College of Business is breaking boundaries

Business Beyond Boundaries

A name change signals a new era of Lehigh’s College of Business. 

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

The College of Business has a new name—and a new attitude.

In the Spring 2019 semester, faculty voted to delete “and economics” from the college’s nomenclature, a move that Dean Georgette Chapman Phillips says is rooted in both practicality and philosophical thinking, and makes obsolete an oft-repeated acronym that people have used in referring to the college. (Psst, you know what it is; it looks like “CBE.”)

“We were hiding ourselves behind this acronym that no one understood,” says Phillips. And philosophically, she says, “We are a business school, first and foremost. So, by putting ourselves out there as Lehigh Business, it makes it very clear, that’s who we are.”

Business and Technology

The name change comes as the College of Business increases its emphasis on the intersection of technology and business, makes new hires across disciplines, envisions a new three-story building, expands programming and reshapes curriculum—all while embracing the fact that it is a full-service business school, with executive education and undergraduate and graduate degree offerings (including an intensive one-year MBA program, 1-MBA, and a Flex MBA program).

Underscoring its emphasis on technology, the College of Business has spun off two tech-oriented disciplines from its Management Department and created a new one—the Department of Decision and Technology Analytics (DATA). The new department offers courses of study in supply chain management, which increasingly relies on technology, and business information systems. 

“By creating a new department devoted to technology, we are sending a strong signal that this is where we’re going,” Phillips says. “The business world is changing rapidly. No industry remains untouched by technology. We have to think about, ‘What are the jobs of the future?’”

In addition, the college has developed courses of study around FinTech (Financial Technology), including a minor that draws from finance, business information systems and computer science courses. The college also redesigned its undergraduate core curriculum to put a stronger emphasis on teamwork, business analytics and business communications.

“We cannot rely on past industries to carry us into the future,” Phillips says. “Think of the disruption that is happening on the employment side through developments like artificial intelligence. There’s no way that the traditional industries are going to keep hiring in the same way that they always have.”

We are a business school, first and foremost. So, by putting ourselves out there as Lehigh Business, it makes it very clear, that’s who we are.

Dean Georgette Chapman Phillips

The College of Business plans an expansion with a new 60,000-square-foot building that will contain tech-ready and flexible classrooms to allow for better collaboration and innovation. The building will contain incubator space, a behavioral lab for research projects, the Media and Communications Lab and an expanded Financial Services Lab. There are also plans to eventually expand and renovate the existing Rauch Business Center.

With much momentum, the college is expanding its offerings on the West Coast, where the Startup Academy, a collaboration with the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, gives students the opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial skill sets by working at tech-driven startup businesses in Silicon Valley.  Students also have opportunities to participate in immersive learning experiences through LehighSiliconValley, which includes a FinTech track among its offerings.

Despite the college’s new, shortened name, economics remains an important, fundamental course of study at Lehigh. “You can’t study business without studying economics,” Phillips notes. “But it’s no more or no less important than any of the other disciplines that we have within the college—accounting, marketing, finance, management, information systems, supply chain. They’re all extraordinarily important.”

Reappointed in 2018 as the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business, Phillips says the new initiatives are in step with the directive she received when she first came to Lehigh in 2014—to raise the stature, visibility and prestige of the college. Collectively, they indicate where the college is headed and give recognition to the realization that the next generation of leaders in business needs to be educated in new and forward-thinking ways.

Initially, Phillips says, she focused on “the holes,” adding programs such as executive education, 1-MBA and a master’s in management, as well as adjusting the faculty teaching and salary structures.  “Now that we filled in those divots, how do we take that next step?” she asks.

As the College of Business breaks boundaries by promoting interdisciplinary learning and fostering skill sets that employers covet, its administrators, faculty, students and alumni see boundless possibilities ahead.  “It’s exciting times here,” Phillips says.  

Here is a closer look at the initiatives. 

Data Breaks Out

Eight new faculty members joined the College of Business for the 2019-2020 academic year, including three additional faculty for the new Decision and Technology Analytics department. 

Interim DATA Chair Catherine Ridings says a lot of thought and brainstorming went into the naming of the new department—“It wasn’t a back-of-napkin kind of name,” she says. The word “decision” provides recognition that data and technology can help in business decisions.  

“We’re not thinking about technology for technology’s sake,” she says. “We’re thinking about technology to apply to business decisions. That’s the key thing here.”

While the areas of business information systems and supply chain management were a natural fit for the DATA department, Ridings says, the creation of the department underscores the importance of emerging new technologies and their applications in the business world. 

“There’s a lot of data out there,” Ridings notes. “Students are learning how to make sense of the data to help the companies that they’ll eventually work for.” But even before learning how to analyze data, it’s critical for students to learn how to source, “clean up” and integrate data. For example, respondents to surveys may enter their zip codes incorrectly or opt out of answering questions such as those about their gender. Any cleanup, she says, “has to be done even before you start to ask questions about the data.” 

With the undergraduate core curriculum revamped, first-years in the College of Business are now required to take a foundational analytics course that includes instruction on visualizing, sourcing and processing data. 

“The analytics are important because no matter what your business major is, whether you’re in finance or marketing or supply chain management, you’re going to have to process data,” Ridings says.  

First-years will learn to code in the language R, which will help them in their upper-level courses and better prepare them for the business world they will enter upon graduation. 

“We’re all using technology, and there’s coding behind all the technology,” Ridings says. “I realize that business students are not in the business school to be computer programmers, but they’re going to use the technology. It’s so useful to understand the logic of computer coding.”

College of Business new building rendering

A Plan to Break Ground

When Dean Phillips first started talking about a proposed expansion, she pointed to the fact that the College of Business had run out of space— for its growing student base, its programs and its faculty. 

Since the Rauch Business Center opened in 1991, the college has seen a 43% increase in enrollment and  38% increase in faculty. New programs and courses of study have been added, including the FinTech minor, interdisciplinary initiatives majors, such as Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) and Computer Science and Business (CSB), and a new program in executive education.

Though the space issue remains a concern, Phillips says, “as I get deeper and deeper into this project, I realize the importance of this new building in allowing us to start teaching in a different way.”

The proposed three-story, four-floor structure will provide tech-ready, flexible and “cluster” classrooms designed to facilitate student interactions and group projects. The classrooms will have digital resources and the capabilities to allow faculty and students to develop presentations, videos, podcasts and the like.

Key building design elements will include small group working spaces, multiple screen environments and the capability to reconfigure rooms. The aim is to allow students to actively engage in class activities rather than passively listen to faculty lectures.    

The new building also will include an expanded Financial Services Lab, a Financial Data Project Room, a Behavioral Research Lab and a business incubator. There also will be a courtyard and large atrium/lobby for gathering and event areas. 

The goal, says Phillips, is to inspire a culture of innovation, learning and research.

College of Business Breaks West

The College Breaks West

As the College of Business prepares its students for a tech-driven world, 16 students—up from 12 in the Startup Academy’s previous, inaugural, year—interned in Summer 2019 with one of eight startups in the San Francisco Bay area, which is home to thousands of startups and many of the world’s largest high-tech companies.

Students joined Reciprocity, a company that offers a software tool to help other companies with information security and compliance audits; Modsy, an online interior home design service; Deliverr, an e-commerce fulfillment company; Osaro, an artificial intelligence company; ETC Labs, an Ethereum Classic blockchain startup incubator; Crunchbase, a platform for finding information about private and public companies; Parrable, a privacy-friendly identification platform; and the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a nonprofit startup that provides education, mentorship and resources to entrepreneurs.

Intern Juwon Owolabi ’20, who eyes a career in social entrepreneurship, helped conduct data analyses at Reciprocity.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better placement,” he says. “With just how fast everything moves, you have to bring in what you already know and you have to learn new things, then combine those to get close to your end goal on projects. It’s kind of impossible not to learn a lot if you want to do your job right.”

Owolabi says his entrepreneurial drive led him to the Startup Academy. He has tried a variety of ventures since he started his own lawn care business, at age 8, in the Chicago area. Since then, he says, he continues to try to implement new ways to solve problems.

In addition to the skill sets he developed through the internship, he found the business and personal connections he made through meetups at the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter and elsewhere invaluable. “Connections are the pipeline to opportunities,” he says. “The more connections I make, the more opportunities I have to learn, which will create more job opportunities.”

The Startup Academy students each spent 40 hours a week at their internships. Additional classroom instruction was led by Joshua Ehrig, professor of practice in management. Students also were assigned mentors, who provided guidance and coaching.  

The Nasdaq Center and Lehigh believe that entrepreneurship is best taught by engaging in creative problem-solving that addresses genuine challenges faced by real-world businesses. 

“This is where the magic happens—at the intersection of education and entrepreneurship—unlocking unique value for students and the entrepreneurial community,” says Samantha Dewalt, managing director of the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter. “Through high impact learning experiences like Startup Academy, students transform in ways they never thought possible. They are empowered with an entrepreneurial mindset and a sense of agency to create impact in the world.”    

Joining Owolabi in the Startup Academy was Paige Sottosanti ’21, who interned at Crunchbase. As part of its People Team, Sottosanti focused on company recruiting, which involved brainstorming ways to create awareness of job opportunities and engaging potential candidates. She collaborated with the startup’s marketing team to revamp the company’s careers page by creating blog posts and coordinating a video to highlight the Crunchbase work culture. 

“I’ve learned the importance of office culture, and how the environment you work in has a huge impact on how much you enjoy your job,” she says. “I’ve noticed that startups grow crazy fast—Crunchbase hires a new person practically every week.” She says she also learned a lot about herself, while gaining networking and public speaking skills that she expects to continue to develop and utilize in her professional career.

MBA Programs break the mold

MBA Programs
Break the Mold

The College of Business offers a one-year Master’s in Business Administration program, launched in 2017, and a Flex MBA program, which provides students with an opportunity to earn an MBA part-time—on campus or online. 

The 1-MBA is geared toward career changers as well as those who want to accelerate their business careers. In addition to the one-year program length, other innovations include a three-tiered mentoring system—with a faculty member, a company executive and a career coach—and a consulting practicum. 

What differentiates the flex program, says Oliver Yao, associate dean for graduate programs, is that it’s taught “in a synchronous way.”  Instead of watching pre-recorded sessions, students can join courses online in real time through Lehigh’s Classroom LIVE web-based interface, and, thus, participate in live classroom discussions and interact with professors and fellow working professionals. 

“It offers students ultimate flexibility,” Yao says, if, for example, students attending courses on campus get tied up at their offices as they work to advance their careers. If they are unable to get to campus on time, he says, they can join the courses online. 

A new concentration in business analytics was launched in Fall 2019 that will expose students to data collection, storage and retrieval, predictive models and applications for improved decision-making.

Gena Petrunyak ’13, who works for Johnson & Johnson, started the Flex MBA program while living in central New Jersey. With her job requiring frequent travel, she says she didn’t “miss a beat” because she was able to join classes online when necessary. Concentrating in marketing, she plans to finish her degree remotely from her new home in Rhode Island.

“Through Flex, I’ve been able to plan a wedding, compete in multiple marathons and Ironmans, travel the world, volunteer with Girls on the Run and buy a house,” she says. “It truly gives you the flexibility to continue with your life and achieve another goal at your own pace.” 

Pat Costa ’13 ’19 MBA opted for the 1-MBA. After graduating from Lehigh with a degree in marketing, he joined the global drug company Sanofi, initially as part of a marketing and sales rotational program. He moved into a full-time manager position, but the more he learned about the job, the more he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do. 

“I felt stuck in my career, ” Costa says, “and all of the external opportunities I looked at were either lateral moves at best or a step down at worst.”

Costa says he came to realize he needed to earn an MBA to get the type of job he wanted. The 1-MBA program “was perfect for me,” he says, “because it allowed me to get a graduate degree as quickly as possible without being forced to take an extended break from the workforce.”

For his consulting practicum, Costa was part of a team that worked with a struggling textile manufacturing company to help it streamline its production methods and more strategically target customers. For the capstone course, his team worked with a hospital and health network to build a long-term strategic plan that took into account demographic changes in its patient base and technological changes in the healthcare industry. 

Costa’s career track has taken a pivotal turn. He joined a management rotation program at Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceutical company based in Connecticut. Designed for recent MBA graduates, the program consists of multiple rotations through the company’s business units. Costa will work in strategic areas such as marketing analytics, then be placed into a permanent position. 

“To be able to get this type of job is exactly why I went back to business school,” Costa says. 

Executive Education
Breaks Out of the Box

Innovator Alison McGrath Peirce joined the College of Business in March as executive director of the Vistex Institute for Executive Learning and Research. Tasked with growing Lehigh’s specialized business and leadership development programming, Peirce is spearheading an “E to E” (Engineer to Executive) program that focuses on teaching business savvy to engineers interested in moving into their company’s executive suite. 

“People who are engineers are super rational. They’re used to solving a problem. They think there’s one right answer,” she says. “But in business, there’s not just one question. There are multiple questions, and it’s usually evaluating a variety of good options or a variety of not-so-good options. So they have to be more tolerant of ambiguity, they have to be more versatile with their interpersonal skills and not solely rely on their analytical skills.”

A new “E to E” course on “Transformational Leadership: Skills for Impact, Persuasion and Decision-Making” will be first offered in May 2020. The course will have three components: group decision-making, personal and interpersonal leadership and strategic leadership. It will explore working with teams, understanding oneself and persuading others through ethical means of influence.

In offering the course, Lehigh recognizes that those with a technical education and background—whether accounting, finance or data analytics—get hired for those skills. However, those skills aren’t necessarily the ones that allow them to move up. The course aims to provide tools for transitioning into executive roles. 

The Vistex Institute provides both open and customized programs for companies and individuals, including in project management, finance, leadership and negotiation, and supply chain management. Courses are offered intermittently over several months, allowing for more flexibility. New initiatives, Peirce says, will focus on the intersection of technology and business. 

“Technology is becoming the fuel of business,” she says. “You have to be able to operate in a traditional business domain, but you also have to be conversant with the elements of technology, the problems that technology solves and some of the constraints. If you can marry those two, it really provides a very long opportunity of success over the course of a career.”

Illustrations by Matt Herring

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

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