Juniors entering the Terry College in Fall 2010 are going to discover they have a lot more in common with each other, thanks to a newly adopted undergraduate curriculum called “Foundations First.” It will require students to complete the same core group of business classes during their first two semesters after they’ve been accepted to a major.
Dean Robert T. Sumichrast likens the Foundations First approach to the cohort structure in the Terry MBA Program. “Taking the same business classes with a common group of students will encourage a higher level of teamwork among students throughout their academic careers and help build a professional network of friends and future colleagues when they graduate,” Sumichrast says. “More importantly, our faculty will be able to raise the bar academically because they’ll know their students are coming in with the same understanding of business fundamentals.”
The Foundations First approach will require students to take all of their core business courses in a predetermined block based on their major.
“The primary benefit is that in any Terry class the faculty will know that the students have similar educational backgrounds,” says finance professor Jeff Netter. “This will make us more effective in the classroom because we will know what they are taking and when they are taking it.”
Netter also believes the cohort model will encourage greater interaction among professors from different departments. And it should create opportunities to have more in-depth projects, spanning multiple classrooms and more than one semester.
“The idea of Foundations First came about when the dean charged us with reviewing the undergraduate program,” says real estate professor Henry Munneke, who, with Netter, are members of the undergraduate program committee that researched peer and aspirant business schools to compare them with Terry. When the committee learned that its core curriculum wasn’t much different, they focused their attention within the college and decided Terry could make improvements delivering the curriculum. “This committee has been together for a very long time, and we asked ourselves, ‘What challenges do we have?’ We decided the biggest challenge was the unpredictable nature of when students took classes.”
In addition to teaching the principles of finance, management, marketing, and business statistics, two new core courses will be added to Terry’s Foundations First curriculum. These new courses will cover globalization, diversity, ethics, effective communication, and professional and career development, and are designed to give students more exposure to key business issues in addition to their technical training.
“We have really strong majors in Terry, so we wanted to structure the system in a way that it wouldn’t hurt majors like accounting and economics whose students start taking their courses before their junior year as a part of the intended business core curriculum,” says Munneke, who echoes Netter’s sentiments that the best way to build a foundation of knowledge is to establish a logical sequence for its delivery.
“What we hope is that, by having students take these sequences of cohort classes, the teachers they’ll have in their second semester can more effectively build on what was learned in the first semester. Although they are not in the same department, the faculty understands these classes serve as a building block for upper-level courses. It will give them confidence that every student has been taught the same business fundamentals when they begin taking their upper-level courses.”
Although Foundations First is a logical approach to delivering the undergraduate curriculum, Terry is still one of the first top-tier business schools in the country to move toward a cohort model. Netter says the benefits of encouraging greater teamwork among students, more collaboration among faculty in different programs, and providing an efficient forum for special guests to maximize their contact with students far outweigh the costs of the change. “There’s a little loss of flexibility for the students and it’s maybe a little harder to coordinate rooms, but the gains are that much bigger,” he says.