Step to leadership: New business course gives students ‘hands-on experiences,’ community interaction

A sample of the coloring book produced by the FIRST Step students in the School of Business.

Imagine that one of your first college-level assignments was to create a coloring book for elementary school children.

Last fall, the School of Business added the Management 100 Course, also known as Freshman Integrity, Responsibility and Success through Teamwork (FIRST) Step, to its curriculum. The course, which is a semester long and required for all freshmen, is designed to expose students to business ethical principles, teamwork and the challenges that organizations face.

FIRST Step was developed as a way to create “esprit de corps among our new freshmen while at the same time helping them understand concepts associated with social responsibility, ethics, and social entrepreneurialism by exposing them to top educators throughout the university community, and by giving them hands-on experiences applying concepts to community engagement projects,” Linda Neider, vice dean of undergraduate business programs and professor of management, said.

Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) was just one of the many organizations involved in the project. Their mission is to protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families, and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency.

The students were assigned to develop bilingual coloring books to teach financial literacy and hurricane preparedness to elementary school-aged children. The students designed a double-sided coloring book that read in English and Spanish. Members of the team created a cartoon character of a female child going through the step-by-step procedure to prepare for a hurricane.

“I had to make sure everybody had a task to complete. If they weren’t the artists, or actually making the coloring book, then they were looking up distribution networks, costs, and finding sponsors,” Kenden Pettit, a senior teacher’s assistant who worked with the program last semester, said.

Three hundred sixty freshmen met with local nonprofit organizations to structure their participation in 33 projects. They formed teams of approximately 10 students, participating in activities such as branding, social entrepreneurship and improving business plans. Also, students will attend lectures, analyze case studies, and develop multi-media presentations on ethics and ethical decision-making in the business environment.

The student teams were led by trained business students serving as TAs, who were carefully selected for this role based on their background as peer counselors and campus leaders.

“I was lucky enough to have been a peer counselor for two years before working with the MGT 100 class, and that helped me to better understand them and their needs,” said Pettit.

One of the students who worked with the program thinks it’s beneficial.

“MGT 100 really taught us all how to develop team-building skills. It also gave me leadership experience, as I served as a guide to the freshman,” said Laura Brill, a senior and teacher’s assistant.

Because freshmen met with team leaders on a weekly basis, they were able to not only bond within their teams, but also bond with an upper-class student who was available to help them with any academic or non-academic questions they had.

“The program really helped me to realize that when you get a team together, everybody has something different to contribute,” Pettit said.

At first, a number of non-profit leaders were skeptical about what freshmen might be able to deliver in terms of finished projects.  However, after seeing new Web sites created, market plans developed, educational programs structured with creative supplementary material such as coloring books, the leaders were converted.

“The program will be even better, if we could have more personal contact with the companies. More site visits will allow us to connect more with the problem and the people involved,” Brill said.