A growing number of schools are choosing yearly themes that expose students to issues important to the community and their careers. At the Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas in the US, their Common Experience programme chooses a theme that is explored thoroughly throughout the University, including in the McCoy College of Business Administration. Ms. Brittany Chrisman, Academic Advisor in McCoy College of Business and Coordinator of Business Leadership Week, explained a bit more about this year’s theme and how the business school has embraced it.
What is the Texas State Common Experience and how did it come about?
The Common Experience at Texas State University is an annual, yearlong initiative designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation across the campus, to enhance student participation in the intellectual life of the campus, and to foster a sense of community across our entire campus and beyond.
The Common Experience programme brings students together to read and engage with a particular theme (changing yearly), and to explore this theme in University Seminar classes, write responses and reactions to the texts in writing courses, participate in related symposia with scholarly panels, hear renowned and respected speakers address the topic, see films related to the Common Experience theme, explore the experience through the fine arts, engage in informal discussions in residence halls and coffee shops, and extend the exploration via avenues of their own choosing.
For entering students, the Common Experience starts even before they begin classes at Texas State. The Common Reading book is distributed during New Student Orientation, and students are encouraged to start reading it and to become involved by way of the websites for Common Experience and the Common Reading Program. The Common Experience also casts a broader net, involving faculty, the San Marcos community that houses the university, and others interested in participating in a broad intellectual consideration of a different world-scope topic each year. The topics themselves emerge from the competitive ideas of our own faculty, staff, and students, which provides a dimension of ownership and increased involvement.
How has the university as a whole mobilised around this theme?
The 2014-2015 Common Experience theme is “Exploring Democracy’s Promise: From Segregation to Integration.” It is inspired by the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Texas State University, known in 1963 as Southwest Texas State College (SWT). In January of 1963 Judge Ben H. Rice ruled that SWT could not deny admission to an African-American student based solely on race. After the ruling, in the fall of 1963, 18-year-old Dana Jean Smith, a graduate of Anderson High School in Austin, Texas, enrolled at SWT. The registrar personally assisted Smith in registering along with four other African American students: Georgia Hoodye, Gloria Odoms, Mabeleen Washington, and Helen Jackson. This year’s Common Experience event honored the five women as trailblazers and recognised their contributions to Texas State history. The event featured a conversation, tributes, entertainment, and a reception. Additional events include film screenings, art galleries exhibitions, guest lectures, a performance of Raisin’ Cane – A Harlem Renaissance Odyssey, the Leadership Institute Annual Conference, and Business Leadership Week, to name a few.
What is the theme this year and why that theme? Why is it important for business?
McCoy College of Business Administration related the Common Experience theme to business by selecting “Examining the Impact of Diversity in Business” as the Business Leadership Week (BLW) 2015 theme. Diversity is imperative to the success and growth of modern businesses. Students will have the opportunity to learn firsthand from business professionals how diversity impacts businesses in profound ways. The BLW is slated to feature guest speakers, a leadership panel, an interactive fair, keynote speaker, Bloomberg Businessweek Mini-Case Competition, and Etiquette dinner. The main events will feature speakers and topics directly related to the theme in an effort to continue the conversation started by the university through Common Experience.
What have been some of the successes of BLW? Challenges?
McCoy College of Business Administration students, faculty, and staff, along with the university and local community have enjoyed and embraced the event for the past six years. Each year the programme has grown, with attendance increasing from 393 in 2009 to 3,700 in 2014. The growth of the programme into an annual, anticipated event has been our greatest success. As with most programmes, our greatest challenge is securing adequate funding. We address this challenge by seeking and taking full advantage of grant and sponsorship opportunities.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
I would advise other schools considering a similar programme to include students in the planning and implementation process. For the past several years of Business Leadership Week, we have made a concentrated effort to involve students in the entire process. We invite student organisations to sponsor events by hosting networking receptions, introducing guest speakers, and assisting with the interactive fair by partnering with vendors as they arrive on campus. Students gain more from the week by being able to get to know the business professionals one on-one through these opportunities. The students are also more invested in the programme when they help to plan and run the events.
What’s next for the programme?
The Business Leadership Week planning committee is busy preparing for BLW 2015. Our planning tasks include reaching out to potential guest speakers, seeking sponsorships, submitting grant proposals for funding, seeking businesses to participate in the interactive fair, and designing the leadership panel and Bloomberg Businessweek Mini-Case Competition in coordination with our theme. The planning process for Business Leadership Week is ongoing year-round in order to make the programme as effective as possible.