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Building a New Business Vision

An interview with Susan West Engelkemeyer, now in her second year as dean of the School of Business, on where the world of business is heading and how Ithaca's program will prepare students to help pilot it.

Ithaca’s School of Business is on the rise. With a revamped mission statement (box), a new sustainable building on the way, curricular innovations, climbing student profiles, and the distinction of AACSB accreditation, the school is breaking new ground in preparing the business leaders of tomorrow.

Renderings by Ernest Burden III. Courtesy of Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Architects’ rendering of the new building, looking up from the lakeside toward the south (towers at back)

Indeed, there is enough change underway at the School of Business that the stunning new building now under construction will be but the most visible sign of the school’s transformation.

Susan West Engelkemeyer, now in her second year as dean of the school, has clear notions where the world of business is heading. She recently shared her thoughts on how Ithaca’s program will prepare students to help pilot it.

What are the most important things to consider for higher education as the global marketplace continues to evolve?
We need to provide a setting that facilitates exchange among different perspectives and develops a deep understanding and awareness of cultural differences. Our students must also develop the “soft skills” that differentiate in the workplace—leadership, teamwork, creativity, and the ability to effectively assess and address complex problems. It is a given that students will possess the necessary discipline-related skills and abilities; those other skills can make all the difference in career placement and success.

How does the new mission statement indicate new directions?

We should be able to prove that we deliver on our mission through our assessment system. We chose to highlight two important things: (1) the “soft” skills I mentioned, and (2) the fact that our degree programs “align theory with practice within the global and ethical decision-making context to foster sustainable enterprises.”

New School of Business mission statement:
“The Ithaca College School of Business is dedicated to excellence in business education that is grounded in the liberal arts tradition. Our commitment to teaching fosters a diverse, dynamic learning community where students can develop the knowledge, skills, and character needed for leadership in their organizations and communities.

“Our degree programs align theory with practice within the global and ethical decision-making context necessary to foster sustainable enterprises. Our faculty pursue scholarly activity that enhances our teaching mission and enriches the classroom experience. Our students engage in leadership, teamwork, and experiential activities in and beyond the classroom.”

Tell us about the new building.
Every aspect will foster interaction and build a sense of community. The classrooms are flexible and designed for interaction, the social areas are abundant and inviting, and spaces will be carefully shaped to encourage teamwork and emphasize networking skills. The building reflects a significant commitment to sustainability and will itself be a teaching tool, bringing to life the lessons of sustainable practices delivered by our curriculum. For example, a display will track the operating costs of our building compared to an ordinary building of the same size. We will reduce operating costs by at least 50 percent. The south side of the building contains a wall of glass whose passive solar system reduces energy costs and brings natural light in to enhance the work environment.

What about the curriculum? How is that changing?

The building will be our package, but curriculum is our product. Faculty teams are exploring innovations—looking for ways to develop more experiential opportunities, expand leadership and teamwork elements, and give students entrepreneurial experience. In the “real world,” management challenges don’t arrive on an organized schedule the way classes do: marketing challenges don’t show up at a specified time on Wednesday! Real business situations are connected and coincident. Our students need to experience situations the way they really happen.

Any new programs?
The Center for Trading and Analysis of Financial Instruments (the Trading Room)—our signature feature since 1995—will be expanded and enhanced. We are establishing a Center for Small Business Management to emphasize the creative skills required for successful entrepreneurship. And we will introduce a center that will coordinate all our sustainability activities. These centers, along with the evolution of our curriculum, will give Ithaca a unique and distinctive business program.

What makes the program special?

Good people and a commitment to academic excellence. Our faculty are top-notch. Our students’ profile is among the highest we’ve ever seen, and our 13 student organizations develop leadership and teamwork skills. Also, the M.B.A. program (now in its sixth year) has served to elevate the entire program.

We’re getting noticed: We had a 30 percent increase in undergraduate applications for this fall. However, we don’t plan to grow much. We want to keep the program selective and focused on improvement.

Photos by Gary Hodges
Dean Engelkemeyer, center, at the May groundbreaking ceremony for the new sustainable School of Business building. With the dean are IC provost Peter Bardaglio, trustee Adelaide Gomer, donor Dorothy Park, board of trustees chair William Haines, President Peggy R. Williams, and trustees David Fleisher ’91 and Larry Alleva ’71.

Why the priority on sustainability?

Sustainability touches every aspect of business management; it incorporates the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and pros­perity. Students who pass through our programs receive a solid grounding in sustainable practices and corporate social responsi­bility. Most of our graduates move on to profit-driven businesses where success traditionally has been measured via a financial bottom line. However, there are competing — even conflicting — demands on organizations, and good managers need to know how to balance all the pieces.

Green for green’s sake is generally not a viable strategy; rather, leaders must invest in systems that reduce the environmental impact while reducing operating costs and providing an appealing and inspirational workplace.

Our new building will be inviting and cost efficient, and will reduce its environmental impact through features such as a vegetated roof. It will have 50 percent lower operating costs than similar buildings; our investment in HVAC and other systems will have a payback in three to five years. Our design builds community through open stairwells, a large atrium that is our “family room,” and naturally lit workspaces.

What role do you see for alumni as the School of Business evolves?
Financial support, of course, since it permits programmatic and other innovations we can’t get through the operating budget. But there are many other equally important ways for alumni to remain connected or become reconnected. They have personal experience and wisdom they can share. When alumni come back to visit, many take in a class or share their career stories with students.

Another enormously helpful way for alumni to give back is to sponsor internships. Many were fortunate enough to receive similar opportunities as students, and offering an internship to a student today is a marvelous way to return the favor. For example, Lee Bird ’86, former COO of Gap North America, hired Carrie Fuss ’06 to intern at the corporate offices in San Francisco last summer. Carrie has recently accepted a permanent position with the Gap. Thad Fortin ’81, CEO of Haas TCM, sponsored a summer ’06 internship for Yani Matanov ’07 in Eastern Europe. And Steve McCluski ’74, CFO of Bausch and Lomb, has been a long-term sponsor of internships. Such experiences provide a tremendous advantage for our students as they seek permanent positions upon graduation.

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