The Shareholder Online The alumni magazine of Auburn University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business

Enhancing the student experience

A depiction of improvements planned for student common areas in Lowder Hall.

If you have been following my blogs or have heard me talk about the Harbert College, you have undoubtedly seen or heard the phrase “enhancing the student experience” since I use it often to label a major emphasis of our strategic plan.

From our strategic plan, the first part of our mission statement speaks to the ultimate outcome of a great student experience: We are dedicated to producing highly-desired graduates. Accordingly, strategic goal No. 1 (of 4), designed to guide us to meet our mission, focuses on delivering the student experience: Provide a superior student experience that produces highly sought after graduates.

So, exactly what are we doing to “enhance the student experience”? Good question!

We view the student experience as consisting of three components: (1) educational; (2) professional and personal development; and (3) environmental.

Education:  Of the three student experience components, this is the biggest and, perhaps, most important. A great education is the primary reason students come to the Harbert College.  Consequently, we focus on keeping our curriculum up to date. We are constantly tweaking our curriculum to ensure we are providing the knowledge and skills needed in tomorrow’s job market.

These ”tweaks” can be minor adjustments, such as modules within a course, to major adjustments, such as overhauling the core curriculum (coincidentally, we are in the early stages of re-thinking our core curriculum).

We are also committed to having great faculty in the classroom . Ultimately, a great education is dependent on the quality of faculty, and we are very fortunate to have excellent, dedicated faculty.

It is also essential that we offer programs (majors) that lead to great careers. We constantly evaluate our programs by examining two key metrics — placement percentage and starting salaries. This evaluation leads us to modify or eliminate programs. Conversely, by being in tune with industry, we add programs, such as business analytics (our newest major), to address needs.

Professional and personal development:  In 2010, the Harbert College opened the Office of Professional and Career Development (OPCD), an office dedicated to one purpose — helping our students develop personally and professionally. Through the OPCD, we offer a variety of seminars and workshops as addressing such topics as interview skills, dinner etiquette, professional dress, and resume writing.  The OPCD is also responsible for bringing in recruiters to hire our students – the ultimate goal, of course.

A few years ago, the OPCD launched “industry weeks” which build recruiting efforts around particular areas, such as supply chain or accounting, by inviting companies to participate in recruiting, panel sessions, visiting classes, etc. during a specified week.  We also recently made some significant changes to our student advising.  First, we moved the advising office to be adjacent to the OPCD; thus, providing ”one stop shopping” for students (i.e., no more running around the building for student services – they are all located on the first floor main lobby of Lowder Hall). Second, we changed our advising model to one that advises by major.  This change allows us to have advisors who specialize in a few majors, rather than forcing every advisor to be a specialist in all majors. This will certainly improve our advising and service to our students.  Third, we hired additional advisors to reduce the student-to-advisor ratio.

As part of their professional development, we believe it is important for students to have a firm understanding of their chosen field before they graduate and the opportunity to have experiences beyond the classroom.

To this end, we have focused on a few key areas.  First, we have asked all faculty to have at least one industry guest speaker in their course per semester.  This exposes the students to professionals in their industry.  Second, we recognize that the best way to gain experience (and to secure a job) is through an internship.  Already, a couple of our majors require an internship as a condition of graduation. We will continue to spread this to other majors.  Third, we are ramping up our involvement in ”case competitions” in which students compete with teams from other universities on a variety of business problems (for example, the SEC MBA case competition pitted our team of MBA students against students from the other SEC schools).  Competitions provide great experience for our students in applying their knowledge, doing it in a timely manner, and communicating their results. Fourth, we have greatly increased our study abroad opportunities.  Our students now travel to China, Brazil, Australia, South Korea, Europe and elsewhere.  Business is global; broadening one’s global awareness via study abroad is increasingly important.

Environmental:  The third component of the student experience is environmental. Essentially, this is the student’s surroundings and the amenities provided for the student. We want the students to feel like the Harbert College is their home – a place to relax or work between classes, to meet with their classmates to work on a project, etc.  To make Lowder Hall more welcoming, we are doing several things.  We upgraded our wireless network infrastructure to provide network access throughout the building and to meet the needs of students.  We are also updating the interior of the building to be more inviting – flooring, wall coverings, and, most importantly, lots of new seating throughout the classroom areas of Lowder.

Finally, we are building a student/faculty lounge onto Lowder Hall.  The lounge will seat 80 inside and 20 outside.  And did I mention it will have a Starbucks?

When we adopted our new mission statement in 2010, we made a conscious effort to devote ourselves to producing highly-desired graduates. Producing great graduates starts with a great experience.  I believe we are doing many things to enhance the student experience and, subsequently, produce great graduates.

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Bill Hardgrave

Dr. Bill Hardgrave is Dean and Wells Fargo Professor, College of Business. Prior to his appointment at Auburn University, Dr. Hardgrave was professor of Information Systems in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas, and served as the Executive Director of the Information Technology Research Institute, which he established in 1999. He also founded and directed the RFID Research Center.
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