also found that the readings and discussions have given all students new perspectives on topics they had previously experienced only through media coverage.

Given Georgetown’s location in Washington, D.C., and our heritage as a Jesuit institution, we feel it is imperative that we consider the triple bottom line in our curriculum. Through our First Year Seminar program, our undergraduates learn the importance of making decisions within a global context and the importance of creating social value through business.