Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics has staked its claim at the intersection of business and technology. And perhaps the most important technological innovation that is changing the business landscape both today and in the foreseeable future is business analytics—the way we create and organize data to help in decision-making.
One way we addressed this change is a comprehensive redesign of our undergraduate core curriculum. Business analytics is one of three primary areas of emphasis we strengthened to better equip our students with the skills they need to thrive in today’s highly competitive business environment. The other areas are business communication and leadership and teamwork.
The faculty team that worked so hard on the curriculum redesign for a year-and-a-half believed business analytics was so critical that they recommended adding courses from freshman through junior year that will take students from the basics of programming to being able to translate data into persuasive narratives. They will then be able to integrate what they’ve learned about business analytics in their capstone course during their senior year.
As dean, one of the things I find so exciting is that students will now take a sequence of required courses that will build business analytics into a real strength for them throughout their undergraduate studies, rather than just taking one or two courses early and then forgetting it.
Learning How to Turn Data into Information
The new core curriculum will guide the education of students entering Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics starting in the Fall of 2019, and we are already hiring faculty to teach the new courses.
The educational journey through our new business analytics sequence will look like this:
- First year students will take Business Analytics I to learn hands-on programming, as well as the basic concepts of collecting, organizing, exploring, and understanding complex data. Learning how to program is an essential skill for business people. It’s no longer the provenance of computer scientists. Business undergraduates don’t have to become computer scientists. But they have to know the basics of programming. And even in this introductory course, students will begin to focus on how data is structured to optimize business decision-making.
- Sophomore year, Introduction to Information Systems will take students deeper into the technical and managerial aspects of information systems that enable firms to compete efficiently.
- Junior year, Business Analytics II will build on what students learned previously by having them dive into hands-on data analysis, teaching them techniques and algorithms to create effective visualizations to support business analysis.
- Also in junior year, we’ve created a new communication course that I think is the most important addition to our undergraduate curriculum—Storytelling Through Data. Being able to tell a story using data is one of most important things a young person starting out in business can do. There’s a phrase I’ve heard that I truly do like: We are drowning in data, but starving for information. Our students have to be able to create the data, organize it, visualize it, and then be able to explain what it means—verbally, in writing, or through graphics—so that other people can understand it. That’s how you turn data into information that can be used effectively in business decision-making.
The Intersection of Business and Technology
When I talk about how our college is positioned where business and technology meet, I often use the analogy of a river, with business on one side and technology on the other. You have some people who just want to be on one side of the river or the other. You have some people who want to be able to cross a bridge and meet the other side halfway. And then you have some people who are just swimming right down the center of the river on their own.
Our goal as a business college is to get all of our business students, regardless of major, to walk at least halfway across that bridge. There is not one business that remains untouched by technology, so sitting comfortably on one side of the river is no longer an option—unless you want to be left behind.
Making business analytics the core in our new core curriculum will help all of our students gain the technology skills today’s business environment demands. It also complements our new courses in business communication—which address the specific need to be clear, concise, professional, and persuasive in everything from memos to presentations—and leadership and teamwork—which teach the skills necessary to work effectively in teams during sophomore year and then focus on increasing the capacity for leadership in students’ junior year.
However, I should note that one of the things we learned in undertaking a complete core curriculum redesign is the continuing importance of teaching business students the fundamentals. Undergraduate students still need to take managerial accounting and economics, for example. And I assure you, the fundamentals remain strong at Lehigh’s business college.
Building on that firm foundation, the new additions to our core curriculum in business analytics, communication, and leadership and teamwork will sharpen the competitive edge our students will need to lead in the business world of tomorrow.
And we are committed to making business analytics an integral strength of the College of Business and Economics—now and in the future.