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2021 Report to Investors

Strengthening Career Platform Enriches Undergraduate Experience

Investments in career pathways, student success propel undergraduate program forward

By Leiah Fundell

Photography by Paul L. Newby II

The Wisconsin School of Business’ undergraduate program is a springboard for future business leaders, preparing thousands of students each year for career success based on a robust academic foundation and applied learning experiences. As part of Roadmap 2025, the school is making investments to build upon this already strong program by enhancing career outcomes, enriching the student experience, and modernizing the curriculum—ultimately resulting in a reputational leap as a world-class undergraduate business school.

“Strengthening our career platform and helping students create a custom academic experience at WSB are the areas where we see the most opportunity to advance relative to peer schools,” says Brian Mayhew, associate dean of the undergraduate program. “We want our students to develop deep knowledge and skills in their major, and then complement those skills through certificates and badges, while developing the people-based skills that will enable them to lead transformational business.”

The effort is expected to have positive reputational impact, although that alone is not its entire focus.

“It’s not just about the rankings,” adds Melissa Leffin, director of career engagement for the undergraduate program. “Our goal is to help our students understand all the available career paths and provide both academic and career support that leads to the best career for each student. At the same time, we’re working to build partnerships with great companies that our students aspire to. Success on these fronts will lead to satisfied graduates and ultimately enhance our reputation.”

Person teaching lesson
Melissa Leffin, director of career engagement, helps students explore career pathways in WSB’s Career Engagement Studio.

Enhancing career success

Enhancing career success for WSB students starts with helping them identify and start on a path early enough to prepare for their chosen career. WSB launched the Career Forward program in Fall 2021 to better support students from their first step on campus to career placement post-graduation. It is a collaborative program designed to give undergraduate students the tools and experiences needed to achieve their individual career goals.

Thanks to philanthropic support, WSB is building a robust infrastructure to implement Career Forward, including career coaches and career pathway consultants, upgraded technology and analytics tools, and personalized learning experiences for all students.

“The Career Forward program will transform the educational experience for Wisconsin School of Business undergraduate students. As an alum and fellow Badger, I take pride in supporting this important work and investing in future business leaders,” says Ricky Sandler (BBA ’91), chief executive officer, Eminence Capital, LP. “These efforts will elevate an already strong undergraduate program, offering next-generation curriculum and career preparation to students who will graduate ready to lead from day one.”

“We believe that students’ engagement in building their unique experience at WSB is attractive to prospective students and it positions all WSB graduates to be highly attractive to employer partners.”

—Melissa Leffin

WSB offers more than 40 career pathways that students can explore to build the specific skills and understanding required to find success in their career. A student interested in an investment banking career pathway, for example, would be guided toward signature academic programs like the Applied Equity Market Research course, involvement in student organizations like the Investment Banking Club or Capital Management Club, participation in a banking internship, and other experiential opportunities.

Career Forward puts students in the driver’s seat toward their individual career aspirations, supported by the resources and opportunities to ensure their success.

“We believe that students’ engagement in building their unique experience at WSB is attractive to prospective students and it positions all WSB graduates to be highly attractive to employer partners,” says Leffin.

New model for ensuring student success

Students are benefiting from the holistic approach of the Career Forward program, especially emerging from the pandemic and all the challenges it posed. In addition to career coaches, WSB has hired a student success coach as part of a new model for helping students maximize their academic and co-curricular experience with high-touch support. Lucy Armentano, assistant director of student success, says she sees students with needs ranging from help with study tips, to those with complicated personal circumstances, and everything in between.

“We have to normalize the idea that no one comes into college knowing how to ‘do college’. There’s this misconception that you should start your first semester of college and know how to study, know how to manage time. No one inherently knows how to do that. Some know more than others, but everyone needs to learn those fundamental skills to be successful. We help students to shift their mindset and meet them where they are,” says Armentano.

It’s not just first-year students needing to learn new skills and benefiting from the additional support. Armentano develops programming for students at all levels. In the Spring 2022 semester, for example, she held a workshop to help students understand the social-psychological barriers they might bring into negotiations, interviews, and networking that affect their career success.
She plans to focus future workshops on helping students psychologically and emotionally prepare for networking and interviewing during recruitment season—an especially stressful time for juniors and seniors as they seek post-graduation placement.

“We’re in a moment for all of the academic world to take a step back and ask, ‘Where does student wellness and mental health fit into the picture?’” continues Armentano. “I think we’ve often tried to separate and silo out that if you succeed academically, you get a career. But we’re often not thinking about how the wellbeing of these students impacts their trajectory.”

Establishing key career networks

Armentano and WSB’s team of career coaches help students focus on their values for long-term success in school and in choosing a career. “It is important that students find placement in roles that holistically support their goals,” says Armentano. Increasingly, students are seeking placement in high-growth, in-demand industries such as consulting, technology, digital marketing, and finance.

“These four priority industries are where we have a ton of student aspiration,” says Brett Jones, director of employer engagement for the undergraduate program, who is leading an effort to expand WSB’s employer partnerships in these fields. “We’ve successfully placed students in these industries, and we are increasingly growing our employer partnerships and leveraging the alumni connections we have in these fields.”

WSB is working with alumni and corporate partners to better understand student and employer demand, expand relationships in competitive industries, and drive change in the student career experience. These relationships help WSB enhance experiential learning opportunities like case studies and career treks, align industry and talent needs, and nurture career learning. Employer engagement then helps WSB promote career opportunities, deliver a high-touch campus recruiting experience, and manage recruiting tools.

WSB is mapping each unique student experience through assessment of career pathway engagement and placement outcomes.

“As this story starts to come into more focus and we start to layer in data from how students engaged with those pathways leading up to those placements, the understanding we’re going to have of student career interest and outcomes is going to be really awesome,” continues Jones. “It’s gaining momentum in a really promising way.”

All Ways Forward Campaign

Campaign Sparks Transformation in Undergraduate Program

Investments in WSB’s undergraduate program played a central role throughout the All Ways Forward campaign. Donors participated in many opportunities to support the school’s largest, most diverse, and highest-demand program. Highlights included several new scholarships to support program growth, significant investments in career services, and the new Learning Commons in Grainger Hall—an innovative, flexible space that has quickly become one of the most popular libraries on campus.

Most recently, donors have stepped forward with seed investments to enable growth in the number of undergraduate students WSB serves and to spur program innovation, allowing the school to strengthen career programming and expand corporate partnerships, revamp curriculum and enhance the student experience, and invest in storytelling and marketing efforts. WSB is leveraging these important investments to position the undergraduate program for a substantial reputational leap among business schools.

2
growth in undergraduate enrollment since 2012
9
public undergraduate business program
U.S. News & World Report, 2022
20M
investment in the undergraduate program throughout campaign