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Revamped program resonates with students

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Print this page by James Heffernan

You’ve heard of the three R’s in education. Mary Baldwin College wants its undergraduate business students to be versed in the three Ps — people, planet and profit.

Mary Baldwin, which includes a women’s residential college in Staunton and eight regional centers around the state, has retooled its business curriculum to focus on socially responsible decision-making. The move fits with the liberal arts college’s mission of empowering students to become instruments of change with a global perspective.

“We’re starting to infuse the notion of service learning and civic engagement into our DNA, and clearly the idea of a sustainable business curriculum plays a role in that,” says Cathy Ferris McPherson, associate professor of business/marketing communication at Mary Baldwin College in Richmond. In addition to a strong foundation in management, marketing, finance and economics, the program draws on lessons in sociology, biology, environmentalism and political science.

“We went through a period with Enron and the banks where a lot of people were appalled at how businesses were taking advantage of the public,” McPherson says. “Business doesn’t have to be irresponsible. Of course you’re entitled to make a profit. That’s basic. But at the same time, you have a responsibility to make that profit in a way that ensures no harm to the planet or the people involved. It’s a three-legged stool.”

While many graduate schools offer an MBA in sustainability, Mary Baldwin’s Business for a Sustainable Future program, which began in fall 2009, is one of the first in the country at the undergraduate level. Students can pursue either a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts degree, and the program is also available as a minor. Approximately 300 students are presently enrolled in the program.

McPherson says there were some concerns initially about whether the program would succeed. “We felt this was either going to take off or it was going to go flat,” she says. “But it has really resonated with our students,” especially with adults in the college’s Richmond and Roanoke centers, she says.

For adults returning to school to get their bachelor’s degree, the program is more of a sea change than it is for incoming freshmen, McPherson says. But once they choose the business major, there is no differentiation. Every student, regardless of any transfer credits, must complete four “non-negotiable” courses, including one titled “Clean and Green.”

McPherson wants graduates of the program to bring the notion of the triple bottom line and responsible decision making to their place of employment. “It’s a different world now for business,” she says. “You can make good decisions and still make all your stakeholders happy.” 


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