UConn, School of Business Embrace Life-Transformative Education

Tom Katsouleas, UConn’s new president, arrived with a clear vision, which included a university-wide commitment to life-transformative education (LTE).

The LTE Task Force started by asking: Why are we working here at UConn? The response: “UConn seeks to imagine what our University would look like if every one of our faculty and staff responded to that question with: ‘We are here to help transform the lives of UConn’s students.’ ”

Tom chose the initiative well. UConn values teaching and the student experience. The campus embraced LTE. But the challenge is doing it at scale; creating this experience for our 24,000 undergraduates. How does it play out in a dozen schools and colleges under the UConn umbrella?

As dean of the School of Business, I can only speak for us. LTE plays well. Experiential learning and deep student engagement have been a cornerstone of our program. In a recent survey of faculty and staff, employees overwhelmingly expressed pride and satisfaction in contributing to the growth and accomplishment of our students.

What does LTE look like in the student experience? There is no single answer. Students have diverse goals and objectives. All strive to become their best selves, to grow and open doors to a rich future. But their futures are not the same.

Each student seeks a path that fits. Our challenge is to create such pathways and welcome students to the journey. Our challenge is to make the path challenging and exhilarating. I will briefly share five examples: accounting, consulting, real estate, SMF and Venture funding. They range in size and longevity, but they cover the gambit of programs we offer.

Accounting is our second-largest major and has a very long tradition. There are multiple points of engagement with the professional community via recruiting functions, advisory boards, student groups and more. Students identify their interest early and engage in many ways, including a volunteer tax-return process (VITA) and a long-standing national honorary (Beta Alpha Psi). The flow of mentors, interns, and ongoing alumni relations creates a vibrant community. The word ecosystem is overused, but apt.

Consulting is a smaller, younger and very vibrant group. It grew from student interest and was propelled by students engaging alumni in the field to nurture opportunity for the next generation. They succeeded. Our students now have access to great interviews and tremendous jobs, including a recent hire at Bain. This is largely an extra-curricular experience. Interested, indeed passionate, students, invest their time, energy, and effort in opening doors, for themselves and others.

Real Estate is another prominent opportunity at UConn. We are a nationally ranked academic program but in LTE terms the issue is what do we do for our students. They are active in the Real Estate Club and in internships, but the reality is they are “all in.” There are annual trips to Boston, New York City, Hartford and Stamford that expose the students to leaders, companies and projects. I have participated in many of these, and can attest to the fact that I have seen a student in the New York City reception in each of her four years at UConn as she invested in her network and experience. This intentional engagement is at the center of LTE. It is noteworthy when a freshly arrived first-year student finds the path to a New York City real estate trip within a month of arriving on campus.

The Student Managed Fund (SMF) is a classic example of LTE. Twenty years ago, the UConn Foundation made about $750,000 available to two teams of students for them to actively invest. Now, there are four SMF teams and the students have grown the fund to about $4 million. The program is spearheaded by professor and finance department head Chinmoy Ghosh, and engages an extraordinary group of UConn alumni and friends. I am personally engaged with many alumni of the SMF program and they know the powerful influence the experience has had on their lives. Much of the student experience is “extra-curricular” in that it is immensely valuable for growth and learning, but does not carry academic credit.

Venture funding is the latest example of a program with these characteristics. It will parallel the SMF. Alumni and friends are contributing $1 million that students will use to support their analysis, evaluation, and investment in smaller, non-public ventures. Our experience in the SMF suggests that this will produce great engagement and growth among the students and transform their futures. LTE fulfilled.

Ultimately, LTE is about giving students the opportunity to find their best selves, but to do so with the express involvement and support of our network of faculty and staff who share our students’ growth as a goal. We, in the School of Business, are well positioned to support the University’s LTE goal.