Not Business as Usual

UnCommon Ground - Not Business as Usual

In the Spring of 2014, Denison President Adam Weinberg wrote to the faculty with a request: Send the Academic Affairs Committee—a group made up of faculty members charged with overseeing the curriculum—proposals for new majors. Within weeks, they sent more than 15 proposals to the committee for review, and several may be brought before the faculty over the next few years. The first of those—a major in global commerce—was approved in November with 86 percent of the faculty voting in its favor.

The idea behind the global commerce major is to branch far beyond a typical business major, exploring from a liberal arts perspective how markets and commerce operate. Students will gain exposure to core concepts of business and commerce, but also learn to connect those concepts to the historic, social, cultural, and environmental contexts of a globalized society.

The program is designed for students with a wide range of interests, but it’s especially geared toward students who want to understand how business, commerce, and markets operate in an increasingly complex and global world. The program also is geared toward students interested in international development or social issues (or both), and who want to examine how these issues are approached through commercial activity and market exchanges.

To find out more, we talked with Catherine Dollard ’88, associate provost, associate professor of history, and a member of the creative team that developed Denison’s newest major.

There are plenty of examples of liberal arts institutions launching business majors in order to remain competitive. Dension has purposely avoided that path. So what makes the global commerce degree any different?

We realize that lots of young people are entrepreneurial and/ or want to study business, commerce, and markets. But after reviewing a lot of undergraduate business programs at other places, we believed that we could do better. The typical undergraduate business curriculum is often very narrow, leaving students with an incomplete understanding of how markets and commercial activity actually work.

The world is too interconnected now for anything to operate in isolation—what our global neighbors do in China has direct consequences for us in the U.S. We strongly believe that the best way to look at commerce and commercial activity more generally is through the lens of the liberal arts. To really understand how markets operate, you have to have a basic understanding of business and finance, but you also have to be able to situate commercial activity in the social, cultural, historical, religious, environmental, political, and lingual contexts.

When you create a program that combines a heavy-duty commerce core of seven classes in economics, statistics, financial markets, and accounting, with a solid grounding in the liberal arts and an off-campus global experience, our students will have an exceptional foundation for their future vocations.

In the end, we feel that we’ve centered global commerce in the place where it resounds the best—the liberal arts.

What might those future vocations look like?

Students will be prepared for careers in a wide range of professions, including business, international development, finance, entrepreneurship, NGO work, and more.

Over the course of 18 months, we consulted with a wide range of employers and our alumni about the kind of major that would make our students most valuable in the job market today, and the global commerce major aligns squarely with all their criteria: a solid understanding of how economics, accounting, and commerce work, blended with a wide range of liberal arts courses that prepare students to think, read cultures, understand historical patterns, problem-solve, and communicate clearly. So we created a major that will allow students to choose and apply their scholarship to a specific region—Africa/Middle East, Asia, Europe, or Latin America/ Caribbean—as they develop a bank of information about that area. They’ll couple that with skills they will learn through the commerce core, language study, internships, externships, and opportunities to study abroad. Our students come to Denison expecting to be engaged with the world. This is the perfect opportunity to allow them to do just that.

How will Denison accomplish this from the center of Ohio?

First and foremost—our faculty. They are brilliant and creative, working at the top of their disciplines. The regional areas we’ve chosen are aligned with our faculty knowledge and their own connections in the field.

Then, as a founding member of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA), we have global partners—schools in 17 countries with which we actively engage. Our faculty team up with faculty from schools in Switzerland, Lebanon, Ghana, France, and more. GLAA member faculty are team-teaching classes, so our students are interacting with their peers and with faculty from their geographical focus. This offers the possibility of creating networks in those areas even before they leave college. And we can’t forget that Columbus has become a thriving city with a wide range of companies working globally, including L Brands, NetJets, and Battelle. We are building internship possibilities with our Columbus partners that will give our students real-world experience in their global focus. And, since Denison is a place with a great deal of diversity in experience, socioeconomic circumstances, race, ethnicity, and more, we’re making sure that all students have access to these opportunities.

Finally, alumni and Denison parents from all over the world have indicated a great deal of eagerness to work with our students and are interested in providing opportunities for them. We’re planning to take them up on that.

Let’s take a student interested in focusing on business or economic development in Japan. What would her academic road to a degree look like?

The student would take the commerce core, acquiring key skills and concepts in business and finance. She would also take a series of courses on Asian history, arts, and politics, as well as classes in the Japanese language. The student would explore the intersection of these courses through a semester in Japan, or possibly through an internship or Denison Seminar engaged with that area of the world. During her senior year, all of this would come together in a capstone project exploring some aspect of Japanese commerce, through either a research project or a faculty-advised internship that immerses the student in applying the insights gleaned from the global focus.

For example, the student might do a project with a firm in Columbus that is trying to expand into Japanese markets, and that experience would give her a chance to apply and integrate her course work. Along the way, that student would meet Denison alumni working in East Asia and have the chance to interact with local Columbus businesses operating there.

This is such a unique opportunity for students. It takes advantage of the tremendous range of skills present among our faculty, and also will push us in new directions. It makes the most of the range of expertise available in the broader Denison community, including alumni and parents. We think global commerce is a great application of the liberal arts that will prepare Denison students to succeed in a range of professions, and we’re really excited to offer it to our students.

At press time, Denison faculty approved another new major in data analytics and a new concentration in financial economics, as mentioned in President Adam Weinberg’s column on page 7. We’ll bring you more information on that major and concentration in the next issue.

Published May 2016