Purdue University Northwest, College of Business

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COB Experience and Junior Achievement Partnership

Integrated curriculum provides a framework to help undergraduate students transition to professional life, equipping them with self-knowledge and the soft skills needed for long-term career success and business leadership.

Call to Action

The cultivation of lifelong leadership and career development is a critical need in business education. A student may graduate with high marks in finance or marketing management, and yet be ill-equipped to navigate the rapidly changing landscape of the global economy and workforce—a workforce that demands a high degree of emotional intelligence, adaptability, and self-awareness to succeed.

For several years now, employers across all industries have identified these and other critical soft skills as the most lacking characteristics in recent graduates. It is incumbent upon the community of business educators to ensure that students not only demonstrate mastery of theoretical foundations of business and their major field of study, but also a deep, fundamental understanding of their strengths, passions, and values—the “why” that informs the “how” and “what” of their vocational identity.

The College of Business at Purdue Northwest serves a truly diverse student population, and a large majority of students are first-generation. Thus, their navigation of the path from student to industry professional is marked by inherently different challenges and intrinsic assets than many of their peers at larger, more traditional four-year institutions.

Because of this diversity in student body, the college has implemented an innovative addition to the core undergraduate curriculum required for all business majors. It is designed to aid students in their transition from student to professional, and to equip them with the self-knowledge and soft skills that will provide the foundation for long-term career success and business leadership.

Innovation Description

The COB Experience is a four-year program, composed of five for-credit, graded courses.

The program begins in Business (BUSM)-100. The course centers on acclimating to college and helps students begin to explore their short- and long-term career goals. BUSM-100 introduces the diverse fields of study available in business, and sets expectations for professionalism, communication, and cultural awareness needed to lead in a competitive business environment.

BUSM-200 builds on this foundation by engaging students in a deeper process of self-assessment and goal setting, moving from academic to career planning. Multiple assessment instruments are used (e.g., Clifton StrengthsFinder, GRIT Gauge) to expose students to formal self-assessment and data-driven decision-making about their own career management. BUSM-200 also includes an advanced unit on cultural diversity.

BUSM-300 provides a “deep dive” into the art of personal branding, professional communication, network development, and job and internship search strategies.

BUSM-320 is a comprehensive business communications course, covering a variety of professional writing and presentation types.

The culmination of the COB Experience program is BUSM-400—a capstone-style course on career and leadership development designed to facilitate community leadership, teamwork, and professional mentoring.

The main thrust is a service learning project done in collaboration with Junior Achievement (JA) of Chicago-NWI. Students are paired with an industry professional in their field to teach a JA skills workshop to an area high school class. This project requires students to develop their public presentation skills, and fosters relationship building between students and potential mentors in the business community.


While the program is still in its early stages, it has already made a substantial impact and shows great promise for the future. The COB Experience has become a vehicle for greater industry and community engagement with the college, with recruiters from 15 different companies coming to speak to BUSM-200 classes in the inaugural semester.

It has also provided a platform for a faculty research project studying the development of global perspectives in emerging business professionals. The program was recently awarded first place in the Mid-American Business Deans Association’s Innovation in Business Education challenge.

Furthermore, the partnership program with Junior Achievement has drawn considerable enthusiasm from both students and employers. Since the JA program is tied to BUSM-400 (which will be offered starting in fall 2019), it is being piloted in an upper-level leadership elective course to ensure the process is ready to accommodate 90 to 120 students per semester.

Feedback on the pilot program from industry volunteers and students has been uniformly positive thus far. The collaboration between JA and the College of Business has already won multiple accolades, and resulted in JA presenting its first-ever University Champion award to Purdue Northwest. The program’s curriculum has also expanded beyond its initial aims with the addition of BUSM-320: Business Communication, which was added in fall 2017.

The overarching goal is to ensure that every student who graduates from the college of business is thoroughly prepared to thrive and lead in the 21st-century workforce, with high emotional intelligence, well-honed soft skills, and executive presence.

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