The Business School

Strategic Plan Overview: Strategic Plan Initiative #2

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At the WPI Business School, we are excited about our strategic plan and as such want to share an overview of the strategic initiatives that comprise our plan. This month, we will look at Strategic Initiative #2: Engage all WPI Learners in Developing Business Competencies.

Strategic Initiative #2 addresses a tenet that is important to WPI as it speaks to the historical vision and strategic priority of the Institute to infuse every program with business competency. This initiative is also important to WBS as we recognize the value of providing business competencies to every WPI learner. 

WBS administration and faculty, the senior administration of WPI, and WPI’s trustees see business competencies as an enabler for all WPI learners. Increasingly, WPI parents and learners also appreciate the value of business competencies for engineering and science majors because virtually all learners will either be employed by a business (for profit or not for profit) after they graduate and/or start their own businesses. Business competencies can give WPI learners of all majors an advantage as they become employed after graduation. 

At issue, however, is the challenge of adding more requirements to existing majors. Thus, we seek to provide courses, degrees, certificates, and other business opportunities that are especially attractive to non-business degree learners and to promote these opportunities to those learners.

As a first goal in this initiative, it is our intent to increase the number of non-business majors taking business courses through outreach and make existing undergraduate opportunities more attractive to non-majors through efforts to heighten the learner experience in business courses.

We will do this, in part, by promoting undergraduate courses that already attract significant non-business major enrollments, such as Financial Statements for Decision Making, Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Personal Finance, Business Intelligence, and Leadership Practice. Adding to these attractive courses, in AY21/22 we piloted a new experiential course, WPI Means Business, to attract Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering undergraduates who would otherwise not have taken a WBS course. The course was oversubscribed and received outstanding evaluations. In AY22/23, we are doubling capacity, with the eventual goal of giving business fundamentals to 250 students per year, which is approximately 20% of the graduating class. Additionally, we have increased the attractiveness of the undergraduate business minor by including those courses that learners are likely to take. This tactic recognizes that a more attractive minor will encourage undergraduate non-business majors to take more than one business course.

Regarding our degree programs, we have re-designed the WBS undergraduate major in Management Engineering (BS MGE) and obtained STEM designation for it in summer 2022. Our next step is to promote it to both current learners and entering first year learners. Currently, it attracts internal transfers and a few double majors (e.g., double major BS in Mechanical Engineering and BS in Management Engineering with a Mechanical Engineering concentration). But given the STEM designation, we are confident that we will attract entering learners into the MGE degree, especially international learners who can take advantage of extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) post-graduation. 

We are also interested in increasing interdisciplinary degrees at WPI to include a significant business component. Consistent with AACSB requirements, undergraduate interdisciplinary programs have less than 25% business content and graduate programs have less than 50% business content. The most recent example is the Data Science program, with BS, MS, and PhD degrees – an interdisciplinary program between Business, Computer Science, and Mathematics (Statistics). We are exploring another undergraduate interdisciplinary program between Business, Computer Science, and Interactive Media and Game Development. The program would focus on User Experience and design, in response to market demand for user experience designers and developers.

Similarly, we seek to increase the number of non-business graduate learners taking business courses. As education at the graduate level is more so focused on discipline mastery than at the undergraduate level, fewer opportunities exist to encourage graduate students to enroll in business courses. Nevertheless, WBS recognizes the opportunity to leverage in-demand competencies and seeks to use such opportunities to attract graduate learners. We will additionally continue to promote the growth of the MS Management major among non-business Bachelor of Science majors and explore the creation of an MS in Engineering Management, much like our undergraduate degree in Management Engineering. One tactic that we are pursuing is to develop a MS in Engineering Management to be taken by BS, MS, or BS/MS engineering learners, concurrently or immediate after their engineering degree. The basic concept is like our BS MGE degree, which offers a business core with an engineering concentration. 

In seeking to understand our graduate learners, we recognized that our graduate business courses are being taken by Ph.D. learners in other disciplines. An opportunity exists to understand better what these students are seeking and to deliver opportunities that meet their needs. Our initial analysis indicated interest in courses such as project management. While many engineering and science MS programs have electives, few suggest business courses as an option to satisfy elective choices. Therefore, we will work with program departments to recommend and gain agreement to include appropriate business electives. 

Moreover, our proposed 3-course (9 credit) graduate certificates have been approved. This proposed change will enable us to promote the 3-course core and specialty courses designed for our graduate programs as independent business certificates. Not only will these certificates enable a learner to realize a micro-credential, an increasingly valuable competency in the marketplace, but also credits earned can be applied to a full degree program.

There are opportunities that we recognize are fitting for both undergraduate and graduate learners. For example, we intend to expand our Entrepreneurship offerings, undergraduate and graduate, under the leadership of our newly hired Beswick Professor of Entrepreneurship, Rosanna Garcia. While entrepreneurship courses and the undergraduate entrepreneurship minor are housed in WBS, the courses involved are designed to be attractive to non-business majors exploring possibilities for starting a business. We also intend to expand our Fintech offerings, undergraduate and then graduate, under the leadership of our newly hired Associate Professor of Finance, Kwamie Dunbar. Fintech is currently a specialization within the undergraduate Business major. However, given increased faculty collaboration and learner demand, we recognize an opportunity to create interdisciplinary programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that feature finance, mathematics, and computer science. Additionally, we will explore new non-credit offerings, focusing on topics useful to learners that are not generally considered to be for-credit (e.g., Agile methodology, selling skills, business etiquette). We are evaluating opportunities to work with corporate partners to understand non-credit training needs (e.g., first line supervisor training). 

Yet, providing opportunities for non-business learners is not enough; we must also promote those opportunities to learners. Through such promotional efforts, more learners will become aware of and motivated to pursue opportunities within WBS. We recognize the need to develop a set of success stories about STEM alumni whose success depended on knowledge at the intersection of STEM and business and use those stories to promote the value of gaining business knowledge while a WPI learner. As part of our promotional efforts, WBS is in the planning stages of a first-ever Business at WPI event, a week long celebration of our special faculty, students, staff, and communities that will feature prominent speakers and activities to raise awareness of WBS.Involving our students in the outreach efforts, we will engage members of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council as ambassadors for the business school. These ambassadors will be encouraged to set up tables/booths with food and fun in various locations to talk with students. Our efforts will include leveraging learner organizations and clubs with a business focus (e.g., investment club) to promote the Business School. And involving our faculty, we will encourage them to serve as advisors to various student organizations, including Greek organizations, to extend our reach to non-Business learners. 

Finally, we recognize entrepreneurship competency to promote the Business School among non-business learners. Therefore, we will utilize the WBS Business Development Lab to offer services to the students seeking to form a business and leverage the tech transfer office to find such students. Additionally, we will explore sponsoring shark tank or hackathon events on business topics with good prize money. This will also be a means to attract high school students who might attend WPI as business majors.