Agustin Parraguez-Huisman has what you might call an enterprising spirit. In high school, he tapped into his technical skills to start a business providing IT services for businesses in Michigan and nationwide. His side gig gave him a perspective not available to most high school students—a unique window into the workings of small-scale businesses. Over time, he noticed a pattern that would eventually prompt his study of business and accounting at Calvin.
“I wanted to learn more about operating a small business...and how bigger businesses work.”Augustin Parraguez-Huisman '21
Many of Agustin’s clients were small companies not much larger than his own— and they struggled to understand and manage their finances. “I saw that my clients needed someone with a fundamental base in accounting—somebody who could understand finance statements and budgeting and who could communicate financial concepts to their employees.”
That was a need he could envision himself meeting. By the time he began his studies at Calvin, he knew he wanted to dig deeper into the financial side of business. “I wanted to learn more about operating a small business,” he says. “But I also wanted to understand how bigger businesses work.” How might a small company like his make the transition to something grander?
Agustin smiles. “I’ve got that entrepreneurship spirit.”
Embracing and empowering that enterprising attitude lie at the heart of a series of major new additions to Calvin’s business program. The business department recently announced a significant expansion of its academic offerings: Students can now major directly in finance, marketing, and human resource management—areas of specialization previously only available as concentrations within a business major. New minors in entrepreneurship and supply chain management round out the additions.
The entrepreneurship minor illustrates the intent behind the changes. Its new status as a standalone minor adds academic depth to the study of entrepreneurship at Calvin. And crucially, it makes a structured entrepreneurship education much more accessible to the many students who aren’t pursuing a business major but who know they’ll benefit from applying business savvy to their areas of interest—whatever those might be.
This is especially useful in a market increasingly reliant on the “gig economy,” in which creative people like Parraguez-Huisman are spinning their personal talents and interests into side jobs and contract work. “We want to equip students to engage in the gig economy if they want,” says Professor Peter Snyder, who teaches entrepreneurship in the business department. “You might be working as a contractor, a writer, a programmer, or a musician, but what you’re ultimately doing is running a business. You need to be able to market yourself, handle your own finances, identify problems that your abilities can solve, and create value.”
That means that whatever a student’s field of study, from engineering to biology to art to international relations, there’s value in taking courses in business fundamentals. The entrepreneurship minor makes that more easily accomplished for students who aren’t able to add a full major in business to their four-year schedule. “We feel that if you’re going to work in the arts, in communication, in speech pathology, in the nonprofit sector—wherever you’re headed—having an entrepreneurship mindset and skills is very helpful,” says Leonard Van Drunen, co-chair of the business department.
Jobs in the gig economy are as unique as the people doing them—and so the entrepreneurship minor was designed to be adapted to the interests a student brings to the program. “There’s no one entrepreneurship journey,” Snyder notes, “so there can’t be one simple set of courses that people should take. We’ve created paths for people based on where they want to go. If you want to do a small commercial venture like a coffee shop, there’s a set of courses for you to take. If you want to do large-scale entrepreneurship, there’s another set of courses for you. And if you want to work in a large-scale organization but approach it with an entrepreneurial mindset, we’ve got yet another academic path for you.”
“The new business program offers a lot of freedom. It caters to the individual student goals, rather than making students contort to fit into a rigid set of courses.” Abby Koops ’20
That flexibility appeals to students like Abby Koops, a finance major and psychology minor who’s considering adding an entrepreneurship minor to her academic plan. “The new business program offers a lot of freedom. It caters to individual student goals, rather than making students contort to fit into a rigid set of courses.”
Entrepreneurship isn’t the only part of the business program that’s been bolstered by these changes. Marketing options in particular are expanding greatly. “Marketing is our largest concentration,” says Marilyn Stansbury, co-chair of the business department and director of Calvin’s master of accounting program. “Previously, we had a business major with one general marketing focus. The fact that we now have three full marketing major tracks students can pursue—analytics and research, marketing management, and professional selling—is very exciting.”
BREADTH AND DEPTH
Despite the significance of the changes, it would be a mistake to view this as a dramatic break from the past. Van Drunen emphasizes that the revised academic offerings don’t represent an abrupt overhaul of the business program. Rather, they’re the realization of a decade-long effort to balance what he describes as the “breadth and depth” of the business program.
“The idea behind these changes has been on our mind for a long time—even 10 years ago,” Van Drunen said. That’s when the business department first separated from the business and economics department to become a distinct program. Since then, the business department has grown to become one of Calvin’s largest, averaging more than 160 graduates each year. But Van Drunen, Stansbury, and their department colleagues never stopped exploring ways to strengthen the program. The new changes are inspired by extensive research and ongoing interaction with peer institutions, Calvin alumni, and employers.
“We heard from business alums that they loved their liberal arts degree, but they wished they had been given more depth in their field,” says Jill Risner, who teaches marketing and introductory business courses in the department. “Our new degrees were designed to meet that need. Students will graduate with more depth and more practical knowledge that I believe will make them more prepared for their chosen careers.”
“Our goal has always been to provide both a breadth of options for students and a depth of exposure to different fields,” Van Drunen explains. “A decade ago, adding concentrations like marketing, human resources, and operations to Calvin’s business major added the breadth half of the equation. And now, elevating those concentrations into standalone degrees bolsters the depth.”
That added depth appeals to students like Parraguez-Huisman, who likes the sharper focus that the new degrees represent: “They give me a clearer understanding of the job and career options they prepare you for.” That clarity and specialization can also help employers better understand what a Calvin graduate stands to bring to their organization.
RELATIONSHIPS AT THE CENTER
But the depth that Van Drunen describes means more at Calvin than academic heft. It’s about a perspective on business that’s built on a Christian understanding of human relations. With the changes to the academic program comes a renewed emphasis on business as a point of relationship between people. People who study business at Calvin are interested in working with people, Van Drunen says.
That’s certainly the case with Gretchen Karsten, a finance major and history minor whose mother (a financial adviser herself) jokes that Gretchen grew up watching CNBC. Her interaction with the Calvin business program, particularly as a member of the Women’s Business Institute, showed her a vision for business that was centered on service and problem-solving in response to real human needs. “It was eye-opening,” Karsten recalls. “I always thought that business was just money. But it’s so much more—it’s ultimately about relationship with people.” The relationships she formed with professors, Calvin alumni, and her mentees in the institute shaped her understanding of business.
It’s all about meeting human needs, says Snyder. “All organizations—whether they’re big or small, for-profit or nonprofit, exist to solve problems and meet needs.
“We want to empower students who want to make an impact, who are driven to understand people’s needs—and then create solutions to meet them.”