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Innovation Through Collaboration: New Ways of Thinking and Learning
 

Innovation is a complex phenomenon where talented and motivated people exploit the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams. The most exciting innovations often involve collaborations among creative people with different perspectives and skills who apply their abilities to issues and problems that demand a comprehensive approach. Business education — in fact, all of higher education — recognizes the need to integrate disciplines to create new ways of thinking and learning.

The McIntire School is positioned to assume a leadership role in this challenging process. Building on its recent success in integrating disciplines in the undergraduate and graduate curricula, the Commerce School is becoming an engine of innovation and collaboration in an array of activities involving academic programs, Centers activities, research, and global partnerships.

“Although strong disciplines are absolutely essential, interdisciplinary teaching and research will be a cornerstone of knowledge creation and dissemination in the 21st century,” says McIntire Dean Carl Zeithaml. “McIntire’s tradition of integrating business and other disciplines makes our faculty a leader in creating an interdisciplinary learning environment. In particular, interdisciplinary approaches are a hallmark of the McIntire teaching methodology, whether in the third-year Integrated Core Experience classrooms, in exciting new courses and programs taught by McIntire and other University faculty, or on its state-of-the-art trading floor.”

Creating an Interdisciplinary Learning Environment

The McIntire School is involved in a number of courses in which faculty and schools are joining forces across disciplinary lines. Two new interdisciplinary courses funded by a gift from alumnus John Griffin (McIntire ’85) were eagerly filled last school year, with more than 300 students each. McIntire Associate Professor Mark White taught one of the courses, “Environmental Choices,” with James Childress from Religious Studies and Thomas M. Smith from Environmental Sciences.

“It was a real challenge, but very fulfilling,” says White. “We explored environmental problems from three perspectives: ethics, environmental sciences, and economics. We invited speakers from around Grounds, some really outstanding professors, including Jonathan Cannon from the Law School, Tim Beatley from Architecture, and Steve Cushman from the English Department.”

“Team-teaching with Smith was a continuation of an ongoing collaborative relationship. “Tom and I grew pretty close during our travel course to South Africa,” says White. “That’s a nice bridge that John [Griffin] may not realize he built, just getting people talking to each other across Grounds and in class.”

A "Business of Saving Nature" course included a 12-day trip to South Africa, including Kruger National Park.

Together with McIntire Associate Professor David LaRue, White and Smith offered another course, “The Business of Saving Nature,” which also was funded by the Griffin gift and included a 12-day trip to Cape Town, Johannesburg, and the Kruger National Park.

“There is always a trade-off between economic and environmental concerns, and nowhere is this trade-off more apparent than in the developing countries of the tropics,” says White. “We chose to explore these trade-offs by concentrating on southern Africa and South Africa in particular. Despite the growing demands for land and natural resources, governments there encourage ecotourism as a means of sustainable development.”

Fifteen students from McIntire, Environmental Sciences, and the Curry School of Education traveled with their professors on an educational adventure that featured visits to national and private game parks, a platinum mine, and several manufacturing concerns.

“The University is linked to SAVANA, a consortium of four African universities, including the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg,” White says. “Our partners at Witwatersrand were tremendously helpful in organizing the trip. Witwatersrand has a field station outside the Kruger National Park called the Wits Rural Facility, where it works with neighboring people on economic and ecological development. The visit there was quite telling for a number of our students. Several developed a deep interest in development economics.”

Laurel Woodworth (A&S ’04), who is majoring both in Environmental Sciences and a new interdisciplinary major, Environmental Thought and Practice, took the course because she had never been able to see the economic side of environmental issues. “I thought this class would be the perfect way to integrate both economics and environmental sciences,” she says.

Finance concentrator Saket Narula (McIntire ’03) brought a background of diverse interests to the class experience. “I had been a volunteer for the International Crane Foundation and also worked for National Geographic in television production and story writing, so I am interested in geography in general and nature in particular,” says Narula. “This was a great opportunity, not only because it was a Commerce class but it also was very relevant to what I’ve been thinking about, valuing and finding out about nature and how businesses can work to sustain the environment.”

Bringing Business Education to the University

“Faculty members do not need to collaborate explicitly across disciplines for students to achieve integrative outcomes,” says Zeithaml. “Students with non-Commerce majors want exposure to business concepts and tools so that they can apply them to their areas of interest and expertise. The Commerce School wants to support their efforts, and we hope that our expanded involvement with the College and students from all schools will strengthen the foundation for future collaboration and integration among faculty.”

McIntire is doing just that by using the same cross-functional approach to teaching business found in McIntire’s third-year Integrated Core Experience. The School is offering a new course, “Making Business Work,” designed primarily for first-year students. “This fall, ‘Making Business Work’ will begin to meet the increasing demand from University students for more exposure to business education,” says Associate Dean for the B.S. in Commerce Program Mike Atchison, who spearheaded the design and implementation of this course, also funded by the Griffin gift.

“The course is offered as a pilot for about 100 students in fall 2003, but in subsequent semesters, we intend to offer it to several sections of 150 students each,” Atchison says. “It will provide a good introduction to business and the functional disciplines for first-year students, and students who decide to apply to McIntire also will have an excellent preparation for the interdisciplinary ICE curriculum.”

In another effort to meet the University’s demand for business education, McIntire recently expanded its successful McIntire Business Institute, which has a 21-year history of providing non-Commerce graduates with an intensive introduction to business during the summer. This fall, 60 students are enrolled in a section of the McIntire Business Institute that is offered for the first time on Fridays during the regular academic year and over the winter break. This certificate program introduces students to the fundamentals of the various business functions, and it provides them with exposure to career management issues.

“The student response to MBI during the school year has been tremendous,” says McIntire Business Institute Director Jack Lindgren. “I knew there was a demand, but I didn’t expect this enthusiastic a response from students.”

Community Collaboration

McIntire is also integrating the business disciplines around unique organizational and leadership situations. Perhaps the most exciting such plan intends to bridge boundaries with community nonprofit organizations, enhancing students’ knowledge and skills in the management of nonprofits. Based on the success of student service projects with local nonprofits in an advanced communication class taught by McIntire Assistant Professor Lynn Hamilton, Zeithaml has a long-term goal of creating the Nonprofit Leadership Program. This proposed program offers the exciting potential of involving Commerce and University faculty, students, and alumni and a variety of nonprofit organizations and nonprofit professionals.

Hamilton’s successful experience in revamping the communication strategies of several nonprofit organizations prompted Zeithaml to ask her to head a team of faculty members planning a nonprofit module for the ICE 2004 spring semester. This module will serve as an integrative experience for ICE students as it asks them to apply state-of-the-art knowledge on a variety of strategy, marketing, and communication issues to nonprofit organizations. Hamilton also is exploring ways to design elective courses focusing on nonprofit management.

“The nonprofit sector is an extremely important part of our economy and is facing increased funding pressures,” says Hamilton. “We want to make sure that our students have exposure to some of the management and strategy issues facing nonprofits and understand how the skills they’re developing at McIntire can apply to nonprofits as well as for-profit organizations.”

“As our Nonprofit Leadership Program evolves from these initial efforts, I hope that the McIntire School will offer nonprofit leadership and management courses to all U.Va. students, collaborating with other U.Va. schools and departments that have an interest in this area,” says Zeithaml. “In addition, an extensive NLP could involve our alumni and offer executive education to nonprofit executives, board members, and professionals to enhance their nonprofit leadership and management skills.”

Hamilton looks forward to bringing education about nonprofits into the McIntire curriculum. “As faculty, we don’t naturally tend to talk in the classroom about the boards that we are on or the volunteer work that we do,” she says. “We know our students heavily volunteer their time to on-Grounds organizations and community non-profits. It should be useful and interesting for us all to devote time and attention to nonprofit management.”

Integrating IT and Finance

Advanced Commerce courses and facilities also provide an exciting opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, the highest of high-tech computer programs was the weapon of choice during McIntire’s first Hedging Tournament.

“Our students were using the very same strategies that Wall Street experts use,” says McIntire Assistant Professor Stefano Grazioli. He and Professor Bill Wilhelm staged the tournament in the Julian H. Robertson, Jr. Capital Markets and the Chesapeake Capital Trading rooms of the Moneyline Telerate Center. The Center gives students and faculty access to the most sophisticated real-time data, analytical tools, and trading technologies available anywhere. “I’ve never seen the Center look so much like a real trading floor,” says Wilhelm.

Grazioli and Wilhelm’s combined IT and finance classes were challenged to steer $20 million worth of capital through a storm of market volatility. Nineteen teams of students from disciplines across the University cooperated over the semester to design computer models using finance strategies.

“Our two classes included students from all six McIntire concentrations, as well as students in economics and other departments at the College and students from the Engineering School in computer science, electrical engineering, and systems engineering,” says Grazioli. “It was a challenging exercise in team building among people from different academic backgrounds.”

On the Cutting Edge

Innovative faculty designing new interdisciplinary courses, broadening the offerings of business courses for non-Commerce students, and reaching out with students to national and community nonprofits are just a few of the ways that the McIntire School is providing leadership in program innovation. The support and involvement of alumni and corporate partners will facilitate future efforts that emphasize collaboration and working across traditional academic boundaries.

   
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