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The Boundaryless Business School: Innovations in Cross-disciplinary Education


Posted August 01, 2016 by Elliot Davis - Coordinator, Research - AACSB International

Business schools can be incredibly diverse in their program offerings, with a range of disciplines that can enable growth and discovery in nearly any career field. And yet, while business degrees can lend themselves to that incredible diversity of professional endeavors, business programs often maintain a distinct separation between the traditional business disciplines. This approach is quite common and mimics the hierarchical structure that many businesses themselves employ. Jack Welch, the successful former CEO of General Electric, was a proponent of the “boundaryless organization,” an approach to organizational design that espouses the virtues of breaking down silos. What would the boundaryless business school look like? And, would that approach be more or less effective for learning? Some business schools that are embracing cross-disciplinary learning tout these models as innovations within the industry for their ability to bring unique cross-sections of learners and content together. The following are three examples of cross- (or multi-) disciplinary activities occurring within business schools.

The Innovation and Design Thinking MOOC

University of Cincinnati, Carl H. Lindner College of Business (United States)

The University of Cincinnati’s business school and engineering school partnered to develop a cross-disciplinary Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. The Innovation and Design Thinking course was offered to all individuals at no cost. It was launched in 2013 with the concept that any individual who successfully completed the course and subsequently enrolled in the school’s MBA or Master of Engineering program would receive two graduate-level credits for completing the class. The course was designed to teach participants the tools necessary to generate new ideas and quickly transform those concepts into viable new products and services. Moreover, the course combined and contrasted the business and engineering aspects of innovation and design thinking.

The course quickly became the largest class in the 200-year history of the University of Cincinnati, with. more than 2,500 students from 100 different countries participating. After the class ended, the University of Cincinnati received so many requests for an additional session of the course that a second iteration of the MOOC was taught the following fall. The course content served as an introduction to graduate education for many participants. A significant number of participants indicated interest in continuing their graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati following the conclusion of the course, and several of them are currently pursuing an MBA or Master of Engineering degree with the hope of one day fully launching the businesses they conceived during the Innovation and Design Thinking MOOC.

The Richmond Promise

University of Richmond, Robins School of Business (United States)

Richmond’s strategic plan, The Richmond Promise, called for more integration among the unique configuration of schools at Richmond, which has schools of law, leadership, continuing studies, business, and arts and sciences. The Robins School is one of just a few AACSB-accredited business schools located within a nationally ranked liberal arts college. As such, the Robins School promotes and encourages its students to fully integrate their business school course of study with classes and programs in the liberal arts. The Robins School holds that the integration of liberal arts and business produces graduates who are prepared not just for technical careers but also for lives of purpose and leadership.

Some examples of this dedication to integration can be found in the school’s program offerings. The school offers a number of interdisciplinary and inter-school programs, such as a major in philosophy, politics, economics, and law (PPEL). As another example, students with an interest in economics who also have strong quantitative skills may opt for the mathematical economics major. This stand-alone major compels students to take half of their required courses in the Math Department and half in the Economics Department. But the PPEL major, which is coupled with courses in the general education program, provides students with quantitative skills and the business acumen to apply those skills to policy problems and business situations.

STEAM3 Task Force

Providence College, School of Business (United States)

The Providence College School of Business’s (PCSB) mission articulates that the school provides a values-based business education that is both integrated and informed by the liberal arts. In support of this mission, the STEAM3 Task Force (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, Management, and Marketing) was formed. The task force has launched two key initiatives, focusing on the faculty’s role in the integration of liberal arts within the business curriculum. Taken together, these initiatives have begun to help the PCSB become more integrative, bridging the gap between the liberal arts and business education.

The first initiative of the task force was the Liberal Scholars Program. Under this program, prominent liberal arts and sciences scholars were invited to address the PCSB faculty meetings. Their topics were articulated as “What Every Business Student Gains by Studying [blank]” (e.g., theology, chemistry, etc.). Central to the thinking was that increased understanding by faculty would greatly inform the advice they gave in their role as student advisors. The second initiative was a STEAM3 speed “dating” event, which brought faculty together from across the campus. An explicitly desired outcome for this event was new, team-taught courses, such as cross-listed and special topics courses. A colloquia was also formed, which now serves as a finishing component of the required four-semester, integrative Development of Western Civilization (CIV) sequence. CIV is the foundational cornerstone of Providence College’s core, and the chance to bring thematic, business-related content to the offering was a tremendous opportunity to help students integrate their two streams of education.

About Innovations That Inspire

These examples are part of a larger collection of Innovations That Inspire. From October 15 through November 20, 2015, AACSB member schools were invited to share ways in which they have challenged the status quo. Nearly 300 innovations were submitted from more than 200 institutions across 35 countries—an array of inspirations that illustrates an impressive commitment to engagement, innovation, and impact. Thirty of these innovations were initially highlighted at the 2016 Deans Conference and are currently available for public browsing.

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