Building Foundations for Business Students

Experience-focused programs enrich the Rutgers School of Business–Camden curriculum

Natalie Cox, at right, a student experience officer, counsels students in the School of Business–Camden’s Student Experience Center. Victoria Abrams, at left, is a junior management major who participates in the experiential learning and mentoring opportunities offered by the school’s Business Leader Development Program.

By Jen A. Miller GSC’04

Victoria Abrams has learned much inside the classrooms of the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, but an assignment to work in the field with a nonprofit organization elevated her education to another level. Abrams, a junior management major, and a team of her classmates in the Business Leader Development Program’s Marketing in the Social Media Age course, consulted for PetPALS of Southern New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that helps take care of pets for seniors and those who are disabled or chronically ill. With guidance from Professor Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, students met with the organization’s executive director and asked him questions about the company’s social media efforts. Based on that meeting, they developed a strategy and gave a presentation to the director with their findings about best social media practices for nonprofits. “I had never done that in a class before,” Abrams said. “I was confident in all of our work, but building up the confidence to present it to him was a new skill for me.”

Abrams’ experience is just one of many hands-on, real-world pursuits offered through two dynamic School of Business–Camden initiatives—the Student Experience Center and the Business Leader Development Program (BLDP). “While what’s learned in the classroom is critically important for students to build the foundation of what will be their professional lives, opportunities outside the classroom allow students to expand their horizons and experience business in practice,” said Jaishankar Ganesh, dean of the School of Business–Camden. “That’s why we designed programs that support the traditional classroom experience, but also teach them business skills outside of the classroom through experiential learning. When they graduate, they will be ready to hit the ground running.”

Student Experience Center staff, pictured with students, includes project and data manager Carla Mandell, front row center, and Dan Rosenthal and Natalie Cox, both student experience officers, second row center. Shannon Traum, second from left, is an adviser for finance and marketing students.

Enhancing Experience

The Student Experience Center is both a resource and a series of classes to help prepare students for working in the business world. It initially started as a “one-stop shop, where all School of Business–Camden students could come and get connected to any resources across campus,” said Carla Mandell, project and data manager at the Student Experience Center. “It now consists of three mandatory 1-credit courses where all business students learn about everything from grit and resilience, to how to be a successful college student, career exploration, and networking.”

Students begin taking the courses offered by the Student Experience Center in their very first year. “We start building relationships early with the students,” said Dan Rosenthal, a student experience officer. “This puts a structure in place for the students as soon as they arrive.”

A key part of that is working with students to help them discover what careers and coursework will be best suited for them by taking the Strong Interest Inventory, an assessment that reveals potential paths. “It aligns the students’ interests to career fields that they may or may not have considered,” said Natalie Cox, a student experience officer who manages corporate relationships and internships for the school. “In a lot of cases, it will confirm what they want to study, or in some cases, it opens their eyes to new possibilities.”

Through two classes known as Professional Skills Forums and one known as Career Development Strategies, students learn about good study habits, create a LinkedIn profile and résumé, explore different leadership styles, and develop other valuable business skills such as networking and goal-setting. “This is building a foundation for their academic success, but also their professional success,” Cox said.

Students also learn professionalism (they are required to come to class in business casual attire) and attend a mandatory dinner where they learn dining etiquette and network with a guest speaker from the business world. “That was really interesting and fun,” said Irum Syed, a junior majoring in finance.

Syed said she wasn’t too sure about Student Experience Center classes when she saw they were a requirement. “At first when we were told to take this class, I’m not going to lie—I was dreading it,” she said. But she came to realize how helpful it would be. “It brushes up on your knowledge about communication and how to dress professionally.”

Administrators have been taking feedback on the program and continuing to enhance it, said Rachel Tomlinson, director of operations and administration for the School of Business–Camden. “We have a really good team,” she said.

In addition to the courses, Student Experience Center officers counsel students applying for internships and coach them on their interviewing skills. “We are a resource to all business school students,” Cox said. “We encourage students to complete internships so that they get that foundational experience before graduating and going out into the career field. We’ve been seeing record number of internships since spring 2018.”

Developing Leaders

While every student in the School of Business–Camden is now required to complete the courses offered through the Student Experience Center before they can graduate, the Business Leader Development Program is a selective 3-credit course for students who hold a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher. Participation requires sophomore status, an application with a personal essay, and letters of recommendation. The program is open to nonbusiness majors, but about 90 percent are from the School of Business–Camden. “It’s a customized leadership training program that gives students a firm basis in the concepts of leadership,” said Kaufman-Scarborough, director of the program. As part of the program, students can choose activities such as helping to meet and greet invited speakers and recruiters coming onto campus, assisting incoming students with registration, participating in community activities like the Rutgers Business Outlook, taking field trips to different companies and nonprofit organizations, shadowing an executive for a day, and attending workshops on concepts like emotional intelligence and time management.

Jason Marsdale SBC ’11, vice president of sales and marketing at Monroe Systems for Business, said the BLDP course he took as a student was transformative. “Being a student, you’re always thinking
about how do you ace that test,” he said. “It was a different pace in the BLDP class. It wasn’t focused on mastering a topic so you can get every answer right. It was about listening and engaging with the speakers.”

Marsdale is now giving back to the program, which he said helped him become the working professional he is today. He invites BLDP students to visit his workplace, and he has presented to students on campus as well. “The BLDP is one of the best things to give your time to,” he said.

Jen A. Miller is a widely published writer and the author of three books who holds an M.A. in English from Rutgers–Camden.

Posted in: 2019 Spring, Features

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