Innovations That Inspire

Carlson School’s Revamped Undergraduate Curriculum

Recognition Year(s): 2023
School: Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota
Location: United States

With nine new courses and three signature experiences, this updated curriculum is anchored in three focus areas that not only meets the needs of employers but helps students build a better world.

Sri Zaheer, Dean, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota

Call to Action

The Carlson School had not updated its core curriculum for its Bachelor of Science in Business degree since 2006. In feedback from employers hiring Carlson School graduates, many remarked that the graduates struggled to deal with ambiguity. They would often ask for the formula to solve a problem when no such formula existed. They became good at following instructions but became immobilized without them. The Carlson School began developing a curriculum to help students tackle uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

The curriculum review process included a 14-member committee of stakeholders from across the school that gathered feedback via surveys and interviews from more than 1,000 faculty, current students, alumni, and employers. Data-informed job and industry insights, along with higher education trends, demographic trends, and school rankings were also used. In-depth benchmarking against the top 10 undergraduate business programs in the world, with an additional 10 for calibration, guided further direction.

From there, the Carlson School built an entirely new curriculum, expanded the program’s flagship Immersion Core (I-Core) to encompass an entire academic year instead of a single semester, and implemented a required international experience to complete the backbone of the Carlson undergraduate program.

Innovation Details

The redeveloped curriculum launched in fall 2022. With it, students begin taking groundbreaking classes right away. In their first year, students take classes on leadership, business analysis, problem-solving, social responsibility and sustainability, and designing their life and career. In their second year, they build a foundation of business knowledge through the school’s Impact Core coursework, which includes classes across all areas of business; a course on race, power, and justice in business; and the Impact Lab Project, where students partner with real organizations to make an impact. After Impact Core, students dive deep into their major, which they select from among 10 possible majors and 13 minors. The curriculum itself is built around three pillars, each providing students with a unique perspective to help them become the business leaders of tomorrow:

  • People and Planet: Preparing students to lead with purpose by incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion concepts and promoting sustainability and social responsibility frames this set of courses. A new Race, Power, and Justice in Business course emphasizes historical perspectives of business in America as well as systemic prejudices and equity considerations around modern tools. Additional courses include an ethics course focusing on issues of corporate responsibility and sustainability, the Leading Self and Teams course that builds interpersonal competency and leadership capacity, and the new Design Your Life course that builds resilience and a growth mindset.
  • Data and Technology: Increasingly, data-driven decisions are made at every level of business, in every industry. The curriculum ensures that all students graduate with proficiency in analyzing data. Upon graduation, students will be able to ask the right questions, understand how to apply analytics to real problems, and know how different models work so they can effectively lead teams and organizations.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Critical thinking skills, creativity and originality, resilience and flexibility, and complex problem-solving are needed more than ever. In the first year, a problem-solving lab will teach approaches to these skills. In the second year, students apply those lessons to a real-world business problem where they disaggregate the issues involved, generate data-driven solutions, and present recommendations to their client partner.

Innovation Impact

All of our curriculum centers on developing future leaders who use business as a force for good. By developing these skills, facing the challenges of leadership before earning a degree, and benefitting from mentorships and guidance from highly respected business and academic leaders, Carlson School graduates will be able to take on the challenging future of businesses around the world. They will widen their perspectives, both as professionals and people, and gain the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed to hit the ground running immediately after graduation.

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