An external focus is key to education’s future

Christine Clements, dean of UW-W’s College of Business and Economics, plans to reach out to the business community

By Kay Falk, for SBT

Christine Clements became dean of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s College of Business and Economics in July 2002. She’s been at UW-W for 13 years, beginning as an assistant professor in the Management Department. As one of two women deans in the UW system, she plans to take a good college and make it better.
"The preceding dean was here for 25 years and did an outstanding job. I came into a college with very good basic talent and resources," she says. "The climate for universities in general and colleges of business has changed in the past few years, however. I want to retain the quality, but launch some new initiatives."
An external focus is key to her initiatives. In the past, colleges tended to look at their accrediting agencies to tell them where to improve. They would then look internally to put those things in place and evaluate progress.
"Now we need to be externally focused," Clements explains. "We must look at all constituencies — not only the students and faculty, but also the employers of our students both for internships and permanent jobs; businesses throughout the region and state; and the state of Wisconsin itself. So when we look at our distinctive competencies, we have to ask ourselves how do we use them to serve all constituencies."
The educational trends that relate to her external focus include:
— Better assessment – Constantly looking at how business views the product the college is producing. The college has a business advisory board in place for a number of years but, in addition, over the past five or so years, it has been expanding advisory boards to each academic program.
"These professionals in the field meet with the program’s staff once or twice a year to get feedback on how well we’re doing," she notes. "This is important because, besides seeing if students are learning what we’re teaching, we need to assess its relevance to the environments where they’ll be working. We also need to figure out how life in business is going to change and make sure we’re preparing students to be leaders."
— An international viewpoint – "Many of UW-Whitewater’s students are regional and have never been outside this region," Clements says. "But they’re going into a global economy; all business is global these days. So we need to do a much better job of preparing them to understand how to operate in business on a global level. We would like to do that by increasing international experiences for our students and faculty by getting them into an international environment and having more international people on campus."
— Seamless transitions from school to work – This requires integration of the world of business with the academic world before students walk out the door. "We continuously work on the quality and quantity of internship opportunities," she says. "It’s the rare student who graduates without the experience."
Bringing industry into the university also helps the transition. "We have expertise in the classroom, but it’s powerful when we integrate that with the day-to-day experiences of people working in those professions," Clements affirms. "Professionals spending time in classroom is very useful. And having students go out, have the experience and carry that back and relate it to academic work is great, too. To be truly effective, our faculty has to be involved, as well."
— Including small businesses in the curriculum – The college has an entrepreneurship emphasis in its general management degree program. "We offer courses in most departments that focus on small business, and also have a small business consulting class. In it, teams of students work with small businesses to address problems," Clements notes. "For example, a business might need help in selecting an accounting system or developing a policy and procedures manual. In our entrepreneurship class, students develop business plans and feasibility studies they could take to a financial institution to request funding."
That class also brings in two or three entrepreneurs during the semester. One is termed the entrepreneur in residence, and he or she comes back several times to help teach the course. "There’s nothing like hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth," she emphasizes.
Because the regional economy has a number of small businesses, Clements would like to enhance opportunities to work in those organizations, either through internships or consulting teams. "We’d like to expand our offering of services at greatly reduced rates in the accounting or technology areas, for instance. Many companies don’t have the expertise in those areas and can’t afford to hire major consulting firms," she says.
— Greater number of nontraditional courses and platforms for offering courses – Most universities focus on degree programs, yet there’s a tremendous demand for certificate programs. "For example, work has changed and some people don’t have the background they need," she explains. "We now offer a non-degree certification programs in e-commerce and human resources management. That type of program should expand to meet the demand."
The Web and technology are allowing flexibility in course platforms and distance learning to reach nontraditional students. "We do have an online MBA program that was ranked in the top 25 in the country last year," Clements comments. "We have a large number of faculty in the college who are trained to teach effectively online. We have the technical support necessary to reach companies that are looking for specific training, but don’t want to send employees out of house to get it. It’s very exciting for us. We first offered the on-line MBA program in 1997 and we currently have 200 to 300 students in it. Right now we just offer the graduate program, but we have several undergrad courses online too. This is likely to expand."
She continues, "These courses do not isolate students, either. Students can be put into discussion groups or online course rooms where they’re actually interacting with other people and working together on projects, even though they never leave their workplace or home. Some argue that it’s more broadly interactive because introverted people who might not participate in traditional classroom discussions are more comfortable participating. The faculty can also monitor who is participating and who isn’t."

Jan. 24, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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