Preparing for business leadership

January 15, 2014 | Tina Underwood

theblock
theblock
theblock

Few private liberal arts colleges offer business degree programs. Even fewer incorporate a rigorous MBA-like experience in those undergraduate disciplines.

Furman does both.

"The Block" meshes the fundamental elements of management—accounting, finance, marketing and operations into a single four-course experience for junior business majors. Meeting 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. five days a week, the Block exposes students to the core of business as a seamless, interconnected unit Team taught by four professors, it helps students identify and solve complex management problems, hones business acumen, fosters unity and gives students a profound understanding of the inner workings of a successful business.

"In the Block, we essentially take students out of college for a semester and throw them into the real world," says finance professor Katie Player who teaches the course with Kirk Karwan, Suzy Summers, and Robert Underwood.

The group, normally around 30 students, also visits successful manufacturers and other firms, interviews business leaders and attends seminars on networking, interviewing, resume writing, social media, and leadership.

In true liberal arts fashion, the professors also weave in subjects including ethics, leadership, globalization, and sustainability. Susan Zeiger (Internship Programs), John Barker (Career Services), Kim Keefer (Shucker Leadership Program), and Peggy Batchelor (Computer Science) are honorary faculty who lead classes throughout the semester. Faculty say students emerge from the program with a broader understanding of how businesses work, a solid set of business skills, and a keen awareness of their natural abilities.

"The issues facing practicing managers are rarely confined to one functional area of business," says Karwan. "We believe an integrative, interdisciplinary view of management is essential to effective decision making."

The approach was instituted in 2010, in part, to help improve internship prospects for majors entering their senior year.

"Before the Block, students wouldn't have a good grasp of the core of business or a mastery of business parlance until just before they left the university," says Karwan. "With the Block, students are equipped earlier in their academic careers so they can take advantage of internships and study away assignments following their junior year."

Amanda Soule '14 interned with BMW last summer and says the Block boosted her recruiting IQ. "Without understanding operations and supply chains, marketing and human resources, BMW might have been out of reach for me."

Tackling group projects, taking group tours, and spending countless hours together, Block participants also develop an esprit de corps. They learn to trust and depend on each other.

"It's 30 students working together toward a goal," says Underwood. "The importance of the bonding and the team approach in the Block can't be overstated."

This sense of community is played out in a semester-long project where students work in groups of five to dissect and evaluate a company. Says Player, "They learn delegation skills and how to apply their strengths in a group setting."

In just three years, Underwood says the Block has become a symbol of what makes a Furman education distinctive. It is a blend of liberal and experiential—hands-on learning that prepares majors for the challenges of graduate school or the job market.

"It's unlike any other class students will encounter," says Underwood. "Besides the value it imparts to students, the Block represents something unique for the department that sets us apart from other undergraduate liberal arts institutions and even some business schools."