This article first appeared in the UConn Business magazine, Volume 3, Issue 1 (Fall 2012)
The Business Connections Learning Community Connects Students, Creates Opportunities
Kathryn Giuffre, 19, wasn’t originally considering UConn when she first started her college search, even though she grew up less than 20 miles from the university. For Giuffre, who was the salutatorian of her class at Bolton High School, UConn was just too big – too overwhelming.
“I came from an incredibly small high school. There were only 67 kids in my graduating class, so I was looking at a lot of smaller schools,” said Giuffre, a freshman. “I was concerned I would be a number and get lost in the crowd.” When she heard about the new Business Connections Learning Community (BCLC) at the School of Business, however, Giuffre decided to take a second look at UConn.
“After coming to visit the school I was completely sold,” she said. “I really liked the idea that the people you go to class with are the same people you end up living with and eating with. It’s so nice to be able to walk down the hall and ask somebody a question about a class.”
Giuffre is now one of about 175 students from the business school who live in the learning community, which launched in the fall of 2010 as a way of creating a more intimate living and learning environment for School of Business freshmen.
Business school BCLC students to live together in one dorm, take as many as three general education classes together, and participate in the same activities and programs, which are as varied as visiting the NYSE, playing on the same intramural soccer team, and traveling to France and Germany together to experience international business first-hand.
In addition to making students feel more acclimated to the school, the program is also intended as an accelerated experience for business students by providing them with training in networking, interviewing and resume writing that will help prepare them for internships.
“This really answered a common concern from students, which is that for the first two years in the School of Business they’ve had to meet high standards to stay in the program but have really had little to do with the business school as they focus on general education requirements,” said Nathan Ives, Director of Alumni Relations and co-director of the Business Connections Learning Community. “It seemed to be a great way to get them actively involved in the School of Business from day one, and it’s really done just that,” Ives said.
Immersion in the program begins the day a student moves into one of the four floors in Belden dormitory reserved for the Learning Community. Faculty and staff from the program are on hand to help them move in, give them a tour of the business school, introduce them to the Dean, and make them feel welcome, Ives said.
Although the program was originally intended for incoming freshmen, BCLC proved to be so popular that sophomores were invited to join and the two groups are now mixed on the dorm’s four floors. Resident mentors and resident assistants (who are business students) on each floor help students navigate the turbulent waters of their freshman and sophomore years.
Outreach and Activities
Freshmen in the learning community typically take several of their required classes together, such as the FYE (first year experience) class for the business school. That one-credit course, which is taught by volunteers from the School’s faculty and staff, helps introduce new students to the school.
They also are required to serve on one or more of the committees affiliated with the BCLC. Those committees – community service, international, marketing & public relations, social, sports, house, and outreach – help keep the community a vibrant place to live.
“The students don’t come into the community to sit and relax,” said Amanda Spada, Alumni Relations Coordinator. “They have to get involved, and it becomes an even more rewarding experience for them.”
“All of the students are absolutely phenomenal,” Spada added. “They shine wherever they are and represent the School of Business so well. We are proud to have them as part of our UConn family.”
Giuffre said one of the best aspects of being a member of the community is the wide variety of activities available. She served as Vice President of Communications for the BCLC Leadership Board last year and sits on the Social Committee, which is working with Marketing and Public Relations to restructure the community’s website. She also played soccer on the community’s intramural team. She’s now a community mentor and co-teaches the FYE class.
The BCLC Impact
Members of the community have also volunteered in inner-city high schools by helping college-bound seniors with their applications. In addition to a steady stream of alumni-led workshops, field trips, and on-campus social events, students in the community also have an opportunity to travel abroad.
Ives accompanied 11 students on the trip to Paris in 2011 and said it was a tremendous learning experience for everyone who went. The students made corporate visits, where they met with alumni and top corporate executives in addition to experiencing cultural activities.
Twenty-seven students made the trip in March 2012 to Munich, Germany; and Prague, Czech Republic where they visited with top executives at a variety of multinational and local firms. They also toured the BMW factory.
Ives said donors who give to the Business Connections program, which is funded by the business school, greatly helped offset the cost of the international trip. “It’s a significant investment on behalf of the school to rally around, but it’s so worth it,” Ives said. “It’s amazing to watch the students grow and thrive with these impactful opportunities. The feedback about the program has been tremendous. We have an 86 percent retention rate, which we think is indicative of the program working.”
It’s certainly working so far for Giuffre, who is already working with career services to get her résumé ready so she can apply for a summer internship. Many students in the business school don’t begin thinking about internships until their junior year, she said.
“I am so incredibly happy. These people really do become your friends and the friendships span throughout the floors, so it really does feel like a true community,” Giuffre said. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how much I credit that to being part of this program.”