Professor Gwendolyn Whitfield joined Sewanee this semester as the University’s first assistant dean of business education. In addition to teaching two classes under the business minor, Whitfield will develop the business program’s curriculum by adding new courses.
One of the first steps on Whitfield’s agenda involves designing an introduction to business class available to all students, which she hopes may be available next fall. She conceives of the class as a cross-disciplinary experience, and each section will be co-taught by professors from different departments.
Whitfield believes the new introduction to business class can allow students of all disciplines to “get a sense of what business is like, even if they don’t want to major in it, just to understand how organizations work.”
She further explained that the class will “help students understand how their particular major can be applied in the business world, and what kinds of problems they may face or be asked to solve in that particular division.”
Whitfield added that professors from disciplines such as psychology, music, philosophy, math, and English will have roles both in planning the course and in teaching it. “That way, the faculty can collaborate together and work together in a way that’s inclusive. So there’s not this liberal arts program and then this business program. It’s a way to get them to work very cohesively together at the very beginning,” she commented.
Although a business major is not currently planned, Whitfield remarked that a business major “is a topic that is on the table, and I think that it should be considered. I’m in the process of doing some research for what that could look like.”
Whitfield named three steps as requisite for creating a business major: starting the introduction to business class, re-designing the business curriculum, and researching the business programs at peer schools.
Before coming to Sewanee, Whitfield taught at the University of North Carolina-Asheville for several years as an associate professor of management. Although she first interviewed with Sewanee for the directorship of the Babson Center of Global Commerce, her interviews with Dean of the College Terry Papillon and Vice-Chancellor John McCardell revealed that her experience in curriculum better suited her to an assistant dean position.
“At the University of North Carolina-Asheville, one of the things we did the first year I was there is that we totally re-did the curriculum. So I’ve gone through the process of redesigning an entire curriculum, understanding what we wanted to accomplish and make sure it was connected to our mission and our vision, and trying to make sure the curriculum was relevant for what students would need, but allow for some flexibility so that students could explore as well,” explained Whitfield.
Sewanee’s business curriculum has already seen expansion this semester with the advent of new classes in management that Whitfield teaches. “Right now, our business courses are primarily for our business minor, but we’d like to make them more accessible to all students on campus,” she commented.
The courses she teaches, “Organizational Management and Theory” and “Strategic Management,” are currently listed as special topics, meaning that they have not undergone review, though Whitfield is currently working through paperwork to “get them on the books.” Both classes are fully enrolled with waiting lists.
When asked about her perspective on Sewanee after approximately a month on the Mountain, Whitfield commented, “The biggest aspect of my enjoyment has been my interactions with students. My students always come first, that’s just the way I approach my job. Getting to know them has just been wonderful.”
As the business program expands, marketing classes will return to Sewanee next fall. Whitfield would also like to see other courses such as data analytics, operations management, organizational behavior, and entrepreneurship offered in the immediate future. She hopes the business program will soon include at least 15 classes each semester.
“Within a year, we should at least have a plan to start one or two of those other courses. In order to do that, we need faculty, which is the other thing. I need to identify and hire the right faculty to offer those courses,” Whitfield commented. She added that these new faculty will ideally be tenure-line faculty.
Whitfield continued, “We’ll be reviewing the business minor curriculum to make sure that the courses that are currently being offered are the ones we’d like to continue to offer in the future, understanding we have the opportunity to expand the program.”
Describing her approach to business curriculum, Whitfield said, “There’s been a lot of press about the benefits of a liberal arts education in the business world…business plus liberal arts means innovation. I’m thinking, why don’t we flip it? Why don’t we use liberal arts as the base and figure out how we infuse business into the way we’re already doing liberal arts. That’s when we can get revolutionary innovation.”
As a new professor and administrator, Whitfield expressed her desire to learn more about Sewanee as she discovers the best ways to expand the business program while maintaining a liberal arts framework.
“It should and must be uniquely Sewanee. I’m still finding out what’s uniquely Sewanee, because I’ve been here three weeks, but I am finding out that there’s something tangible that makes Sewanee unique,” Whitfield explained. “We want to make sure that we retain that part of our DNA.”