B-school diversity course answers employer expectations

The mandatory “First Year Integrated Course” at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio examines diversity from a variety of angles.
By: | Issue: January/February, 2019
January 23, 2019
diversityThe mandatory “First Year Integrated Course” at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio examines diversity from a variety of angles.

Businesses demand that college graduates thrive in diverse workplaces and collaborate productively with colleagues who have different mindsets for solving problems. To that end, the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio introduced a course requirement that administrators believe is distinctive, if not one of a kind, among similar institutions. For the past three years, all first-year students have examined diversity from a variety of angles in the mandatory “First Year Integrated Course.”

“Diversity is a two-sided coin,” says Tim Greenlee, senior associate dean of the Farmer School and a professor of marketing. “We all have demographic diversity, but we can also acquire experiential diversity along the way.”

About 1,000 students annually take the four-class course, which is offered in both fall and spring. Coursework covers ethics, business communications, entrepreneurship and innovation, and computational thinking—all through a diversity lens, says Becky Crews, director of the program.

Students conduct research and present reports while building the confidence to take creative risks and cope with failure.

“My hope is that they take that lens with them through the rest of their time in business school and then into the business world, so they can be more empathic and more critical, and can contribute in great ways,” she says.

Whole-brain teams

For the final project, teams of students (grouped together based on having different styles of learning and communication) work to develop new insights into a real-world problem presented by a regional business. “We work hard to create whole-brain teams—teams with cognitive diversity that can come up with strong, critical solutions,” Crews says.

In the fall 2018 semester, a large Midwestern financial institution asked students to explore the financial needs of underserved groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and the LGBTQ community.

Students spent four weeks analyzing financial data and interviewing members of these communities. They discovered, for example, that many members of the LGBTQ community became homeless after coming out to their families. The students proposed solutions to help these individuals feel more financially secure after having such a difficult conversation with their families.

“In their first year, the students get to work with real data, real executives and real solutions,” Crews says. “They learn these keys skills and get to apply them in the real world.”