Business is booming in Mobile as industries global and domestic invest new resources to take advantage of an increasingly driven and inspired workforce. The University of Mobile School of Business is partnering with industry leaders to educate the next generation of professionals to help foster this unprecedented growth.
It is through those partnerships that students enrolled in the School of Business gain practical experience working in the private sector with comprehensive internships and paid contracts – all while honing instincts rooted in their Christian faith and understanding that good people do good work.
Much of their success occurs at the intersection of “what” and “why,” according to Dr. Todd Greer, dean of the School of Business and vice provost in the Office for Academic Affairs. Students can develop a useful skill set that highlights what they can do, he said. But when they discover why they want to — what they are truly passionate about and called to do — it becomes much more than “work.” It allows them to see the intersection between their professional and personal lives.
“We have to make sure, as a capitalist society, that we’re not being capitalist at the expense of people, and that we don’t maximize profits to the point that we forget people are why we exist,” Greer said. “With our faith-based mission and Christ-centered focus, we don’t just want you to be a good person in business.
“We want you to understand what it means to be a good Kingdom citizen.”
Learning Through Example
That philosophy led to the creation of the Faith at Work series, where guest speakers from local and international business communities are brought in to illuminate to students what it means to truly carry the mantle of faith in the business world. The shared perspective helps illustrate how, while someone may have a laser academic focus, there must also be a willingness to understand what God’s path for them might be.
Clarifying a student’s ability to understand God’s reach in their life is also a huge benefit to building their instinct, their path to the “why,” said Dr. Kathy Dunning, the School of Business’s associate dean and associate professor of accounting. “The more we show students what’s out there, what’s being done by our Christian and faith-based community, the more open they will be to paths that might benefit them,” she said.
The Faith at Work series is one of two speaker programs the School of Business offers. The other is The Business Breakdown. Through that series, industry professionals share their greatest successes and failures.
“One of the things that we want our students to see is that failure is an opportunity to learn,” Greer said. “Not everything that goes bad is going to be fatal. It’s an opportunity for you to learn and grow from it.”
Throughout the curriculum, the emphasis is on connecting students to professional leaders in their discipline. Speakers have ranged from Grammy Award-winning artists to executives with Google and Facebook, either directly brought into the classroom or connected via video conferencing.
“It really opens up the world,” Greer said. And it not only acquaints the students with successful entrepreneurs from the Mobile area and beyond, it shows the international business community what UM is all about.
Amy Wright Lamb ’13 graduated from UM in the 5-year integrated MBA program, earning a Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science in business administration with a concentration in global business. She currently works for Open Doors USA, helping support persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries. She said the School of Business exposed her to passionate, like-minded people, and the accompanying mentorship and encouragement helped her develop key leadership and critical thinking skills, and understand what God was calling her to do.
Lamb also learned the value of “creating and casting a vision, establishing objectives and carrying them out.”
“You have people who care about you and who care about your particular gifts and skills and strengths,” she said. “And also your hopes and intentions for your career.”
Prac-ademics at Work
The School of Business is growing, and administrators believe one reason for increased student interest is their ability to offer real-world opportunities.
After all, the value of practical experience has never been higher, and many industries aren’t interested in graduates who haven’t been actively exposed to the workplace. While internships are a crucial requirement for every School of Business student, so are opportunities to earn money in relevant fields while still pursuing their degree.
Known as Prac-ademics, the approach bridges the gap between business theory and practice. One of the key initiatives to come out of that mindset is the Good Work Agency. Over the last year-and-a-half, Greer, Dunning and Katie Allred ’12, assistant professor of software development and digital media, developed a student-run marketing firm to work with area non-profits, churches and small businesses.
“They say, ‘We’re the Good Work Agency. We do good work for those who do good works,’” Greer said. The agency helps students learn how to communicate with clients throughout a project, set and meet goals and deadlines, and build their portfolios as undergraduates. The full-semester program also helps them develop passions for a variety of career fields.
Prac-ademics also includes curricula involving living laboratories that supplement lecture spaces. An apt example during spring is the VITA, or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, program facilitated by the IRS. Through VITA, accounting students can be trained and certified online, then staff various sites throughout the Mobile area to prepare tax returns for low-income citizens.
“That’s the perfect intersection of Christian faith and your capabilities as a business student, or an accounting major,” Dunning said. “Look what you can do for these people.”
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the most valued assets a student can develop include teamwork, communication, collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking. The more opportunities the School of Business can offer to develop these abilities, the more successful its students will be, which is a key component of what Greer calls “future-proofing.”
Basically, the more adept the student, the more they will be able to evolve to meet the challenges of their faith and career.
And the administration needs to be malleable, as well, which is why new bachelor’s degrees are being offered in fields such as software development, and digital media and advertising. In addition to typical areas of focus such as marketing, management, accounting, finance and economics, the school is also growing in areas like integrated marketing communications and computer information systems.
Also, there is tremendous opportunity for UM’s international students through a new project of the School of Business with the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
“What we recognized is, with the Port of Mobile, we are truly becoming a greater presence in international import-export, or trade,” Greer said. “So we now are starting an international consulting group for our students.”
Several students are already enrolled in the project, which began in October. What the faculty is discovering, Greer said, is that students from other countries are often familiar with the companies investing in Mobile and are well-positioned to learn how to work with them. Recently, some German students began working on a project with a company supporting the Airbus supply chain. The students knew all about Airbus, since one of the company’s largest operations is in western Europe.
“What we’re trying to do is stay grounded in traditional business understanding and, at the same time, be looking to how we can future-proof our students,” Greer said.
“An overarching theme throughout our curriculum is that you can meld your Christian faith with your career,” Dunning said. “The two shouldn’t be separate.”
To learn more about degrees and programs in the School of Business, visit umobile.edu/schoolofbusiness or call Enrollment Services at 251.442.2222. For information about the Good Work Agency, visit goodworkagency.org.