Thursday, December 3, 2009

Summary of Session with Gretchen Winter

Ms. Winter spoke about the connection between social responsibility and student engagement. Having been exposed to many different fields before coming to the University of Illinois, she is an expert in professional responsibility. She strongly believes that “responsibility” should be dealt proactively as it’s necessary to reach the goal of sustainability. As a major influence on the development of the course BUS 101, Ms. Winter explores the benefits and possible expansions for the course. For our mentoring project, she advised us on effective peer mentoring designs and gave us insights on encouraging intrinsic motivations in students.

Background and education
Ms. Winter went to University of Illinois at Chicago for her undergraduate education majored in English and Secondary Education. Later, she received her J.D. from the University of Chicago. Ms. Winter went through a career spiral before becoming the Executive Director of the Center for Professional responsibility in Business and Society at the College of Business at UIUC. After receiving her degree, she worked for 18 years at Baxter International Inc. As an ethics officer, she took a part in developing the company’s global ethics program. She has also worked as an attorney and as a legislative analyst in Illinois. She is an expert on ethics, corporate social responsibility and legal programs across the US.

How she views corporate responsibility through her experience at Baxter

While creating the Code of Conduct at Baxter, Ms. Winter learned that the word “ethics” is not well received by her audiences. Because of so, she talked to focus groups around the world, and changed the word “ethics” to Standard of Business Practice. This way, she was able to reach out to the employees more effectively on the importance of corporate ethics/responsibility. She mentioned that while there’s a Code of Conduct during her work at Baxter, the ethics issues are not black and white. It’s up to the individuals to figure the right from the wrong. This is why she is very firm on the idea of taking a proactive approach on ethics issues in the workplace. It’s always ideal to resolve an ethics case prior to its happening rather than after.

Her definition of "Responsibility"

Ms. Winter introduced the concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) – People, Planet, and Profit. She explains how TBL is essential in connecting corporate and societal interests. It describes the goal of sustainability linking the economics, the environment, and the social performance of a company. Tying to the concept of responsibility, Ms. Winter mentions that a commitment to corporate social responsibility implies a commitment to TBL, which will eventually help a company to achieve sustainability.

In addition, she made distinctions of the terms compliance, ethics and values. Compliance is something that one must do, ethics is what one should do, and values are what one aspires or strives to do. During her work at Baxter, creating the Code of Conduct helped her to distinguish between these terms.

Business 101

Business 101 evolved out of a need to foster three main goals: promoting professional responsibility from the perspective of the individual student, developing the individual's understanding of his or her profession's code of ethics (independent of an employer), and making companies that have these components of responsibility. Ms. Winter indicated that an individual's perspective on individual responsibility is most impacted by his or her 1st internship or job, and that these settings may not be fostering the most beneficial views. Business 101 provides an environment where individuals can be 'won' into developing personal responsibility.

Ms. Winter said that the class is lead by other undergraduates because the most effective leadership for freshmen comers from peers; however, this provides more opportunities in that the student leaders need to be taught class management skills and need a lot of support--something to take into account when talking about implementing a mentoring program or something similar to combat student disengagement.

We asked how Ms. Winter knows if Business 101 is effective. The only way to know is to look for measurable data. In this case, data is gathered in the form of student surveys, and idea which may carry over into our class projects. In any case, it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of the program.

Opportunities, not problems

Towards the end of our discussion, we asked Ms. Winter what lessons has she learned from the trial years of Business 101 and what problems are still being fixed. First, she clarified on an important point that there are never problems, only opportunities, changes or improvements. In the business world, you bring opportunities to the table as well as your solutions.

The first solution that Ms. Winter discussed was about the fashion show Business 101 is still changing. The first year, students went to Talbot’s and other high end business stores around the area. The feedback was that the suits were great, but the prices were way too high and unrealistic for freshmen or any student in college to consider. The following year, juniors and seniors were asked to show what they wore. The problem that arose was that people disagreed on what was appropriate, so how do you deal with these differences? They have not figured out a solution for this yet, but the second year obviously showed that it is good to have juniors and seniors talk to their fellow students.

Another opportunity that Ms. Winter saw in Business 101 and for all large lecture classes is that freshman really have no clue about what resources are available at this university. She wants Business 101 to help make this extra large university become smaller for students. The idea they are toying with right now is having a scavenger hunt throughout the semester. They want to have students go to various places around campus and meet as many people as possible. They want to help students start building relationships and to ingrain habits in them so that these students know how to navigate around this university.

How will we avoid the “101” trap?

One colleague asked Ms. Winter how she plans on making Business 101 sustainable. Many classes, similar to Business 101, start out great, but soon older students are telling incoming students that they do not need to worry about the course, that they can slack off. How will Business 101 keep its edge and maintain the respect of its students?

Ms. Winter’s first suggestion was to use a better name. “101” suggests that the class was more about survival skills in college when in fact it is about introducing students to professional responsibility. She hopes to encourage people to call it as “Business 101: An Introduction to Professional Responsibility.” Even a simple and small change like that could make all the difference.

Another suggestion is to keep the content fresh and different, so that one thing that happens one year does not happen the following year. Revamping information given in the class will keep the content current and new to students.

Her final idea she shared was to make Business 101 as only ONE step in the entire sequences of classes that teach professional responsibility. It is important to have other later classes tie with 101 and show the importance of the course. In the same way, our mentoring program needs to have support from the school and classes in order for students to fully participate and benefit from it.

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