Course offers introduction to business, ethical decision-making

Among the many first steps that freshmen take to become accustomed to college, the School of Business Administration created its own FIRST Step. This step, however, serves as an introductory business course that pairs students with nonprofit organizations.

An acronym for Freshman Integrity, Responsibility and Success through Teamwork, FIRST Step helps new business students understand the importance of corporate responsibility and ethical decision-making by working with local, South Florida nonprofits.

Required for all incoming, first-year business students, FIRST Step is divided into two components, a lecture and a workshop.

The lecture discusses business ethics, and then each Friday, small groups work on a project that will aid the nonprofit with aspects such as communications and marketing.

Some examples of participating nonprofits include March of Dimes, the Epilepsy Foundation and the Fairchild Botanical Gardens, according to lecturer for the Department of Management and FIRST Step instructor Sheryl Alonso.

She said that these and many other nonprofits do not have “the time, resources or funds” to develop integral business practices like social media.

“It’s about giving back to the community,” Alonso said. “I hope that with this course students graduate as good, corporate citizens.”

Each group has eight to 10 students that work with a teaching assistant, an experienced business student. The group coordinates meetings with nonprofit representatives throughout the semester to ensure that it has followed their vision.

A teaching assistant for last fall semester and current Vice President for External Affairs, Jessica Belz enjoyed seeing the group’s dynamic and how FIRST Step helps freshmen transition into college.

“It’s nice for them to have an older student to help them transition,” she said. “We soon became more than just a group. We’re friends that have a connection for life.”

Alonso also finds FIRST Step beneficial by bringing students together to not only enhance teamwork skills, but also to form lasting friendships.

Throughout the completion of the project, teamwork is coupled to learning how to give presentations, conveying the nonprofit’s mission, and developing leadership abilities.

“Students can then use this experience in their resumes as volunteering and work experience,” Alonso said.

A student in Belz’s group, sophomore Alexandra Batista thought FIRST Step was the best way to be introduced to the university and experience the business school’s curriculum.

“The course was truly a hallmark of my freshman year at UM,” she said. “Gaining an introduction to business, improving my writing and oral skills and becoming involved in a group project were incomparable resources for a transition to college life.”

But for Belz and Alonso, the true benefit of FIRST Step is inculcating the idea of “personal branding,” or that individuals are just as important as the corporation.

This aspect was added to 2011’s curriculum and will continue to serve as a significant theme in future semesters.

“Business is not just money-oriented,” Belz said. “It’s really about connecting people to what they need.”

With this in mind, Alonso wants freshmen to arrive with a single prerequisite completed.

“Come in with enthusiasm and be ready to work,” she said.