Alma College Business Program Transformed to Better Reflect Real-World Trends

New liberal arts concentrations to be offered, as well as new classes in core business skills.

Bob Cunningham Bob CunninghamALMA — Students in the Alma College Business program will graduate with a solid core of business skills, along with opportunities to get their feet in the door at the nation’s top companies — helping them go beyond entry-level employment and benefiting their careers long into the future.

Those are the goals of the new Alma College Business curriculum, which was approved earlier this year and goes into effect in fall 2022. According to Bob Cunningham, associate professor and chair of the business and economics departments at Alma College, changes have been made to prepare students for the rapidly changing job market.

“What we recognize is that no one knows what jobs are going to be four years from today,” Cunningham said. “You can hope to design a very specific major that will match up with what the business world needs in 2026 or 2027, but that’s a big swing to miss. What we want to do instead is design courses that are both timeless and contemporary. That will let them jump into whatever is needed four or five years from now, rather than some specialization that may be outdated.”

The revamp was developed by Alma College business faculty, working with input from an advisory group that includes members of the college Board of Trustees who work as business executives in the private sector. Darryl Schimeck, Chief Executive Officer of the industrial services firm Versa Integrity Group and Vice Chair of the college board, said the new curriculum teaches qualities that he looks for when hiring staff for his company.

“I believe that what this transformation of the department will do is turn Alma College into a destination for those students seeking a differentiated business education. They will see the business program at Alma College as being unique, interesting, and relevant in terms of providing job skills for 21st-century employees,” said Schimeck, a 1982 graduate of Alma.

“What separates those who will win in long-term periods versus those who will win in the short term is the ability to learn and adapt quickly. That is the fundamental gift of a liberal arts education, and if you’re interested in studying business, it’s a great reason to go to a preeminent liberal arts institution like Alma.”

Business students at Alma will now be required to take part in one of four available “concentrations,” including sports management, environmental responsibility, leadership and management, and business analytics. Each concentration offers its own set of coursework — the majority of which taking place outside of the business department — rooted in Alma’s tradition of liberal arts and interdisciplinary education. For example, business majors with a sports management concentration will take courses like sports economics and sports communication, which teach concepts of critical thinking, problem solving and team building.

The department will continue to offer its highly regarded Accounting and Healthcare Administration majors.

All business majors, regardless of their concentration, will be required to take two new courses centered on business analytics. These classes will focus on business analytics skills and database management, and students will learn to use important business application software, including Microsoft Excel and the Oracle SQL suite. The core business curriculum is being updated, too. Students in the core accounting, finance, management, and marketing courses will now be expected to use Excel, and issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, which is also vitally important for 21st-century business, will be included as well.

Internships will now be required of all business students, with support being offered to them through the college’s Career and Personal Development Office. The name of the major is being changed from Business Administration to simply Business, to better reflect trends in the industry.

“When you graduate from Alma and start applying for jobs, we want you to be able to put two lines in bold at the very top of your resume: ‘I am an expert in Excel and I have done an internship,’” Cunningham said. “Being able to combine real-world experience with technical skills will go a long way to getting our students jobs out of college, and their liberal arts background will allow them to remain adaptable to the changing marketplace.”

Finally, the Spring Term course known as “Plaid Returns” — a business administration course created to help students better understand the challenges of strategic leadership by incorporating the perspectives and advice of successful alumni — is being reworked to incorporate elements of professional skills workshops. Through a series of seminars and videos, students will learn skills including how to build a resume like a business professional, interview for jobs and keep up with happenings in the business world. Supporting all of these changes is the addition of three tenure-track faculty positions in the business department, replacing two instructor-level positions.

“I am so grateful to Alma College business faculty, as well as members of our advisory group, who have worked so hard over the past two years to enact these changes to our business curriculum,” Alma College President Jeff Abernathy said. “They have worked diligently, researching peer and aspirant institutions, as well as talking to external stakeholders, in order to get a sense of what students need. I am confident that these changes will be effective in bringing students to Alma College — and giving them the skills they need to have long, successful careers in business — for many years to come.”

Story published on March 28, 2022