This is the part where Rachel Ham (BBA ’15) might black out.
In August, the newly hired advisory staff consultant at Ernst & Young found herself in a Marriott conference room in downtown Detroit. As part of EY’s training program, she was about to make a presentation before an EY facilitator, another panelist there to offer critiques and her peers.
Staring at the eyes staring back at her, she paused, took a breath and … nailed it.
“Everybody gave feedback,” Ham says. “The things that a lot of people said to me were, ‘You have such good presence. You’re calm and professional. You don’t say, ‘um.’ All the feedback was positive. The only other thing they said was that I said ‘y’all’ a couple times.”
Ham wasn’t always so unflappable. Before she made it to Detroit, the subtleties of business presentations left her in the lurch. She attributes her mastery to an upper-level elective taught by management information systems senior lecturer Mark Huber called GRIP, which stands for Governance, Risk and Insurance Protection. The course is designed to prepare the next generation of consultants for the big leagues. To pass the course, undergraduates make a half-dozen presentations to executives from firms across the region.
“It teaches you a lot of soft skills. It was about developing ourselves, our presentation skills and our work with clients,” Ham says. “It was nerve-racking at first. It’s 8 a.m., and you’re in a suit presenting before these senior managers and directors, and you never know what they’re going to ask.
“But it was also a great experience. It was a safe space where you knew you were going to get feedback, and there wasn’t a job on the line. Dr. Huber would tally how many times you said ‘um’— one time he told me I had about 22 — but it was great to get that feedback because I’d get up there sometimes and I’d black out during the presentation. I’d get done, and I’d be like, What did I just do?”
Courses like GRIP are emblematic of a shift in the university’s teaching philosophy that is transforming the undergraduate experience at UGA. Starting this fall, every new Bulldog is required to satisfy an “experiential learning” requirement to graduate – typically through internships, service-learning projects, study abroad experiences or faculty-supervised research. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that experiential learning enhances students’ understanding of material, boosts class participation and increases employment rates.
For UGA, the initiative is another in a long line of trendsetting educational enterprises at the nation’s first state-chartered university. For Terry, it’s a confirmation of doing things right.
It’s what we do
“Experiential learning is something that Terry is deeply committed to, and something we’ve found incredibly valuable to the student experience,” says Dean Benjamin C. Ayers. “For many years, we’ve focused on incorporating these impactful opportunities into the Terry experience. But the university’s initiative provided an opportune time to expand our efforts, rework courses and provide new opportunities to give our students a competitive edge.”
Business education is a particularly good fit for experiential learning because it’s geared toward results, Ayers says. For years, Terry faculty members have been modernizing teaching methods and updating their syllabi to shape students into the kind of employees that companies seek to hire. Success is baked into every part of Terry’s program, from the new student welcome to advising initiatives and class projects.
The result is a better approach to learning. It’s where the traditional concepts and fundamentals meet the workforce challenges of tomorrow. And, more than that, it’s the best way to ensure that Terry students discover the best match for their interests and ambitions.
“This is our wheelhouse as a professional school. It’s what we do,” says Henry Munneke, associate dean for undergraduate programs and Terry Distinguished Chair of Business Administration. “It was because of an experiential learning activity that I am where I am today. My first encounter with research happened when I was an undergraduate, and I realized that I loved it, and I could be successful doing it. That’s what we’re trying to make happen for every Terry student.”
Identifying a need
The idea for the GRIP course first flickered to life three years ago, when Huber noticed a disturbing trend. Not only did gaps exist in the cybersecurity measures taken by corporations, but a similar gulf was present in higher education. Students weren’t learning about information security, and the best companies were struggling to build adequate teams to provide solutions.
“There’s an incredible demand for security work. I get daily notes in my inbox about it,” Huber says. “If you read the news, it’s everywhere. The NSA got hacked, politicians have been hacked, businesses get hacked every day. You can’t open a newspaper without reading about someone at a fairly significant level being subject to a breach. So there’s all that going on, and there wasn’t a place where it was being addressed in coursework.”
Calling upon his experience with the U.S. Air Force’s information security program (INFOSEC), Huber began to piece together a curriculum. It began with a special topics class for a few students and quickly blossomed. Sensing he was onto something, Huber contacted Terry alumni Brandon Clark (BBA ’11) and Peter Lester (BBA ’04) at PwC, who jumped at the chance to help.
“We’ve been recruiting for risk-focused security practitioners for the last 10 or 11 years,” says Lester, a director with the security practice at PwC. “So when Mark told us about the class, we wanted to help the program. It was a great way to give back. Of course, it also helps the firm by getting access to the right talent and getting them the right experience so that they’re a little bit further along than the typical recruit.”
The GRIP idea came down to this: What if the students practiced like consultants – from research and preparation to presentations before a client? The course uses cases written specifically for the class by each of the Big Four firms and a few smaller companies. PwC created an extensive, multi-pronged problem that requires students to confer once-a-week with corporate staff who act as clients.
A typical routine would start Thursday morning with Huber distributing a case to the student teams. By Tuesday, they present their ideas to the client. Students offer solutions to close security gaps and establish new protocols, all within the typical constraints like budget and time. Client reps meet face-to-face with the students to hear their ideas, ask questions and critique the work.
“I grade them from the standpoint of content and delivery for academic purposes, but these cases are written for the class by industry professionals who drive up to evaluate the presentations as well,” Huber says. “It ranges from typical things like breaches to audits and assessing security risk. We’re teaching them to look at an organization as a system that creates business value, and that system is vulnerable to outside threats, which now are in cyberspace.”
Around the world
Other students satisfy the experiential learning requirement in another hemisphere.
Last summer, risk management associate professor David Eckles led a study abroad program in Peru and Chile. Set against the backdrop of Machu Picchu, the Andes and the Amazon jungle, students took classes and toured foreign businesses by day and explored new cultures by night.
Study abroad is invaluable to a résumé and employability, but it has less tangible benefits as well. Cultural immersion develops independence and hones critical thinking and decision-making. For Eckles’ students, it also led to new perspectives on American business practices and raised questions about the status quo.
“It changed me into a risk-management major,” says senior Joe Berrios, who traveled with Eckles to South America last summer. “The most valuable thing for me was to see the culture firsthand. For example, going into a Wendy’s and seeing that they sell Pepsi instead of Coke, and thinking about how consumers’ tastes play into that. The McDonald’s and the Taco Bell were insanely better than the ones here. It just blew my mind how much fresher they were. In a developing economy, they’re able to source fresher ingredients than we’re able to source here.”
Foreign environments also can present new ways to learn concepts.
“I ended up talking to our Uber driver about his insurance and how the rules are different for him because he has that job,” Berrios adds. “When you really try to understand and appreciate someone else’s culture, the conversations and connections you have one-on-one can be very meaningful and very powerful.”
For many study abroad programs, Terry instructors tailor their lessons to the environment and require in-depth reading on the culture.
“We learned about risk management practices specific to those countries, such as earthquakes and floods,” says Tommy Lawrence, a junior risk management and economics double major who also went to South America. “We talked about the culture of business down there, how it plays a role, which is hard to explain without going there and seeing it firsthand. We went to Valparaiso [in Chile] and saw buildings that were broken in half and in ruins from an earthquake right next to government buildings that were still standing.”
Students don’t simply bring newfound perspectives back home. Many international business majors help Georgia companies expand their business beyond the U.S. through a program called ExportGA. A collaboration between the Terry College and UGA’s Small Business Development Center, ExportGA is a series of traditional workshops with one significant difference: Terry undergrads. Each participating business is assigned a Terry student who attends workshops alongside them and does a lot of the footwork necessary for the company to sell overseas.
Since launching in 2009, ExportGA has grown into a meaty assignment for students, says Jay Mathias, who works with Terry’s International Business Programs. Because companies are often busy with their day-to-day functions, Terry interns provide crucial assistance in setting up the international export functions. It’s a win-win for the businesses and the students, he says.
“If they graduate from Terry with an international business degree, this is something they can point to as real-world experience when they’re entering the job market,” Mathias says.
Several interns have been hired by the company that they worked with during the program. Others have pointed to the experience as the differentiating factor that secured them jobs with companies eager to take their business across borders.
“What’s nice is both the student and company are getting classroom instruction from professionals in the various subject areas,” says Rick Martin, director of the SBDC’s International Trade Division and manager of ExportGA. “They’re then using that information for a project that has an impact on a company.”
For other undergraduates, experiential learning comes directly from a faculty mentor. The university’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities has a long history of engaging some of the brightest young scholars in the pursuit of new knowledge under the discerning eyes of senior faculty.
Jazzy Griffin, a sophomore Honors student, came to UGA with a CURO scholarship that supports her research. She started her academic career in pharmaceutical studies but quickly discovered that her heart wasn’t in it. She was adrift, until she remembered how she felt while taking a Terry Business Academy program the summer before coming to college.
“I didn’t know anything about finance until the summer program. I was drawn to it because it still has the competitiveness that pre-med has, but without the science,” Griffin says. “I didn’t like science, but I do like numbers. I was trying to find a competitive field that drives me, so finance seemed perfect.”
To make sure, Griffin went straight to the source. She asked Finance Department Head Jeffry Netter if he would supervise her research. He agreed, suggesting she audit his Mergers and Acquisitions course to better understand a few concepts. Now the two meet every other week to discuss her reading and chart new directions of inquiry.
“Right now my research is on corporate inversion, which is when companies leave the U.S. tax system and go to Ireland or somewhere else to get better tax breaks,” she says. “I’m looking at how they do that and the consequences for U.S. tax revenue. It’s a lot of reading. There’s a lot of looking at DealBook for mergers that are corporate inversions, like the Pfizer and Allergan deal that just fell through because of the Treasury Department’s new mandates.”
Working with Netter, Griffin is building a research portfolio that will not only focus her education but may be the deciding factor when she starts the job hunt.
“It’s a really cool thing to put on my résumé. I can say I already do research into what I’m passionate about,” she says. “It also helps me stay current, which I think gives me a leg up in interviews.”
The University of Georgia’s Experiential Learning initiative will produce students who are more qualified to apply to graduate programs and better prepared to enter the modern workforce. Its emphasis on hands-on experiences that cultivate practical, employable skills is the backbone of Terry’s approach to student success. But it’s also doing much more.
“Business education is about much more than memorizing formulas, understanding financial concepts and learning your way around new technology. Today’s graduates need to understand how to encourage and empower people and lead organizations,” Ayers says. “At Terry, we want our students to experience personal growth and maturation in addition to learning the fundamentals of business. New experiences are vital for that kind of growth, and I am proud that we can offer so many opportunities for students to discover and develop their own strengths.”
Students who are undaunted by new experiences typically develop a mindset for lifelong learning. Demonstrating that capacity in college not only helps graduates land that first job but equips them to navigate all the twists and turns that lie beyond.
For success in life, much like work, some experience is required.