A BBA Without Borders
BY BOB NEEDHAM
This is definitely not your father's B-school. In fact, it's not even your older sister's.
Students graduating from college today face a very different world of work from the one they might have encountered a few years earlier — more globally oriented, multidisciplinary, entrepreneurial. And constantly evolving. A reinvention of the Ross BBA Program, starting this fall, aims to meet the needs of tomorrow's students and strengthen Ross as a leader in undergraduate business education. It involves more chances to study abroad, new opportunities for hands-on experience, and added requirements but better flexibility.
Bookending the BBA
"If you think about undergraduate education in general, one of its roles that people often forget is that students come in as adolescents and they leave as adults. We've built that into the curriculum, to get them to think about this transition and become more focused on self-authorship — helping students think about their developmental journey," says Lynn Wooten, associate dean for undergraduate programs.
The BBA program has a new beginning and a new ending: It starts sophomore year with a required new introductory course, team taught by a cross-section of Ross faculty. That class sets the tone for the integrative approach to come and begins Ross' signature focus on business as a positive force in society. The program ends in winter term of senior year with a newly required "capstone" experience — a special course, potentially with a hands-on component, or a senior thesis — tailored to bring together everything the student has learned, with an eye toward putting it all into practice after graduation.
Beyond the Boundaries
Between those bookends, students will experience a fully re-thought program. One consistent theme: bridging separation between various business disciplines, as well as between business and a broader education. The entire curriculum will embrace this integrative approach, which is unusual among undergrad business programs. But the integration comes to the fore in fall term of the junior year, when student cohorts take a required set of classes — management, business law, and operations — examining the same set of business cases through the lenses of their different specialties.
"Your first job may be in a functional area, but the higher you get up in your career, you're going to have to be integrative. You might be a finance person, but you're going to have to think of the marketing aspect and the operations aspect," says Wooten, a clinical associate professor of strategy and management and organizations. The multidisciplinary approach also surfaces in expanded programs from the Ross Leadership Initiative, which will offer its challenging immersive events in each semester of the BBA program. For example, this spring saw a pilot edition of the BBA SpotLight. Similar to the MBA Crisis Challenge but reworked for undergrads, this event asked teams of students to use their assembled skills to navigate a mock corporate crisis, with a $1,250 prize at stake.
Even with all the new activity, Ross undergrads will still spend roughly half their credits elsewhere at the University of Michigan, and students are encouraged to pursue minors and dual degrees. Wooten notes that skills like understanding issues in a historical context, or knowing the impact of the natural sciences, remain critical. U-M is perfectly positioned here, because its other programs match the strength of its business school. The no-boundaries philosophy also works on a literal level: The new curriculum allows students expanded opportunities to study abroad, and aims to position BBA grads to get wherever they want to go — in terms of geography as well as employment. Unlike past years — with certain classes required each semester — students may now easily study abroad during winter term of junior year. Ross is also offering undergrads more faculty-led, shorter trips to places like Ireland, India, and Peru.
Leading the Way
Other aspects of the new BBA program include:
- An increase in required business credits from 45 to 58, and in business elective credits from nine to 15 (which is part of the 58)
- A "floating core" that allows certain required classes to be taken earlier, which can open up internship opportunities after the sophomore year as well as the junior year
- New and reimagined courses, like a "big data" analytic class combining business computing and stats
- The Ross dedication to action-based learning incorporated throughout the curriculum
- Re-thought professional development modules from Ross Career Services on subjects like interviewing and networking
The BBA reinvention is possible in part due to gifts from longtime program supporter Thomas Jones, BBA '68, MBA '71. Jones' generosity has expanded undergrads' opportunities for action-based learning, leadership development, high-quality advising, and extracurricular activities.
The new curriculum resulted from a long process involving stakeholders from throughout the program — students, alumni, and faculty. The Ross BBA has been serving its graduates well for decades, and these changes are meant to ensure that holds just as true for future students.
"In this day and age, people become so specialized. A lot of times we don't teach integration," Wooten notes. "The curriculum redesign gives them experience on multiple levels. When you're a freshman you kind of grasp it, but by senior year you are seeing the big picture."