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by Sandy Smith No Comment

The Managerial Studies program blends liberal arts strengths with business know-how.

In this global, fast-changing, digital age, people in business need to know more than just business. That’s why the Managerial Studies program in the College of Arts and Science combines a liberal arts education—cultivating creativity, knowledge, innovation and the ability to think critically—with a strategic foundation in business methods.

The Managerial Studies program complements a student’s liberal arts major with the addition of a minor or specific courses in business. That union prepares students for life after college and has won approval from business leaders, students, parents and faculty alike. 

Focusing on the liberal arts allows students to find their hearts and souls, and to study topics for which they have passion, says William Damon, professor of economics and director of the Managerial Studies program. “Their majors provide a broad base of knowledge and then managerial studies provides the tools to help them shape their careers.”

A diversity of majors adds depth to group presentations by students.

A diversity of majors adds depth to group presentations by students.

The program offers minors in three areas: corporate strategy, financial economics, and leadership and organization. Currently, more than 1,400 students are enrolled in managerial studies courses, making it one of the most popular campuswide. Last year, students from more than 32 majors and four Vanderbilt schools selected managerial studies as their minor.

“The Managerial Studies program delivers an alternative model to the business major, one that we think is better,” says Cherrie Clark, associate director of the program and associate professor of managerial studies. “Being able to draw students from throughout the university brings depth to classroom discussions. It’s a different classroom and different perspective than one would find at a school with a traditional undergraduate business program.”

The program’s three tracks have drawn future entrepreneurs, business people, doctors, lawyers, artists and other professionals. The track in corporate strategy explores the methods businesses use to create competitive advantage in the marketplace. Financial economics develops understanding of financial markets, corporate finance, personal wealth management and government. The third track, leadership and organization, focuses on how to be effective, successful leaders. 

“Our professors are able to share first-hand knowledge on how classroom concepts can translate to the business world.”

~ Cherrie Clark

Understanding how business operates helps students apply the knowledge they’ve gained in their majors. Jacqueline Kumar will graduate in May with a major in psychology and double managerial studies minor in corporate strategy and leadership and organizations. The Memphis native has completed two internships in human resources, her chosen field. “I had not really taken any managerial studies classes when I started the first internship,” she says. “I realized that HR is people skills, but now know that in order to be a successful, strategic partner, you need to understand core business processes. I really appreciate the corporate strategy that is more numbers-based. I’ve become stronger and I understand things a little better.”

Real-World Applications

Managerial studies grew out of the economics department, then known as economics and business administration, nine years ago. Initially the program had one professor and one senior lecturer. Today the program has grown to include four full-time faculty and 13 adjunct professors, most of whom have executive experience at top corporations.

Having so many professors with corporate backgrounds gives the program credibility with students, Clark says. She brings experience as a partner in the computer-based education firm Executive Perspectives and as a consultant with Bain & Company. “Students often wonder ‘How does this work in the real world? How am I going to use this?’ Our professors are able to share first-hand knowledge on how classroom concepts can translate to the business world,” Clark says.

Associate Professor of Managerial Studies Cherrie Clark.

Associate Professor of Managerial Studies Cherrie Clark.

Clark uses her business contacts to bring in outside guest speakers who provide additional real-world knowledge, experience and career advice. She says that because they speak from experience, speakers can provide valuable knowledge and career direction that is on target. 

Zhou Zhang, a 2007 graduate now working at Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C., found the guest speakers “gave us a lot more breadth of what you can do, how things apply, and what kind of options were out there.” The courses she took in financial economics contrasted with the individual study that marked her double major in mathematics and economics. Managerial studies courses offered “more of a real world application. With a lot of heavy math classes, it’s all about theories. With the managerial studies classes, there’s a lot of practical application,” Zhang says.

Opportunities and Passions

Some of the popularity of the program, which graduated 230 minors in spring 2008, may start with parents, Damon believes. “We know that some parents, while they see the value in a liberal arts education, are also saying ‘Have some idea about what’s going to happen next.’” One goal of the Managerial Studies program is to help students identify opportunities for combining their passions with business. The three-course sequence in entrepreneurship has been particularly effective in meeting this goal, he says.

The ultimate goal of the Managerial Studies program is to allow students to build upon their liberal arts education, Damon and Clark say. The popularity of the program, however, leaves the program directors with the challenge of balancing an appropriate
number of course offerings with the traditional liberal arts education. “We have some students who would take every course offered in managerial studies,” Damon says. “But if they’re taking all of our courses, they’re not taking the courses where they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to broaden their view of the world. That goes against the basic philosophy of the liberal arts.”

Damon and Clark believe that a liberal arts education is the best preparation for life as well as the best preparation for business. And that is not just the educators’ opinion. “We’re listening to Arts and Science alumni, individuals who majored in history, philosophy and psychology, for example, and who have gone on to achieve great success in the business world; we’re listening to our guest speakers at the upper levels of business,” Damon says. “They say liberal arts is the way to go.”

photo credit: John Russell

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