First Class

By Carol Elliott | Spring 2014

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In the early days of June, Kyle Smith found himself in a Notre Dame classroom, facing down a subject that can daunt even the most math-savvy among us: statistics.

And just beyond that would come accounting, finance, process
analytics and much more. For someone who double majored in English and history, the seemingly quant-heavy curriculum on tap in Mendoza’s Master of Science in Business raised a chorus of doubts at first.

“I didn’t know what to expect when the business coursework began over the summer,” says Smith (ND ’12). “I was a little leery about the expectations of the business school, and at first I questioned whether I had the quantitative skill set needed to learn the material.”

For Ken Kelley, the Viola D. Hank Associate Professor of Management, the experience of teaching MSB students was different, too. He teaches stats to undergrads, and at the opposite end of the program scale, to Executive MBA students. The MSB class was something of a mixed bag when it came to how much they already knew, and how they felt about the subject.

He adopted a classic teaching approach: enthusiasm combined with plenty of real-life examples. “I have my wife and friends on the lookout for articles or stories that involve statistics,” he says. “Also, past students often send me interesting examples of statistics in their reading or how they used a method at work. I try to loop in these examples to keep things fresh and relevant.

“Because the MSB class was four days a week for seven straight weeks, interesting examples and uses of statistics was, I think, key to keeping the students engaged in the material,” he adds. “All of the other classes that I teach have days off between classes. It can be intense!”

A couple of weeks into MSB coursework, Smith found himself up to speed, even in stats. “Fortunately, our professors were very patient, and very understanding about our diverse backgrounds,” he says. “And from my perspective, it’s been great to learn from peers who can offer different perspectives, positively push one another, and who are absolutely wonderful people.”

Smith and 27 fellow students were seated last summer as the first cohort for MSB, Mendoza’s 11-month program for non-business majors with no work experience. They represent 11 different undergraduate degrees, ranging from history and psychology, to engineering and economics, and hail from 15 universities, with about half having attended Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s College.

The program takes place over three semesters — summer, fall and spring — and provides students with a thorough grounding in business fundamentals, such as accounting, finance, business ethics, marketing and management principles.

While Mendoza was among the first b-schools nationally to launch an accelerated business program for non-business majors, and has been offering the one-year Master of Science in Accountancy since 1998, the higher ed landscape in the U.S. quickly is becoming populated with a plethora of specialized business degrees.

“For certain, there is a growing demand for one-year programs, as people seek options in education to suit their lifestyles and career needs,” says Roger Huang, Martin J. Gillen Dean. “In the broader picture, the trend speaks to the expanding power and reach of business, which in turn creates a demand for people who can think broadly and strategically. All of this together argues for continued innovation in education, which is really quite exciting.”