Knowledge of business ethics and communication skills are not just nice-to-haves; they’re essential to succeeding in business.
“Writing is important as a skill in life,” says Joelle Saad-Lessler, teaching associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies. “In college, you learn a lot, but the most important things are analytical skills and communication skills.” Saad-Lessler, along with a team of faculty leaders and administrators in the School of Business are spearheading initiatives to encourage a focus on writing and ethics in business programs.
While Stevens excels at teaching students technical, quantitative and analytical skills, the School of Business wants to ensure that students develop equally necessary and complimentary people skills: an aptitude for ethical decision-making and the ability to create clear, concise, tactful writing. The purpose of teaching these two sets of skills in tandem is to provide students with a well-rounded experience that distinguishes them from other job candidates.
Two initiatives, provided in partnership with the College of Arts and Letters (CAL), will serve to bolster writing and ethics instruction at Stevens. The first initiative, Writing Across the Curriculum, is already underway. Each semester, the administration solicits interested faculty and designates two or three courses to be run as “writing-intensive” for that term. A writing-intensive course — which could be economics, marketing, project management, etc. — must include a certain number of pages of written assignments and incorporate writing into the grading criteria for students. And, for one large paper in these courses, students must visit the university’s Writing and Communications Center for a consultation to help kick-start or revise their first draft.
The faculty and administration will continue to tweak Writing Across the Curriculum, informed by feedback from the Writing Center, to ensure that it engages students. “We’re zeroing in on a formulation that works,” said Saad-Lessler.
The second initiative is a new, required course, MGT 300: Business Communications, which will focus on the practical applications of writing expertise, and how effective communications can improve brand image, expedite problem-solving and enhance project deliverables. Designed by Jennifer McBryan, CAL teaching associate professor and the director of Stevens’ first-year-writing course, MGT 300 will begin in spring 2023.
Writing is another form of data analysis, said McBryan. “In any job, you're going to have to figure out how to synthesize different sources of information effectively in writing.” It is through this lens that McBryan will evaluate students: “Can you take in information about a situation, encapsulate it effectively in writing and then make recommendations about how to proceed?”
McBryan’s course will be experiential, project-based and will teach ethics along with writing. “The major research project toward the end of the semester is to explore a real case study of an ethical problem in a particular field or industry and then write a series of memos about it to different members of the organization,” she said.
Between a set of writing-intensive courses that changes each semester and a new required communications course, students will be exposed to writing throughout their time at Stevens, rather than having writing be sequestered to freshmen-year humanities courses.
While some students may be dismayed by the prospect of writing more papers, Dean Saad-Lessler and other faculty are determined to make the experience valuable. They’re confident that students will see the value in it.
James Schade ’24, a rising junior, said that the new course will “benefit students in a different way than the research and analysis to which business students are accustomed.” Schade also noted how being able to apply creative energy to business problems would help students with their “networking endeavors, job interviews and salesmanship.”
Ethical and profitable
In the same way that writing is breaking out of the confines of individual courses, so will instruction on business ethics. Brian Rothschild, director of management programs and assistant dean of graduate studies, began his career teaching ethics and is writing his dissertation on how business school curricula affect undergraduates’ ethical decision-making skills. He looks to incorporate lessons in ethics across many courses, rather than require one business ethics course. “Ethics as a theme is much more sustainable and realistic than ethics as a course,” he said.
Knowledge of ethics not only makes students better “global citizens,” said Rothschild, but “it’s also going to be good for your bottom line.” Especially with the rise of ESG investing and ethical consumerism, corporations are rewarded for acting ethically. “Whether you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart or your wallet, it’s the same answer: Yes! You're going to get a benefit, and it's going to benefit society at the same time,” said Rothschild.
Saad-Lessler said that education in business ethics helps combat a misconception about business — that it’s cutthroat and that you have to stab people in the back to get ahead. “Business does not require people to be unethical. It's not true. In fact, it's the opposite. You need to be ethical. You need to build relationships. People have to trust you. And if people can't trust you, you're not going to be successful.”
By receiving more instruction in writing and ethics, Stevens students will be better equipped to navigate the complex world of business and to determine their own definition of success. “Ethics is a framework for thinking about life and what it means to be successful in business,” said Saad-Lessler. “We have to make sure that we send [students] the right message.”
Story written by Garrett Kincaid.