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What it takes to prepare the next generation of responsible business leaders

How the UBC Sauder School of Business is helping students enter the workforce ready to make a difference

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As the world has changed, so have the students pursuing a degree at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business. Just ask Wally Mitchell, who’s been at the Vancouver-based school for nearly 15 years, and currently works as an Academic Advisor and Recruiter for the undergraduate Bachelor of Commerce program.
“The traditional business student is changing,” says Mitchell, noting the many different backgrounds and experiences he sees reflected in applicants’ personal profiles these days. “The type of student interested in business is interested in all sorts of different things, from the corporate world to social enterprise,” he says. “Our students do care about the future, and want to change the world for the better.”

“We’re seeing a generation of young people who are more socially conscious, and more globally-connected because of the Internet,” concurs Anita Didur, Associate Director of Admissions and Recruitment for the undergraduate program at UBC Sauder. “In the business community, employers are looking for good communicators who take initiative and drive innovation.” The role of UBC Sauder, she says, is to connect those two things, and create an environment where students are being prepared for the careers they want, while learning the skills necessary to thrive in a changing landscape. “We’re helping to build young people into socially-responsible leaders, who apply strong business ethics to whatever they’re doing, and see more globally than just a narrow focus on the organization, and increasing profits,” she says.

One of the key ways this is achieved, of course, is through the rigorous curriculum, which is always evolving. For example, UBC Sauder has introduced a first year “values, ethics and community” course, taught by a diverse group of instructors, which acts as a foundation to help students explore business’ responsibilities on a personal, organizational and societal level, and enable them to see how they can explore that across a variety of career paths. COMM 101, the introduction to business course all first-year students must take, has also recently been adapted to provide a broader picture of what a business career could look like – marketing, human resources, strategy, entrepreneurship, real estate, technology – so students can get a full flavour for where their studies might take them. “It’s a good way to get your feet wet – and if that means realizing you’re more interested in something else, and want to transition elsewhere at UBC, we’re there to help folks discover their journey,” adds Mitchell.

There’s also a focus on personal and professional development that, as Didur phrases it, “helps them to learn to combine that business base with their personal interests to make whatever their career is much more purposeful.” This is why a quarter of a student’s credits have to be from non-commerce subjects, and there are opportunities to study internationally, be a part of a mentoring program and do a co-op term. “In year three and year four, they can start getting that work experience and bringing it back into the classroom,” says Mitchell.

It’s also not just a matter of “what” students are learning, but “how.” “It’s all about experiential learning,” says Didur. “The classroom is less about lectures, and more about active participation.” Instead of passively listening to a professor, for example, students will spend a significant amount of time discussing the material, or thinking creatively about topics. Outside the classroom, Mitchell adds, there are clubs for almost every interest, including sustainability and health and wellness.

The UBC Sauder community is a tight-knit, supportive one, which both Didur and Mitchell say is a crucial part of the experience. “There are so many ways for students to connect with the resources they need, depending on what’s happening in their lives,” says Didur, noting how well-resourced the school is when it comes to student services, like academic and mental health support and a dedicated business career centre that helps students on both their personal and professional development during their time at UBC Sauder. “It’s very much a community, and that spans students, staff and faculty,” says Mitchell. “You’re more than just a number.”

This matters, he says, “because when you put all those pieces together, you have a graduate who cares, sees the importance of being socially responsible, and will stay connected to their school after graduation.”