Course Gives Non-Whitman Majors an Engaging Introduction to Business

As students took their seats on day one of Business Essentials (BUA 201), many were surprised by the attire of one of the instructors. Professor Alex McKelvie stood before them in gym shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “lazy,” while donning sunglasses and bright red Croc sandals. Though the sight made many of them chuckle, it was not intended as a joke—it was the first lesson in a class launched at Whitman a few years ago, with the purpose of teaching non-Whitman students the fundamentals of business.

Syracuse University students can get a meaningful overview of management principles and disciplines through this class specifically designed to be engaging, interactive and fun. During lectures, the team of five professors portrays the executive leadership team of the fictional Whitman Chocolate Company. Students discover that Professor McKelvie, who plays the intelligent but clueless son of the late Gertie Whitman, has recently inherited ownership of the company from his mother and is in need of management training.

During each class, instructors act out scenes from the boardroom in the format of a television drama, complete with plot twists and cliffhangers. The instructors base their lessons off scripts, which are written by the team during planning sessions.

“There’s a storyline, so people really get into it,” said Professor McKelvie. “Everyone is excited to see how to solve the next problem. You never really know what is going to happen next.”

After each “episode,” students have the chance to ask the characters questions, offer suggestions and contribute to solving the many problems the company encounters—from lawsuits to personnel issues and everything in between. The class provides students with essential knowledge of accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, management, supply chain management, retail, law and international business. Professors MaryAnn Monforte, Pat Penfield, Dan Rice, Sue Smith and McKelvie each act as a specialist for the company in one of these areas.

“We believe that many non-management majors are interested in a basic understanding of business,” said Amanda Nicholson, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the Whitman School. “We wanted to make that a real possibility for students from all over campus without any barriers to entry, while giving them the ability to fit it into the prescribed schedule for their major course of study. This class offers them that opportunity. Having a grasp of accounting, marketing, finance and the other functions explored in Business Essentials can prove to be a real asset in almost any work setting.”

“All the professors present the fundamentals of their topics through this larger example, so students can apply it in a real-world scenario, which makes it easier to understand,” said Ellie  Lapidus ‘17. “The instructors encourage participation and make you feel comfortable asking questions. It makes for an interactive, creative and fun learning environment that allows students to thrive.”’

The multidisciplinary approach of Business Essentials combined with its experiential learning component ensures that students leave the course with a holistic understanding of management.

“You can teach marketing, or you can teach finance, but, in reality, all the functions of a business have to work together,” explained Smith, who led the development and coordination of the entire course. “That’s why I love teaching it as a whole; you see how the lessons really connect and apply to a business setting.”