by Joan Tupponce
Virginia State University’s Reginald F. Lewis School of Business continues to collect awards for its growing emphasis on technology and innovative programming.
The school received the 2011 Governor’s Award for Technology in Innovation in Higher Education last October and in April was named “Best Business Program at an HBCU” by The Center for HBCU Media Advocacy. (The abbreviation stands for historically black colleges and universities.) A month later, RichTech, formerly the Greater Richmond Technology Council, presented the school with The Technology Innovation Deployment Award.
“We are the only university that has been awarded the deployment award in its 17-year history,” says Mirta Martin, dean and professor of management at the school. “Usually industry leaders are recognized for excellence in technology. We are honored to receive it.”
When Martin came to the school in 2009, she found many students were struggling because they couldn’t afford expensive textbooks. “Over 94 percent of our kids are on financial aid. Only 54 percent were able to purchase textbooks,” she says. “Many try to go without textbooks or borrow them, and that was not working.”
After talking with community leaders and with other schools, Martin felt the best way to help students succeed was to enter the digital world. “We needed to blow up the curriculum and come out with something that addressed the needs of our students,” she says. The result: textbooks that can be downloaded on devices ranging from computers to smartphones. There is even an MP3 file that provides audio for students that are auditory learners.
The innovation made history in 2010 when the business school became the first school in the country to deliver its core curriculum in a predominantly digital form. “Thus far, the results are impressive. We are trying to prepare students by using technology they will use in the business world,” Martin says. “The GPA is up 30 to 40 percent and our retention rate increased by double digits.”
Top industries are recruiting students. In addition the school is offering internships and has started a shadowing program that pairs students with a CEO for the day. “We’ve come out with a competitive advantage,” Martin says.
She believes the recent awards were in part the result of the school’s dedication to providing accessible and affordable education to its students. “Instead of having passive learners, we now have engaged learners,” she says.
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