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Outlook - August 2004

Business program strives for 'Best in Class'

by Lauren Schwarz
A click of the mouse and team members watch their project disappear into cyberspace. Within minutes, business professor Barry Forbes runs an assessment program on his computer, and the Capstone simulation rewards the most business-savvy group with a success rating above those of their competitors.
        For Barry Forbes and other faculty in the Division of Business and Computer Science, rising above the competition isn’t only the goal for class assignments, it is the goal for the entire academic experience. Division leaders understand that a strong program will help students become the best in class, giving them opportunities above those in other business and computer science programs. As part of this objective, division leaders have paired with an advisory board to strengthen program graduates.
        The Best in Class Advisory Board, consisting of 21 alumni and Lincoln business people, is a professional leadership team created to help connect the division and its students to the real business world.
        Along with the Capstone software package, many other advancements in Union’s Division of Business and Computer Science can be credited to the Business Best in Class Advisory Board. Board members share feedback with the division, assist in hands-on learning opportunities and provide input into types of experiences that could be most helpful to students.
        Board members also provide necessary funding for new initiatives. Other program additions include a restaurant management exercise in conjunction with a local restaurant, da Vinci’s, and satellite conferencing with top business leaders. The board financed the purchase of 10 new computers for the teaching lab, enabling computer majors to practice networking and advanced programming concepts without disrupting computer lab operations. A mentoring program created by the board and the division pairs students with business-minded individuals able to answer questions and act as liaisons between students and the professional world.
        A few years ago, division leaders mapped out characteristics of the ideal graduate. They also examined the strengths of the division and researched what path each course was taking to foster growth. Through this process, division professors discovered ways to make their program even more effective.
        With the spirit of progress already inherent in the division, the Business Best in Class Advisory Board was born through the assistance of Nick Murray. Murray, a Union alumnus and assistant vice president of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, wanted to serve the business division and empower students to further their careers. His ideas fit with division goals and enabled faculty dreams to grow.
        Lisa Forbes, business professor and advisory board member, sees the board as a checkup for the division. “Our goal is to give students that extra edge. We can best do this by making sure our program is relevant to real-world requirements,” she said.
        The board focuses on more than improvements, however. Lisa Forbes says the board has confirmed many good things about the division as well as offered suggestions. “Union College isn’t often seen an academic giant, but it is,” she said. “Advisory board members have told us this is a strong, cutting-edge program and they are excited about our graduates.”
        For Barry Forbes, the proof is in the results. He was impressed by student interest in the Capstone simulation. “It was easy for them to get into,” he said. “I had students coming to my office early in the morning to get their results because they couldn’t wait until class time.”
        Amanda Sauder, May 2004 marketing and communication graduate and a Capstone team leader, appreciated the chance to experience the blending of marketing, sales, production and finance into one project. “The simulation pulled together all aspects of business and showed me competitive and cooperative reality—you’re working together with your team but also against your competition,” she said. “It was good to get a taste of what the real business world will be like.”
        Increasing connections between the classroom and the professional world is a main goal for Lisa Forbes. She is especially excited about the willingness of alumni and community leaders to become involved in the project. “The division already had a focus on the real world, and this just enhances our vision,” she said.
        Understanding and anticipating what characteristics employers desire is key to student success, according to Lisa Forbes, and the Business Best in Class Advisory Board is helping this happen. “We are excited to develop these core characteristics in our graduates,” she said. “If we can succeed there, businesses will be knocking down our doors for Union’s graduates.”