Open for business

The faculty senate gave their approval on Monday, April 5, 2010 for the newest Calvin center to open for business—literally, in this case.

The Calvin Center for Innovation in Business is officially up and running; and the folks who are behind this startup are hoping that the center will raise the level of business education and scholarship at Calvin. “We want Calvin to be one of the top schools in the nation to study business,” said Calvin president Gaylen Byker, “and the center is a big part of that."

The new center has outlined three broad goals:

to foster educational excellence,
to promote experiential learning,
and to engage with broader business communities.
Pursuant to those goals, the center will fund faculty scholarship and student research projects, sponsor conferences on business-related themes and work at developing ties to various business entities in the local area and beyond.

The importance of practice

"I always liken teaching business to teaching medicine,” said Calvin business professor Bob Eames, the first director of the Calvin Center for Innovation in Business. "It's a practice. It's something you do that demands application of your knowledge. I believe it's one of those things where if you're going to teach it, it really helps to have some experience doing it."

Because of that ethos, he continued, Calvin's business professors have typically been practitioners--PhD's, CPA's and MBA's who came to Calvin with a lot of experience in business but not much, if any, experience in scholarship. (Eames himself is an MBA with a background in industry at Steelcase and other companies.) Consequently, although business is one of Calvin's top majors, it was a major taught with a fairly large number of adjuncts. The department saw a lot of faculty turnover. Eames hopes the new center will attract faculty to the business department who are top scholars as well as top teachers. “We’ve got to up our game,” agreed business professor Leonard Van Drunen, who served on the task force that revised the business major and designed the new center.

Another way the center will improve the quality business of education at Calvin is to provide experiential learning (internships and project-based learning) for business students. In the seven years he’s taught at Calvin, Eames has partnered his students with companies such as Bissell, Meijer and Steelcase on real-world business problems. One student team, for example, is currently doing ethnographic research on how cleaning crews use their tools as a way to design better “stick products” (brooms and mops). As director of the center, Eames hopes to create more of these project-based learning opportunities and internships for Calvin’s business students.

Business concentrations

Key to all of these endeavors is engagement with broader communities of business. “What we really need is people in the business community aware of and supportive of our program,” Van Drunen said. The center’s creators agree that the Calvin’s newly revamped business major (and the existing accounting major) are two more good partners to the Center for Innovation and Excellence in Business. The new curriculum requires students to concentrate in one area of business study: marketing, operations, human resources, finance or small business. This specialization is important to prepare students for the job market, Van Drunen said. "There are no general business jobs,” he emphasized. “There are jobs in marketing, operations, human resources, finance or small business. We’re helping our students think that way.”

At the same time, the new business major helps students to anchor their business education in the broader liberal arts context. The business and related course requirements of the major have been scaled back from 52 to 46 credit hours, allowing students to take classes in other disciplines.

Well-rounded majors

"I believe that if a student does a good job mixing the business major and the liberal arts with hands-on experience and mentoring that they will do better in the long run than the graduate who spends four years on a university campus simply specializing in business,” Byker said. “At Calvin we will now be able to better provide those opportunities that we believe will equip our grads to make a difference in God's Kingdom for the long haul.”

Eames is eager to see the center functioning in support of that vision. And he’s grateful that the center, which officially launches in the fall, will not rely on university funding. “Donors were eager to dig deeper to fund this over and above their already generous support of the university,” he said. Meantime, Eames is ready to get to work: “The first thing I’ve got to do is find 20 new projects for our capstone class,” he said.