Designs for a master plan

Last year, 40 SVSU students gathered for an all-day workshop organized by the university’s business college known today as the Scott L. Carmona College of Business & Management.

Their objective: work in teams to design business plan proposals. It was an academic exercise but simulated real-world elements faced by entrepreneurs, including a panel of local business leaders playing the role of potential investors.

Thirty days later, professors tested the impact of the activity. Surveying participants and non-participants majoring in the same programs — accounting, economics, management, marketing, general business and international business, among them — showed those in attendance has acquired a new skill.

“Confidence,” said George Puia, the internationally recognized business educator from SVSU who organized the workshop. “Those students who participated had built this feeling that, absolutely, in real life, they could do this and function in the business world.”

The program also exposed a weakness.

“We had to host that event off-site,” said Puia, who retired this spring. “This was a high-impact experience, and we were not able to find adequate space all in one place on campus. We need that kind of space for the business college.”

Soon, Puia said, that space will arrive. A long-planned $25 million, 38,500-square-foot building expansion that recently received state support is expected to open in January 2020. In addition to solving capacity issues for the College of Business & Management — which lacks an all-encompassing hub on campus today — planners say the expansion will deliver students state-of-the-art technology used by Fortune 500 companies, deepen connections between the business community and the talent pool developed at the university, and establish a business degree from SVSU as an industry gold standard.

“The more we can create a context here at the university that is similar to what students will experience as professionals, the more quickly they will be able to hit the ground running after graduation,” said Puia, who served as SVSU’s Dow Chemical Company Centennial Chair in Global Business before his retirement.

With this expansion, he said, “Our students are going to hit the ground running.”

The addition will be “more like a workplace than classroom space,” said Anthony Bowrin, dean of the Scott L. Carmona College of Business & Management.

“This will prepare students for what comes next,” he said, “and it will encourage the business community to engage with the university.”

When the expansion is built next to the existing Performing Arts Center near Groening Commons, the tools expected to be added in this makeshift “workplace” include the following:

 

  • a Bloomberg Trading Room, which will feature real-time stock data flashing across a digital panel similar to those used on Wall Street,
  • an innovation lab will offer a cross-disciplinary space where students can develop products and market solutions,
  • a communications and big data analytics lab will allow students to manage diverse sources of unstructured data and cloud-based computing,
  • a consumer behavior lab, complete with observation rooms to study what influences consumers’ decisions, will allow faculty and students to conduct applied qualitative research,
  • video teleconferencing tools will allow students to interact with their counterparts in SVSU’s sister institutions across the globe and
  • office space will house operations for SVSU’s business-themed programs, such as The Stevens Center for Family Business, the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-Northeast, the Office of Continuing Education and Professional Development, and the Vitito Global Leadership Institute

Bowrin, Puia and the expansion’s other intellectual architects developed plans for the addition in part by consulting the local business community.

Among those who offered feedback was Cass Ferris, the director of business process outsourcing for Morley Companies Inc. The Saginaw Township-based business provides a variety of services for companies across the globe and has cultivated one of the fastest-growing workforces in the region in recent years.

With SVSU co-op and internship programs providing students with roles at Morley before their studies are complete, the institutions already enjoy a healthy relationship. The building expansion will deepen that network, Ferris said.

“The Great Lakes Bay Region offers a number of opportunities that may not be as apparent to the students as the local business community would like them to be,” he said.

“By offering additional meeting forums and venues in the new facility, there is an opportunity to bridge this perception gap through interactive experiences between students and local business leaders. This approach can be a win-win for the students and our local community.”

That amped-up interaction, in turn, will connect business leaders with talented, largely home-grown employee prospects, he said. Those kinds of relationships could solve some local industries’ struggle to recruit top-level talent with roots in the region, a characteristic that often makes it more likely employees will build a long-lasting career with one company.

“Our local business community has a vested interest in connecting with SVSU to strategically develop a local resource pool,” Ferris said.

“As business leaders engage with students on a regular basis, we have the potential to provide directional support by highlighting opportunities that currently exist in our community and the lack of qualified resources to meet these employment needs.”

Ferris knows the value of an SVSU education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1989 and a master’s degree in business administration in 2006 from SVSU.

The planned building space — and the amenities it brings — will add considerable value to that education for the next generation of graduates, he said.

“Students will have the opportunity to find personal value and perspective through these interactions, as well as an awareness of local options as they consider their career choices and employment alternatives,” Ferris said.

Stacie Krupp, SVSU’s acting assistant dean for the business college, said the new space will provide a versatile field of play for students.

“The flexible learning spaces will allow students to experience traditional lectures, group work and hands-on projects, possibly all within the same class period,” she said. “The more exposure our students have to a variety of experiences, the better they will be able to adapt to new situations throughout their careers.”

Today, business-related courses are taught in classrooms scattered across SVSU. Organizers say concentrating those activities in one corner of campus will encourage the sort of like-minded discourse and engagement experienced by, for example, mechanical engineering majors in the mechanical engineering program-geared Pioneer Hall and education majors in the education program-geared Gilbertson Hall.

“Sometimes, the most important lessons you learn are from fellow students,” said Bill Zehnder, president of Frankenmuth-based Bavarian Inn.

“When you can pick the brains of your fellow classmates, you are sharing experiences in a way that can be educational outside of the classroom.”

Dominic Monastiere has more than one perspective on the expansion’s benefits.

As SVSU’s Boutell/First Merit Bank Executive in Residence, he understands how the addition will strengthen the way faculty teach business-related subjects. As a retired Chemical Bank executive of more than two decades, he can imagine how the region’s business leaders will become more engaged than ever with the university and its students.

“In today’s business world, employers are looking for the soft skills and the ability of their employees to work as teams to attack problems from 360 degrees,” he said.

“So, while you might be working in operations, you need to be able to engage people in marketing, in accounting, in purchasing. In order to prepare our students for those types of environments, we need to provide a more collaborative environment on campus.”

Puia said a collaborative environment was one of the strengths of the successful all-day workshop he hosted off-campus last year. He hopes, among other things, to recreate that fruitful, educational climate on SVSU’s campus.

“We want to create an environment where it’s easy and natural to form relationships with others,” Puia said. “This is the way to do that.”

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