Today’s generation of Mays Business School students are fluent in “cyberspeak” (truncated English used when texting and instant messaging) and most can write a research paper for a class, but are these students prepared for the written communication needs they will face in a job after graduation?

They soon will be, thanks to the newly created Mays Communication Lab.

The lab, piloted in the spring 2008 semester, is a branch of the Transitions Program, which helps students successfully navigate the transitions from high school, to college, to the real world. When Martha Loudder, associate dean for undergraduate programs, began brainstorming ideas for the Transitions Program in 2004, she asked corporate partners what soft skills, or “core competencies,” would make Mays students more employable and successful. Among the answers she heard, communication consistently was at the top of the list.

“Recruiters complained that we were not doing a good job of preparing our students for oral and written communications,” said Loudder. However, when she conducted a formal assessment of students’ writing skills using samples they had written for class, she found that 88% of them were writing at a level that Mays deemed acceptable. When she took that data back to employers, those that had voiced concerns clarified: it was just the basics of business correspondence that students were not successful with. They didn’t know how to write good memos, professional emails, or executive summaries. “We realized that somewhere in the curriculum, we needed to teach these very basic skills,” said Loudder.

By the time they graduate students may know how to write well in the classroom and they should know how to behave professionally, but these skills don’t always transfer to the real world application without practical lessons. That’s where the Mays Communication Lab comes in.

Broccoli in your teeth

Mays lecturer Sommer Hamilton ’04 heads up the lab, creating the curriculum, managing the peer tutors, and giving one-on-one assistance to students. Her lessons are presented in tandem with the sophomore level integrated worklife competencies course. Over the semester, Hamilton’s lessons provide practice in several forms of common written and oral business communication.

Instructor working with two students in lab
Mays lecturer Sommer Hamilton ’04 (center) heads up the Mays Communication Lab, creating the curriculum, managing the peer tutors, and giving one-on-one assistance to students.

She says that initially, some students are apathetic when it comes to communicating well. She combats that attitude by reminding them that communication is tied to their appearance. “It’s about that moment when you are sending an email to the CEO of your company and he sees that you’ve used the wrong “your.’ You’ve written “your’ instead of “you’re’, and he thinks, “Huh, is this person really as educated as I thought? Do they not know, or do they just not pay attention to details?'”

Hamilton likens these minor errors to broccoli in your teeth, little things that can change one’s appearance drastically. She helps students keep their smiles broccoli-free by helping them master the language, audience concerns, style, transitions, tone, spelling, grammar, and needed content for great business writing. “We are in a culture of impressions. In business we need to come across as polished as possible,” she says. “Even in e-mail, you need to present yourself with your best foot forward, to your boss and to your clients, to the lawyer you’re writing to on behalf of your company. You need to be as correct as possible.”

Until recently, Mays students could graduate without ever having written that staple of corporate communication, a memo. Hamilton says it’s more than just practice they are lacking. “They need to be graded on their writing so they have feedback for improvement,” she says.

That feedback and improvement loop is the main focus of Hamilton’s grading system. For each assignment, her students turn in a rough draft, which she and her staff of seven student aids critique exhaustively. Students are then expected to consider all of the comments and revise their work before turning in a final draft.

If students struggle with an assignment, they have two options: they can drop by the writing lab in Wehner (open 20 hours per week) to get individual help or go to the web to view dynamic e-lessons Hamilton has created.

“If they’re writing their draft at two o’clock in the morning, they have the access to an e-lesson online when they need it,” says Hamilton, who sees great benefit in this kind of on-demand learning.

After one semester using this system, Hamilton was pleased with the results. In her pilot class, all 160 students passed the communication portion of course. She saw it as a mark of success that by the end of the semester, much less revision was needed on each assignment. “They were definitely starting to internalize some of those standards that are needed in good communication. My biggest goal was to make them their own editor,” she says.

Bigger picture: Transitions Program

Hamilton says that the value of the Transitions Program and the Mays Communication Lab is their practicality. “We get them thinking, “How would I do this in the real world? I’m not going to be a

The Transitions Program stresses these seven core competencies:
  • The ability to get your ideas across with effective communication
  • Being able to identify and fix performance gaps with problem solving
  • Creating new opportunities for organizational or personal growth
  • Leading others to aspire to a noble purpose
  • Being comfortable managing a project
  • Relying on and working with others in a work group or team
  • Maintaining your character and integrity by acting ethically

college student all my life.’ We help them to understand in college what is going to be asked of them after graduation.” Helping students identify their strengths, build upon them, and be able to articulate and implement them in a professional setting is a large part of the program.

Open to all business undergraduate students, the Transitions Program fosters learning in large classes, small groups with peer leaders, and through teamwork on projects. Each student creates an AggiE-folio, an electronic portfolio of their best work from all four years of their academic career. This acts as a showcase of the skills developed in the program, such as PowerPoint slides, videos of their presentations, personal web pages, and classroom assignments.

Transitions brings continuity to the undergraduate program as the lessons are multidisciplinary, touching on subjects such as teamwork, communication, and ethics that students need in every course, as well as in the professional world.

Director of Business Undergraduate Special Programs Nancy Simpson says she hopes to communicate with faculty members outside the program in all areas of the college to better understand the way that students will encounter these core competencies in upper division courses. “Repetition is key to learning and the more we are using similar language, the more likely students will be to transfer ideas and skills from one area to another,” says Simpson.

For more information about the Transitions Program, visit https://mays.tamu.edu/transitions/.

Categories: Centers, Featured Stories, Programs

Look around you: Chances are good you’ll see examples of international business. The computer you’re looking at right now was probably manufactured in China; your clothes were likely made in the Philippines, Mexico, or Indonesia; the coffee in your mug was probably grown in South America or Africa; in fact, you may be one of the few things in the room that was made in the U.S.A., a scenario that is ever more common as the United States becomes increasingly focused on service industry.

It’s an undisputed fact that “the nature of our economy is that almost anyone in a business career is going to be involved in global business,” says Kerry Cooper, executive director of the Center for International Business Studies (CIBS) at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. “Internationalism is important to all of [our students]. Whatever your major, you’re going to be interacting with people from other countries. You may not live abroad as part of your job, but you’re certainly going to be traveling abroad. That’s part of almost all business careers.”

So, to help prepare A&M students and faculty–as well as educators and business people across the nation–for careers in the global marketplace, CIBS stands ready with information and programs designed to enhance understanding of business in the 21st century.

A CIBS success story

Take Brittany Caudle for example. Raised on a ranch in west Texas, her international exposure was minimal until she went to college. After her junior year as an accounting major at Mays, Caudle participated in a study abroad trip to Strasbourg, France. “It was an eye opener,” she said. “I got to experience several different countries…I now have a much better idea of what is going on in Europe.”

Once this small-town girl’s horizons had been broadened, there was no going back. Soon after her return to the states, she jumped at the opportunity to intern with Deloitte’s New York office. The city made a big impression on Caudle and she made a big impression on Deloitte: she graduates this August and will return to NYC where she has accepted a full-time position with Deloitte as an international tax accountant. She is already looking to the future with that company. “Deloitte has a program that after you’ve been there two years you can do an exchange for two years in another country, which I definitely want to do,” she said.

Students on study abroad trip
“Significant overseas experience” is an integral component of the curriculum for CIBS’ certificates in global business.

Caudle’s story is the perfect example of what CIBS is striving for, says Cooper. “The most important part for our students is that when they graduate they’ve been exposed to global business and they’ve learned the importance of being able to build relationships with people from different countries and different cultures.” However, knowing how to get along with diverse people isn’t enough; Cooper also stressed the need for students to learn about the environment of international business and understand the international dimension of their “functional” area of business, such as accounting or finance.

CIBS offers certificates (similar to a minor) in global business, Latin American business, and European business. About 200 Mays students graduate with one of these certificates each year. Each certificate program has specific coursework inside and outside the business school (such as language classes) and also requires a “significant overseas experience,” such as internships, study abroad trips, or total immersion through a reciprocal exchange program.

International travel: big adventure, big benefits

Cooper says reciprocal exchange is the best way for students to experience another culture. It’s a simple arrangement: The student at A&M pays tuition just as she normally would, then trades places for a semester with another student at a partner school. They each are responsible for travel and living expenses, but there is no additional cost for tuition or fees. Participating students typically live with a host family or in a residence hall, surrounded by people from that culture. “All the students that have done a reciprocal exchange have had a phenomenal experience. We have never had one that wasn’t satisfied,” said Cooper. Students can choose from a menu of 31 partner schools, from cities in Ecuador to Singapore, all offering business courses in English. Courses taken at the partner school count toward an A&M degree.

Barcelona
Each summer, Mays sends about 200 students to Strasbourg and Barcelona (pictured above).

An added benefit for this program is the scholarship money available. “I’m willing to say that for any Mays student that wants to be a reciprocal exchange student, we will find the financial means for him or her to do it,” said Cooper, crediting the availability of such support to financial gifts from former students.

Another option for Mays students is the faculty-led experience, which takes a group of Mays students to a foreign locale for a summer business and culture course. There is time for travel as well as class work and visits to local business firms. To enhance the cultural immersion, the classes are taught in conjunction with a professor from that city and local students take the course as well. Each summer, Mays sends about 200 students to campuses in Strasbourg and Barcelona, on a multi-country marketing tour of Europe, and to other locations as there is interest from faculty and students. Next year CIBS plans to add a location in China.

When it comes to internships, CIBS does not secure positions for students, but does facilitate the internship search process by providing information. While paid international internships are very hard to come by, unpaid internships can be highly valuable for students, and CIBS can help defray the cost.

“We don’t arrange their internships, but we do provide scholarship support for internships as well as for study abroad,” said Karen Burke, assistant director of CIBS, who estimated they award $25,000 per year for international study.

Outreach going far beyond Texas

When CIBS was founded in 1985 it was one of the few centers of its kind in the nation. In 1990 it received the added distinction of being selected through a national competition conducted by the U.S. Department of Education to become a federally funded Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). This designation grants the program $1.3 million every four years to create programs that benefit not just Texas A&M, but the entire nation. Mays is one of 31 business schools to have CIBER status.

Part of the CIBER funding is used to support international business research conducted by Mays faculty. “International business research is often more expensive in regard to gathering data and other costs, so being able to provide support is important,” said Cooper. Mays students benefit from faculty doing this type of research, as having internationally savvy professors who give a global perspective to course material is invaluable.

There are also resources for elementary and secondary school educators as CIBS helps to maintain the nationwide SAGE program (Scholastic Assistance for Global Education). Originally funded with a grant from Bank of America, SAGE provides web resources for teachers in K-12 classrooms that want to include international perspectives in their curricula.

CIBER isn’t just about the academics, though. Kelly Murphrey, director of outreach for CIBS, works with small business owners in the U.S. that want to globalize their businesses . Murphrey has worked in conjunction with the small business advocacy group NASBITE International and other CIBER schools to develop a national credential, the NASBITE Certified Global Business Professional, to recognize the unique knowledge and skills required by global business professionals.

Hosting conferences for discussion of ideas regarding international trade is also a part of the CIBER mandate. Most recently, CIBS organized a border trade summit held in Windsor, Ontario, which brought together politicians, academics, and business people to discuss the economic impact of the hardening of the U.S./Canada border since September 11, 2001. Cooper says the next such conference will likely be about NAFTA, and will examine 15 years of research about the effectiveness of that program.

The biggest challenge

“Our biggest challenge really is getting the word out to people,” said Cooper. “A lot of our students arrive on campus knowing little about international business, not realizing how important it is and believing things that aren’t true. They often think that international business means you must master multiple foreign languages and live abroad for long periods of time. So we have to disabuse them of the things they believe that aren’t true and then teach them what is true.” Cooper and Burke agree that the best marketing tool for CIBS is word-of mouth from students that have participated in the programs and return to Mays excited about their experience.

Burke says that at freshman conferences in the past few years, students are showing much more interest in what CIBS does. “And the parents are very interested in them gaining experience in international business, and that’s a change,” she says.

“I think our job will get easier as more and more of the students that arrive here will be excited about what we have to offer,” Cooper added. “Our role is to make them aware of what is available at Mays, and the importance of taking advantage of these opportunities.”

Categories: Centers, Featured Stories

With the ever-increasing cost of gasoline, the acclaim of Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” and one natural disaster after another blamed on climate change, people have never been more aware of the need for sustainable business practices. The evidence may be seen from department stores to coffee shops: marketers are bowing to the demands of their environmentally conscious clientèle, and capitalizing on the trend.

RecyclingWhat are marketers doing to “go green”? How is it affecting business? What marketplace trends related to sustainability are emerging? At Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, a number of marketing professors and researchers are asking these questions and watching the news for answers about the eco-friendly bandwagon and its impact on marketers and consumers.

I sat down with three Mays marketing professors to discuss this fascinating area of emergent research. Cheryl Holland Bridges is the director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Mays and has more than 25 years of experience in the retail industry; Kelly Haws and Karen Winterich are assistant professors of marketing with a research focus on consumer behavior. While none of these researchers claims expertise on environmental issues, they all have interesting insight to share based on things they’ve read about or experienced in the marketplace. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.

MBO: What are you seeing businesses do right now to go green from a marketing perspective or corporately?

Cheryl Holland Bridges: I think the biggest one is Wal-Mart. It’s the king of green right now. They’ve made a huge push for sustainability. They announced at their annual shareholders meeting last year that sustainability was going to be a main focus. Sales were soft in ’07 but at a recent meeting Wal-Mart leaders announced great results, even in this tough economy. They attribute some of that success to their sustainability efforts.

Kelly Haws: People are not necessarily willing to pay a premium for more ethical products or for companies that act more responsibly, but that’s what makes Wal-Mart fascinating. The first thing we associate with Wal-Mart is low prices. They’ve found a business model where you’re seeing green procedures and products combined with low prices.

Current research is showing that consumers think that green products are going to be more expensive and less effective. Those are two barriers to consumer adoption of these products. If you’re able to overcome those barriers, as Wal-Mart is attempting to do, then enormous progress can be achieved that can create a ripple effect across multiple industries.

Cheryl Holland Bridges: Wal-Mart is making big changes such as shrinking packaging and putting less air around products, so each unit takes less space but has the same amount of product. So you have less waste in your packaging, and each truck can haul more goods and use less gas. And they’re using more recyclable materials.

Karen Winterich: I do wonder, though, about Wal-Mart and the packaging if there’s going to initially be backlash when customers see a smaller box. “I’m paying the same price for a smaller box? That’s a rip off!’ I’m sure the box will say it’s got the same amount, but how long will it take for consumers to notice that?

Kelly Haws: Studies demonstrate that if a company needs to cut costs, it is better for them to slightly reduce the quantity than to slightly increase price of a product, because consumers are less likely to notice that change. That’s a very important difference in consumer perception. That plays into what Karen said. If you’ve obviously shrunk the packaging it’s going to set off alarm bells for the consumer.

Karen Winterich: A similar example is laundry detergent, which is now two and three times more concentrated. Some might not understand why it costs the same for less product. It forces a change in consumer behavior and perception.

Cheryl Holland Bridges: Something else Wal-Mart is doing is reducing the amount of packaging around products in shipping in their trucks. That’s something the consumer wouldn’t even see. They’ve figured out how to be more efficient internally.

Karen Winterich: That makes me wonder if companies will start doing that across the board. Like Amazon. You order one book and it comes in this big box with all this packaging. It’s a book—it could come in an envelope. When will that kind of thinking kick into gear? Polls indicate that people say that they care about the environment, but there’s a lot more talk than action.

Kelly Haws: That’s why what Wal-Mart is doing is so key, because if they can make sustainability changes in such a way that the consumer is not even directly impacted, then that’s when you start to see some real change in the way business is done.

“There’s a lack of basic knowledge about this issue, and a lack of consistency about these titles. There’s a lot about these green issues that consumers don’t understand fully. It’s hard to know what does make a difference.” – Kelly Haws, assistant professor of marketing, Mays Business School

MBO: What role does the age of the consumer play in eco-marketing?

Cheryl Holland Bridges: The Generation Y group [those born from 1980-2001] is very concerned about the environment and social responsibility. That’s something that we’re seeing with our students when they take jobs with retailers. They used to ask questions such as what are the benefits like, how much vacation do they get, when do they get paid. Now one of the top questions is “What is your company doing responsibly?”

Karen Winterich: NBC has a lot of programming for younger to middle-aged audiences, like “The Office” and “30 Rock” where the show, and the advertising during the show, often focuses on going green, almost to the point where it makes fun of it, but also plays it up and gives it attention. It’s not that they’re not hitting green advertising to older consumers, but they’re certainly playing it up in younger consumer markets.

MBO: How much of what companies are doing is because it makes financial sense versus because it is good for the environment?

Cheryl Holland Bridges: I do know it’s profitable for companies. It does help their bottom line. I don’t know if that’s because the consumer gets it, and thinks, “Oh, I’m going to go shop Wal-Mart because they’re doing all these great things.” Kohl’s has a big push in how they cool their buildings and how they use solar lighting…and if they save energy, they save money.

Karen Winterich: I find it very hard to believe that any company would invest in some sustainability effort that did not break even, if not create a profit.

Kelly Haws: Yes, they still have to make money.

MBO: Which is a more weighty concern for companies: bad press from being seen as environmentally unfriendly, or positive press from doing something good for the environment?

Karen Winterich: The negative information! There’s tons of research that shows as soon as you hear negative information, it affects your decisions, it affects your judgment. A little bit of positive information is quickly outweighed or overlooked compared to the negative. Negative publicity is generally much more harmful than positive press is helpful.

Kelly Haws: As more companies get involved and go green, the positive of saying that you’re going green will become less effective.

Karen Winterich: Because if everyone does it, it will become the norm. The one company that doesn’t, we’re not going to shop there, because they’re not green like everybody else.

MBO: What does it take to change a consumer’s habits? Not only about green issues, but if there’s product A that the consumer has been buying for 20 years, what would motivate them to change to product B?

Want help in going green? Check out these sites:

Kelly Haws: Most of everyday consumer product decision-making is habitual. They continue to do what they’ve been doing. Especially in your scenario, 20 years of buying the same product, why are they going to change? There has to be a compelling reason.

Cheryl Holland Bridges: Innovation, something that’s really earthshaking will force a consumer to change. We change our cell phones because new ones are smaller and they take a picture.

Karen Winterich: When it comes to changing behaviors, I think of those compact light bulbs that say they can save you so much per year. As a consumer you don’t believe that, you can’t see that immediately. It will take you eight years to realize the savings. But as it becomes the norm and the other light bulbs are phased out, then it will be no problem.

Kelly Haws: That’s why companies have to continue to innovate and do the research and development to come up with these things that will be the standards of the future.

MBO: This “save the earth” idea has been around for quite sometime and was a big deal in the 80s, but lately it’s seen a resurgence. What is motivating this movement? Is this a trend or the way of the future?

Kelly Haws: I think it’s a force to be reckoned with. I don’t think it’s a trend. Companies are going to want to integrate these greener and more efficient ways of doing business from now on. Like Wal-Mart with its cost savings through these distribution channel improvements—to compete, businesses are going to be forced to adopt some of these measures. If we can figure out ways to both be environmentally friendly and be more efficient and save money, who wouldn’t do that?

Cheryl Holland Bridges: There’s so much evidence that global warming is happening. Antarctica is melting. The glaciers are melting. I think most people are more serious about it than they were in the 80s. I was a member of Greenpeace then and I carried the flag, but I wasn’t all that worried. I’m scared now. I think it’s real now.

Kelly Haws: I think our increasingly global perspective has heightened fears about environmental issues. We’ve seen the emergence of China and India as mass industrialized nations having an impact on the planet. That contributes to people’s concern.

“Polls indicate that people say that they care about the environment, but there’s a lot more talk than action.” – Karen Winterich, assistant professor of marketing, Mays Business School

MBO: Most everyone wants to do their part to save the world, but being a green consumer can be confusing. What are challenges to consumers to be eco-friendly?

Cheryl Holland Bridges: I don’t think there are that many products to buy that are really green. Also, price. You go to the grocery store and see organic products, so that’s healthier, that’s greener, but it’s twice as expensive.

Karen Winterich: Lack of trust that a greener product will work the same, so effectiveness is part of it. Confusion about which product to use and if it will really work, or how to use it if it’s different.

Kelly Haws: Besides price and convenience, that lack of understanding and suspicion of effectiveness impacts decisions about buying eco-friendly products.

Karen Winterich: Everyone seems to have a different definition of what’s green. Does that mean it’s organic and doesn’t use chemicals? Or that they use recyclables? People don’t know.

Kelly Haws: There’s a lack of basic knowledge about this issue, and a lack of consistency about these titles. There’s a lot about these green issues that consumers don’t understand fully. It’s hard to know what does make a difference.

MBO: Any closing comments about the topic of green marketing?

Karen Winterich: I think it’s just an issue of consumers not understanding, or not having enough benefits for them to change their behavior, because studies show that most consumers report that they care.

Kelly Haws: I just think overall there’s been enough abuse or loose use of the term “green” that there’s a lot of confusion out there. There are barriers to overcome. Consumers are skeptical. Until we can get cost and convenience as part of the equation, we’re not going to see major changes.

Cheryl Holland Bridges:
Based on my conversations with representatives of large corporations, I think it’s companies that have the power to really make the difference. How they package or transport their goods, or light, cool and heat their facilities, those are the things that are going to make a huge difference. I think corporations will make the biggest dent.

Categories: Faculty, Featured Stories

Four well-dressed students stand at the front of a classroom presenting their final project. With impressive oratory skills, they demonstrate a superior grasp of the accounting and marketing concepts needed for the project with their technical handouts and detailed PowerPoint presentation. This would be a pretty normal scenario at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, except for a few things:

1) there are judges trying to pick the presentation apart.
2) there are giant, paper cupcakes on the students’ heads.
3) the participants aren’t Mays students, and most have never taken a business course.

Students giving presentation
23 high school seniors found creative ways to showcase their business acumen during the Business Careers Awareness Program

Recently 23 high-achieving high school seniors were invited to take part in a weeklong crash course and competition at Mays called Business Careers Awareness Program (BCAP). Now in its eighth year, BCAP is impacting not just students’ lives, but the face of Mays Business School and (potentially) the marketplace. BCAP is open only to a select few of the brightest young scholars from the state of Texas from “underrepresented” populations.

According to Sonia Garcia, BCAP coordinator and assistant director of the Undergraduate Programs Office, “underrepresented” at Texas A&M means African American, Hispanic, and Asian students. But no matter what their race, Garcia stresses that the student must be highly qualified. Participants have to be exceptionally talented to be able to keep up during the strenuous program, which involves lessons from Mays’ best faculty and an extensive group project, which gives practical application to their class work. The conclusion of the week is a competitive presentation that amounts to an oral exam and marketing pitch rolled into one.

But the hours of toil are well worth the effort, say participants. Not only is the program all expenses paid, it is also an inside look into the world of business that most young people considering college do not have.

A tasty lesson

Working in teams of four, each group was tasked with the creation of a business plan for a unique restaurant in the Bryan/College Station area, taking into consideration all of the financial trappings of starting a new venture. Not only did they get to do the “fun stuff,” like filming a commercial and picking out the furniture and place settings for their store, they also did more technical tasks such as market research to support a sales estimate and preparing a series of operating budgets to estimate the costs of running their business for the first year of operation. These budgets formed the basis for a projected income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement.

Students giving presentation
On the final day of the program, students presented their group business plans to a panel of judges.

Though it is a fictional venture, the students’ numbers had to be firmly grounded in reality. Judges examined their financial statements closely on the final day of BCAP during the group presentations. Just like in the real world of business, fishy financial reporting was not acceptable.

Leo Flores drove up from Laredo to take part in BCAP. He says his father is in real estate, so he knew a little about business, but the experience was enlightening for him. “I’ve learned the basic outline of a business, the business plan, and what you need make sure to accomplish before you even start coming up with ideas,” he said. “Like your mission statement. What’s the foundation of the business is going to be? Because without that, it’s all going to break down.” Flores’ group won second place in the competition with their restaurant called JAM, a student hangout featuring open-mic performances and gourmet jams and breads. “Our idea was two things that have never really come together in a business…we wanted a one-of-a-kind place,” he said.

After the week of classes and group work, Leo says BCAP gave him insight into what you need to do to have a successful business. “I have a really good head start on my future,” he says. Flores is now planning to pursue a business degree either in marketing or accounting, and is deliberating between A&M and the University of Texas, Austin.

Recruitment is key

Recruiting is a major component of the week, says Annie McGowan, associate professor of accounting at Mays. McGowan was the creator of BCAP and still works closely with the program.

Students giving presentation
Recruiting is a major component of BCAP

“I’m really dedicated to seeing the minority population here grow,” she said. “The retention rate for the program is about 60% each year. So 60% of the students come to Texas A&M, though not always to the business school.” Garcia and McGowan agree that 60% is a great number, when you consider that these students are “high-fliers”: Garcia’s term for students that can go to college just about anywhere they choose. “We had all award-winning professors participating in the program. We try to get the best faculty in front of them so they see what the quality of the education is like,” said McGowan.

McGowan says they also “like to expose them to the other education.” BCAP participants stayed in Traditions, a luxurious residence hall, and had time for an evening at the rec center, a movie at the Cinemark, a campus tour, and dining at many of the best student eateries in town.

“We treat them first class, with the expectation that they will remember Mays,” said Garcia. “I want them to leave this place with the sense that this is the “whole package.’ This is quality. If they come here, they’re going to get a great education.”

“Time and time again we hear “you have changed
my mind about A&M.'” – Annie McGowan, associate professor of accounting, Mays Business School

The program is free to participants. A large portion of the funding for BCAP is provided by Ernst & Young, which is also a major recruiter at Mays. “The value for Ernst & Young, and all of our sponsors is we hope that it improves diversity in their workplace as they hire our students,” said McGowan. “We want to get sponsors names in front of the students to get students interested in them early.” Other sponsors are Boeing, which provides money for the weeklong program as well as BCAP scholarships, and Shell.

McGowan hopes that BCAP not only interests the best students in a business education, but that it will also dispel some racial myths about the Texas A&M campus. Many times, African American students overlook A&M because of its lack of diversity and reputation for not being a welcoming place non-Caucasians, said McGowan. “Time and time again we hear “you have changed my mind about A&M,'” she said. “We want to give them a realistic view of what our campus looks like, and let them know that it is a friendly place.”

Changing the future, one student at a time

A college-bound high school senior has a lot of interrelated decisions to make: What are my talents? What are my professional goals? What should I major in? What college will be the best fit for all of my needs?

McGowan says it can be a daunting decision for young people to make. If they haven’t been directly exposed to business, they are not likely to choose that academic discipline. “A lot of these kids are not only trying to decide on what school to go to, most of them don’t know what they want to major in. And it’s hard to know what being an accountant is really like if you haven’t seen it,” she says. So to solve this problem, McGowan incorporates lectures from all of the business school’s departments, as well as a careers panel with question and answer time. “We tried to get people down on their level on that panel….what are the jobs really like, how do you prepare for it. We’re trying to help them find their career path,” she said.

“I credit BCAP with a lot of things in my academic
and professional life.” – Jason George ’07, tax consultant, Deloitte Tax, Houston

The program was certainly helpful to Jason George ’07, who participated in BCAP in 2002 and found a path to a rewarding profession. After the week at Mays, George says, “I went back to high school for my senior year and took an accounting course, and that cemented in my mind what I was going to do in college: major in accounting and do the Professional Program in accounting. It was actually BCAP that sealed the deal for me to go to A&M rather than to that other school down the road.” George now works for Deloitte Tax as a consultant in Houston. He credits BCAP not only with sparking his initial interest in accounting, but also with creating opportunities for his success. “Through BCAP I made contacts at Ernst & Young that I would be recruited by later in college. I got to know some professors and leaders in the business school as well…It opened a lot of doors for me, even before I got to college. I also got a scholarship from BCAP that was a tremendous help. I credit BCAP with a lot of things in my academic and professional life.”

“I had not considered A&M as a serious option until I came to this. I’m definitely going to apply.” – Emile Gerard, BCAP participant

For Emile Gerard, BCAP’s influence is just beginning. Gerard, who is originally from Mexico, participated in the program this year. He said he hadn’t really considered business or Mays prior to the program, but now he’s convinced. “I want to do something in the field of business,” he says, possibly in management, maybe even get his MBA in a few more years. “Before I came here I didn’t really know if I wanted to do business because I didn’t know what the classes would be like…This has made me sure about the classes and it made me really like the school as well,” he said. “I had not considered A&M as a serious option until I came to this. I’m definitely going to apply.”

For more information about BCAP, contact Annie McGowan (amcgowan@mays.tamu.edu) or Sonia Garcia (sgarcia@mays.tamu.edu).

Categories: Featured Stories, Programs

“Wow! Backpacks!”

“I want a blue one!”

“Hey, look! There’s even stuff inside!”

These were some of the excited cries heard at a local elementary school on April 18 as students from Mays Business School at Texas A&M University passed out new knapsacks filled with school supplies. Each of the 601 young scholars at the K-5 facility in Bryan, Texas received donated supplies provided by the second annual Project Mays, a service organized by the Business Student Council (BSC). Mays students orchestrated the entire event, from the corporate and individual fundraising, to the collection and distribution of materials. In all, the group collected $15,815 in monetary donations and supplies.

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“We were looking for a way for the students and faculty of Mays to come together to help the community,” said Michael Kurt ’09, BSC vice president in charge of events. Kurt says when the council was considering different organizations in the community, the needs of the Bryan Independent School District really stuck out to them. A large majority of the students in that district are on the government-funded free and reduced lunch program, indicating some level of economic hardship. Kurt says they wanted to be sure that these economically disadvantaged learners had all the supplies necessary to succeed in the classroom.

Mary Walraven, coordinator for special programs and lead social worker for Bryan ISD agreed with Kurt’s assessment. “This is a high economically disadvantaged campus,” she said. “Many times these kids go home to wonderful parents and homes but the family may not have access to a lot of extras like crayons and pens and pencils.” Walraven says she hopes the students will use their new supplies for summer learning opportunities so that they can stay excited about school while they’re on vacation.

Mays BSC partnered in this effort with corporate sponsors LyondellBasell, El Paso, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Tesoro, and UHY Certified Public Accountants. Together, these sponsors provided $11,500 in support.

“Working with the business school at A&M and being part of our community is important at LyondellBasell and so when we found out that the business school, the Business Student Council, was doing a project, we wanted to be a part of that,” said Warren Prihoda ’92, a senior manager at the company. Prihoda and several colleagues were on hand at the Project Mays event to help pass out backpacks to the elementary students.

In addition to corporate gifts, dozens of Mays students joined forces to collect supplies like glue, crayons, pencils, and pens. The supplies were sorted for distribution, and each backpack was also furnished with a special extra: a note of encouragement from an Aggie.

“It was definitely an overwhelming response from the students of Mays,” said Kurt. Though only the students of one school were given full backpacks, the remaining supplies will be distributed throughout the other schools of Bryan ISD. Kurt estimates their donations will help 2,200 elementary students in the area.

Overseeing Project Mays was Greg Kwedar’s final act as president of the BSC before graduating this spring. He says the effort on behalf of these elementary students was an important investment in the future, as so many of them are already considered “at-risk” due to family and economic indicators.

“Right now, even just through backpacks, school supplies, and just being a positive role model for these kids, we can start to make a difference there…and that was why we did this project,” said Kwedar.

Kurt agrees. “They have dreams, they have goals, they have ambitions, but a lot of times, unfortunately they don’t have the opportunities to see those dreams become reality…We’re just helping out with one backpack and supplies that will last maybe one summer, but we’re showing them that we have faith in them. We know that they can do anything they set their minds to.”

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

It’s a simple logical equation:

  • Premise A: Upper-division business courses are notoriously difficult.
  • Premise B: Studies indicate that students learn challenging concepts best when class size is small.
  • Conclusion: For the highest quality education, upper-division business courses should have a small class size.

Uniting these principals to improve the quality of education at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University is the goal of the differential tuition proposal, which will take effect in the fall 2008 semester. The plan involves a $610 increase for juniors and seniors in the business school each semester in addition to their university tuition.

While the plan has obvious benefits, not everyone is thrilled with the increase.

Why it’s necessary

Students in class
Mays’ current average of 117 students per class is more than other top-ranked business schools.

These funds will be used to hire additional faculty and offer more sections of each class, thus reducing the size of upper-level courses. Additionally, the extra money will enable the introduction of more break-out class sessions for most upper-level courses. After experimentation in several Mays courses, students have been shown to benefit from the opportunity to learn through this “lab” setting, meeting once a week for enhanced instruction led by a teaching assistant. The break-out sessions create a more personal learning environment for even the largest lecture classes.

The increase will also go toward recruiting the best faculty available for these new sections. As salaries of business school faculties must compete with compensation levels in the corporate world, this additional funding is highly important.

An added bonus of the reduced class size is that it will improve Mays placement in national business school rankings. Evaluations by organizations such as Business Week and U.S. News and World Report take into account student/instructor ratios when figuring their annual rankings.

Supporters say it’s worth the cost

Differential tuition has been a hot topic for the last year at Mays. As dollar signs fill students’ minds, administrators are focusing on the positives of the plan. Mays’ Interim Dean Ricky Griffin assures the undergrads that the increased amount is actually quite reasonable for a b-school education. “Our students will still be paying substantially less than students at comparable business schools across the state, including the University of Texas at Austin,” Griffin said. In the long run, Griffin feels that the enhancements provided by the extra funds will undoubtedly improve the quality of the business program, better prepare students for their future careers, and boost Mays’ position in national rankings—getting Mays one step closer to it’s goal of being recognized as one of the top ten programs in the U.S.

Conant looks at class in Ray Auditorium
“In my 22 years on the Mays faculty,” said Marketing Department Head Jeff Conant, “this is the most exciting development I have seen in our undergraduate program.”

Dean Griffin says the proposal received support from two university tuition policy committees with strong student representation. “When we first started exploring this option a couple of years ago, a majority of our own students who responded to a survey about differential tuition indicated that the benefits outweighed the costs,” said Griffin. Additionally, the Business Student Council’s direct input to the original differential tuition proposal indicates that the plan was created with the best interests of the students in mind. With that endorsement, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved the measure at a meeting in March.

While the faculty understands the student concern for spending more money on their business education, they also see the correlation between increased educational quality and smaller classes, which can only be accomplished through increased funding. “Overall, I am convinced that the benefits of enhanced quality of education will exceed the increased costs to our students,” said James Benjamin, head of the Department of Accounting. “I expect there will be a significant change in the nature of many classes,” he added.

Marketing Department Head Jeff Conant also verbalized his support for the plan, citing the ability to develop a more hands-on, experimental learning environment through the reduced class sizes. “Smaller classes will allow faculty to more fully develop students’ leadership skills as communication and critical thinking is more strongly emphasized,” said Conant. “In my 22 years on the Mays faculty this is the most exciting development I have seen in our undergraduate program.”

Students sound off

Currently, Mays averages 117 students per class, making its classes much larger in size than other high-ranking business schools. The differential tuition plan will reduce core business classes from 117 to 38 students and upper-division classes from 41 to 28 students. With plans to add almost 50 new sections of regular classes to the Mays course schedule for the fall semester, the administration says upper-division students will benefit from the individual relationships they can develop with instructors in a less populated classroom setting.

Lauren Ashley, a junior marketing major, feels that this aspect of differential tuition is worth the extra $610 per semester. “I love smaller classes,” she said. “The learning environment is so much better when you aren’t just a number and the professor actually knows your name.”

Not every Mays student is this enthusiastic about the differential tuition plan. A few feel that despite the addition of smaller upper-level classes and break-out sessions designed to create a more personal education atmosphere, they would rather pay less and continue with the present class size. “I understand where they’re coming from, wanting to better our education, but a lot of my upper-level classes are really small anyway, so it’s just an extra $600 I have to pay,” said Brian Williams, a junior accounting major.

Mays administration also takes into account that fall 2008 senior business students won’t reap all the benefits of the initiative, as they will only experience smaller classes for one year. Because of this, their differential tuition will only cost $305 per semester in the 2008-2009 school year. The junior class will be the first to face the increase, paying the additional $610 for the upcoming fall and spring semesters. By Fall 2009, U3 and U4 students will see the full amount tacked on to their tuition. Differential tuition does not include business minors and is prorated for part-time students.

In every aspect of the plan, Mays administrators pledge to do what is best for students, cutting back costs where appropriate and increasing the focus on bettering the learning experience. “We will accept custodial responsibility for these funds with great seriousness of purpose. We pledge that differential tuition will directly benefit the students who will pay it,” said Griffin.

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

Credit crunching, rate rising, and recession fearing: pessimistic phrases that sum up the current U.S. economy. As the housing industry struggles to stay afloat, the Fed continues to cut interest rates and balloon the economic bubble. While the government brainstorms new methods of recession prevention and plans a hopeful economic rebound, Americans wonder: when will normalcy be restored? Could this situation have been avoided?

Though there is no way to predict economic pitfalls and therefore eliminate them, preparation can prevent added panic and anxiety. Mays Business School at Texas A&M University plays a role in this preparation. With courses focused on the changes and history of financial markets, Mays faculty makes it their goal to prepare students, so that when future economic crises arise, the next generation of business leaders is ready for the challenge.

Pop goes the bubble
How did we get here?

As students evaluate the current economy and hope to glean some insight, Clinical Associate Professor of finance Amanda Adkisson offers this brief analysis of recent events:

  • Economic bubbles form when the price of any market asset rises rapidly.
  • In the case of today’s bubble, easy credit through mortgage lenders skyrocketed the price of houses, as more people could afford to buy them.
  • People experience what Alan Greenspan refers to as “irrational exuberance,” which can cause asset prices to disconnect from normal valuation principles.
  • The bubble pops when something brings investors back to their senses. In this instance the credit crunch and sub-prime debt crisis have put the current bubble in popping mode.
  • Investors now recognize the risk of losing their purchasing power, creating unusual market volatility in areas other than the mortgage market, leading to a general market decline.

According to Mays Clinical Associate Professor Amanda Adkisson, a bubble forms when asset prices rise rapidly, causing them to disconnect from normal valuation principles. But this isn’t anything new—in 2000, investors experienced the burst of the tech stock bubble, one of many similar economic situations in American history. The current situation is unique and more challenging, however, because it involves homes. In most households, the home is the single most valuable asset, one which should give families a sense of economic security.

In Adkisson’s opinion, the credit problem and housing meltdown can be related to the price of gasoline, the rate of inflation, and the political turmoil in the Middle East—all situations of great uncertainty that have created economic pain for consumers. As the government raised interest rates to head off inflation due to rising oil prices and the War on Terror, the housing market cooled. Suddenly, the credit markets realized that homeowners faced a perfect storm of declining home values with escalating mortgage payments, and rising gas and food prices—effectively strangling their purchasing power.

“Uncertainty makes people worry more about what might happen in the future. Because people are risk averse, they are more sensitive to negative outcomes,” said Adkisson. She adds that increasing American negativity regarding the national economy could lead to even more volatility, threatening the broader financial system.

Class, what have we learned?

While it is crucial to realize that there is no surefire way to prevent economic bubbles, they can be avoided. Adkisson cites a study conducted by financial expert Ross M. Miller as evidence to this claim, explaining that learning from past mistakes in times of economic crisis is the best way for investors to better prepare for future financial obstacles. Adkisson says this research explains why investors become less adventurous as they age.

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffet’s “Mr. Market” philosophy is a main topic of discussion in Britt Harris’ Titans course.

“If you experience a bubble directly, you learn from it. The problem is, you don’t learn to avoid a bubble by watching someone else experience it,” said Adkisson.

Experience plays a crucial part in avoiding poor economic conditions, but it must also be complemented with knowledge of history. One way Mays faculty focuses students’ attention on financial lessons from the past is through the Titans course, brainchild of Thomas Britton “Britt” Harris, chief investment officer for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The course aims to focus on short-term technical competence while providing an understanding of past economic conditions.

“The idea for the course was spawned partially by the observation of how many supposedly smart and experienced people (CEOs, etc.) totally missed the last bubble, and in fact contributed significantly to it. How could that be, as these were the smartest, most experienced, best-resourced and most successful men and women in the world?” Harris explained.

The Titans discuss Warren Buffet’s “Mr. Market” philosophy and behavioral finance, review every economic bubble in the past 200 years, and study hedge fund evolution to teach the necessity of choosing wisdom over technical knowledge. Harris gives students a “real” market experience by requiring them to compete against classmates while managing their own “paper” portfolios, reporting weekly on the state of their virtual investments. Through this, the students keep track of the current economic situation and become aware of the best ways to maintain successful investments regardless of the financial environment.

The final evaluation: don’t panic!

This focus is not restricted to only the Titans class; the Department of Finance also engages aspects of economic preparation and awareness throughout its various classes, presenting classic financial theories that relate to the rapid adjust of prices in volatile markets.

Executive Professor of Finance Cydney Donnell cites the “fad” that often produces today’s economic situation: the fear of losing everything causes investors to perpetuate existing bubbles by taking advantage of the easy credit and failing to closely analyze capital movement. Because of this, she warns students to not accept conventional wisdom and to always ask questions. “Much of the Wall Street mechanism is built on selling investment ideas to investors; many have merit and some don’t. You have to investigate on your own, you can’t just accept the popular theory,” said Donnell.

As for today’s investors, Donnell says it’s important to keep a few things in mind and proceed with caution as assets become more attractive when market prices fall. “The best plan is to stick with the asset allocation and make investments over time, adding a little every year. Then, make sure to rebalance if things get out of whack,” she said. She also counsels students that it can better to make only a few investments and forget about them rather than be overanxious and constantly tweak one’s portfolio, a trait common to young stock market players.

Above all, it’s important to remember that the U.S. economy goes through cycles, suggest Adkisson and Donnell. So have no fear: with proper knowledge and the help of Mays faculty, students can look forward to a brighter financial future.

Categories: Faculty, Featured Stories

There is a shortage of minority representation among U.S. business school faculty. Research indicates that this in turn leads to fewer minority students choosing to pursue business studies at all levels of education; As a result, corporate America continues to be hampered by a lack of diversity.

That’s where the PhD Project steps in. Texas A&M’s Mays Business School is one of many universities that have partnered with this innovative non-profit program whose mission is to increase cultural diversity in the marketplace by increasing ethnicity within business school faculties. The project was developed 13 years ago to provide a network of support for African-American, Hispanic American, and Native American doctoral students.

“The PhD Project is one of the most important and successful initiatives to have been launched in the ongoing quest for advancing higher education in the business disciplines,” says Rajan Varadarajan, associate dean for research and doctoral programs at Mays. “Mays Business School takes great pride in its long standing association with this important educational endeavor and is committed to actively recruit participants in the PhD Project to its doctoral programs.”

Since its inception, the project has aided in increasing the number of minority business professors in the nation from 294 to 876, with nearly 380 more candidates currently enrolled in doctoral programs.

Success in and out of the classroom

Miller
Miller

The project recruits successful minority business people and asks them to consider leaving the corporate world to become college professors. Prospective students are invited to learn more about the organization by traveling to its annual conference, held each November in Chicago. At the event, recruits receive helpful connections to peer support to help them begin their PhD studies.

One such recruit was Mays PhD candidate Toyah Miller, who was contemplating her educational options while working as a consultant for Capgemini Ernst & Young. After attending the project’s conference, she quickly made her choice. “You hear from people who really love what they do…everyone is so helpful and wants to help you achieve your goals. I came away from the conference feeling inspired,” said Miller, who will complete her PhD in management this spring. She will begin teaching at the University of Oklahoma as an assistant professor in the fall.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that studies suggest the rate of attrition for doctoral programs in the U.S. could be as high as 40-50 percent. This is not the case, however, with project participants, 95 percent of whom complete their degree. A peer and mentor network provide an essential element of support for those in the program. The project also hosts an intensive annual conference for participants each year, focusing on every stage of the doctoral program.

Christopher Porter, associate professor and Mays research fellow, knows about the PhD Project from both sides of the coin, as he is a graduate of the program who now recruits and supports project participants at Mays. Porter says that Mays has been particularly successful at recruiting these students, and that has been a valuable thing for the school. “The program has helped us diversify our business [school] which benefits both our faculty and students. There are many students at A&M who have never had an instructor who was African American, Hispanic American, or Native American. They need these experiences and this exposure to others and the Ph.D. project has helped us provide those experiences,” he said.

Mays Management Assistant Professor Brett Anitra Gilbert is also a graduate of the PhD Project.

Strength through diversity of experience

Triana
Triana

Mary Triana, who will finish her PhD at Mays this spring, is very excited to achieve her long-time goal. Though she grew up in San Antonio, Triana’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba when she was a child. Triana says her parents always stressed the importance of learning. “One thing people can’t take from you is your education,” her father often told her, encouraging her to learn English and apply herself to her studies at a young age. Through her affiliation with the PhD Project, Triana has landed an assistant professor position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she will start this fall.

The unique background of the project’s participants contributes to its growing success. Curtis Wesley, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former naval aviator, is a current Mays management doctoral student. He had previously taught at the Naval Academy, as well as worked in the banking industry before deciding to pursue his PhD. Wesley said that he had been receiving postcards from the PhD Project for years and eventually attended the Chicago conference out of curiosity. Once he attended, he knew that returning to teach on a college campus was the right calling for him.

“I’m a professional student at heart. I like to learn, be heard, and make an impact on students’ lives, and this career will let me do that. And yes, it’s tough, but anything worth having is not easy to get,” said Wesley.

For more information about the PhD Project, visit http://www.phdproject.org/.

Categories: Featured Stories, Programs, Students

As the spring semester rolls on, stressful thoughts of entering the “real world” and finding a job begin to take a toll on the student population. In the tradition of the “Aggie Network,” there is a new resource available to these harried scholar-job seekers: the ultimate job search website, created by an A&M graduate, of course.

Rony Kahan graduated from Texas A&M in 1989 with a degree in economics and went on to ride the cyber-business highway, creating the highly successful site Indeed.com. His site allows job seekers to search positions from thousands of websites simultaneously, including company websites, job boards and newspaper classifieds. His objective: to save the time and energy of those looking for a career.

A great job—in less time

Kahan
Kahan

“We created Indeed.com with the goal of putting the job seeker first,” says Kahan, whose website has recently been mentioned in articles in Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, and was listed among the Top Ten Websites of 2007 by Time magazine.

Kahan adds, “It is true that the job search process is easier—for everyone. Tools have evolved for both job seekers and employers so I believe the improved processes make it easier for the right employer and job seeker to find each other.”

With increasing numbers of job search engines and the growing success of websites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, you might think that the sites threaten one another. This is not the case, according to Kahan. He says that there are two distinct types of job search sites that generally cooperate, rather than compete. Search engines such as Indeed.com provide a list of job opportunities, linking searchers to the larger sites (like Monster) that actually process resumes and create communication between companies and prospects.

However, just because you can apply for hundreds of jobs a day with a few keystrokes doesn’t mean that you should. According to the experts in the Mays Graduate Business Career Services office, it’s a combination of using this new technology along with traditional search techniques that offer the best results.

Tried and true and still working today

In the past, there were three key elements to a successful job search: a classy resume, a well-written cover letter, and networking. Today, many young people are overlooking these elements due to the ease of mass application-drops via the Internet. Experts are saying, however, these classic job-search methods are still vital.

Student talking to recruiters
Classic job-search methods such as networking are still important.

“It’s very important that in the process, people understand that you have to take the initiative and establish the relationship. Part of that relationship is getting up and getting out and doing [networking],” said Jim Dixey, director of Graduate Business Career Services.

Because the process is so simple, Kahan warns job seekers of the danger of limiting their search to Internet sites only. Often referred to as a “black hole,” cyberspace is massive, and when a resume is sent to a job site, the odds of an employer seeing it may be slim. In response to this concern, Kahan and other job search experts suggest narrowing the online search to a few preferred positions and creating a unique cover e-mail displaying knowledge of the selected firms.

“There are many applicants for jobs, but few applicants that take the time to create a personalized, well-written cover letter or e-mail,” offers Kahan.

The best advice is to never neglect the tried and true practice of networking, as these connections often lead to professional opportunities that may have otherwise been overlooked.

“You’re going to have more success using the traditional route of meeting people face to face,” says Cindy Billington, associate director of master’s career education and advising at Mays.

Billington adds that Internet job sites target the passive searcher, making the searching process less of a hassle. And less time spent filtering through job listings means more time for networking and perfecting a resume and cover letter.

Facebook: friend or foe?

“Networking? No problem!’ says many a current college student. However, their idea of networking is often in the virtual realm, rather than face to face. This can be both a blessing and a curse in a business setting.

Keys to a Great Job Search
  • Check for job openings via the web (www.indeed.com)
  • Create a great resume and individual cover letters for each job you apply for, and be sure to have a proof-reader check your copy for typos before submitting your application materials
  • Use virtual and face-to-face networking to build your professional contacts
  • Remove undesirable elements from your social networking sites to put the best face forward for potential employers to see

The rise of virtual networks such as Facebook.com and MySpace.com provide yet another chance for job seekers to expand their group of “friends” and connect with prospective organizations that could lead to future employment. In addition to these social networking web pages, sites such as LinkedIn.com are targeted to display professional experience and make connections in the business world.

“On average each student has three to five virtual networks on which they spend at least one hour per day keeping up with friends online,” said Dixey.

These websites provide a method of using the Internet to build a professional network. Dixey explains that as these sites gain in popularity, more companies seek to enter the virtual world to recruit the “Millennials”—today’s talented college grads. This may prove highly beneficial to corporations, as online networks save travel dollars.

It’s not all good news for students, though: as employers gain more access to the networking sites, job seekers must be aware of the effect that items displayed on a profile may have on prospective corporations.

“The downside is you have to be judicious in how you use virtual networks. Anything a student puts online is public,” adds Dixey.

Categories: Featured Stories, Former Students, Programs

Mortgage foreclosures hit an all time high!
Lending institutions in trouble!
Housing market downturn leads U.S. economic recession!

National headlines like these have got Americans concerned, but the researchers at the Texas Real Estate Center say not to worry: the Texas real estate market is doing just fine.

Gaines
Real Estate Center research economist James Gaines is projecting an economic boom for Texas.

“Some of the crazy things happening other places in the country, like California, just aren’t happening here,” says James Gaines, research economist for the center. In fact, after reviewing statistical models and projections, Gaines says Texas should be preparing for an economic explosion, not a recession.

“I’m projecting a boom for Texas in the next 25 years,” said Gaines, who cited information from the state demographer’s office that shows a significant increase in the population of Texas for that period. Gaines says in the next quarter century, “we’re going to add the equivalent population base of another metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth, another metropolitan Houston, another metropolitan San Antonio, and enough left over for another Corpus Christi. That’s 14 million people,” or, more than half of the state’s current population of 23.5 million.

What is salient about this increase from Gaines perspective is that all of these people will need places to live, as well as places to shop, go to school, and work—all of which will have a huge impact on the residential and commercial real estate market.

“We won’t be the fastest growing state in terms of percentage, because we’re already so big…but we will be the fastest growing state in terms of numbers of people,” said Gaines. “Actually, we are already.”

Ready to answer the needs of those millions in the real estate industry or affected by it (which is, everyone in Texas), is the Real Estate Center at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.

“Solutions through research”

Created by an act of the state legislature in 1971, the center’s purpose is to help Texans make informed decisions about real estate. The center accomplishes this goal through their two emphases: research and communication.

“All of our research is academic quality. We do it to the most rigorous academic standards, but we write it in such a way that the industry can apply it,” says Gary Maler, director of the center. “The industry isn’t as interested in theoretical research as they are in applied research. They want to know about what is affecting them today, and what the market Is going to look like tomorrow.”

Maler and his team rely heavily on the Internet to get their research in the public eye. Their website (http://recenter.tamu.edu) is updated with news and numbers from around the state on a daily basis, and was visited by more than two million people in 2007 alone. Their twice weekly e-newsletter, RECON, is received by 30,000 people worldwide.

“I’m projecting a boom for Texas in the next 25 years…we’re going to add the equivalent population base of another metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth, another metropolitan Houston, another metropolitan San Antonio, and enough left over for another Corpus Christi. That’s 14 million people.”

They also use more old-fashioned methods of communication: their quarterly print publication, Tierra Grande magazine, has a readership of more than 147,000, and has won many awards for its quality. Maler says their staff of researchers breaks away from the mold of most academics, as they occasionally are published in refereed journals, but that isn’t their main focus. Instead they strive to get noticed in publications that ordinary people are reading, such as newspapers and trade magazines.

And their research is getting noticed, thanks in part to all the negative media attention about real estate elsewhere in the nation. Center economists have been quoted recently in The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune, as well as on high-profile websites such as Morningstar Mutual Funds, CNNMoney.com, MSNBC.com, and MSN Money. Additionally, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS invited Mark Dotzour, the center’s chief economist, to join a panel from around the country for a segment on regional housing markets.

“We reached the potential of 151 million households this past year,” said Maler, combining the circulation of all of the publications in which the center’s research was featured.

Maler and his staff also spend a lot of time on the road, presenting their research to groups involved in many areas of real estate, such as financers, developers, and brokers. Maler says not only does this get their message to influential people in the industry, it also helps direct their future research.

“When we’re out speaking to industry groups, we interface with thousands of people every year. We’re constantly asking “what’s on your mind?’…that way we make sure our research is in tune with the heartbeat of the industry and the people of the state of Texas,” he said.

Big state, little staff

Funding for the staff of 20 researchers and communicators the center employs is provided by the licensing fees of those in the real estate sales industry in the state. This is significant, as even though the center is a part of Texas A&M University, they are not funded through the university budget. They do, however, answer to the university’s board of regents, as well as their own advisory board. Maler says that this relationship is unique among real estate centers, which are often funded by state universities, and therefore have more of an academic focus.

The center employs seven full-time researchers, and Maler says they have enough work to do that they could easily hire two more, if the funds were available. “It’s just amazing what we do, the amount of territory and the broad range of topics we cover with only 20 people,” he said, noting the different areas of specialty of his staff members which range from rural land, to public policy, to commercial and residential trends.

Maler says part of what makes the center’s research so valuable is the entities that are using it. “The center’s reputation has grown enormously over the years…I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of companies that use our information and we don’t even know about it,” he said, mentioning that Taco Bell is among their constituents, as the fast food chain uses information on the center’s website to determine locations for new stores. The center does not, however, do research specifically for corporate clients, as that would skew their objectivity, a trait that Gaines says they “guard jealously.”

One useful bit of research the center is working on currently is energy ratings for houses. Just like an efficiency rating for an appliance or automobile, the center’s staff is researching the viability of such rankings for homes and how it might impact the real estate industry.

Also of interest to average homeowners is the fact that government agencies such as HUD (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) and FHA (the Federal Housing Administration) use information from the center to determine loan limits. “That frees up a lot more money for people to buy homes in Texas,” said Maler.

Maler says that currently, the center is conducting comparative research to see how cities in Texas measure against cities of similar size in other states. They are looking at cost of living, average income, and cost of median housing for cities such as Dallas and Philadelphia. “That’s what people need to know, ” said Maler. “How does Texas stack up with these other places?”

Gaines continued this thought. “Affordable housing is, I think, going to be one of the most critical issues of the next decade. It’s one of the reasons why we’re predicting a boom for Texas,” he said. “Texas is a very affordable housing state. The price of housing is two-thirds the national median home price, and it’s only 25 percent of the cost of housing in California….and the income differentials between the places are not that big.”

Gaines says that Texas’s four major urban markets, proximity to Mexico, and highly affordable cost of living make it part of the final frontier for high growth states that people are flocking to. In essence, the center’s research shows that the future looks very bright for the economy of the Lone Star state.

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