STEM education, business schools need to be joined at hip

STEM education, business schools need to be joined at hip

Summary: Universities need to get this business alignment thing down too and break down silos between their business schools and STEM programs if they are going to develop the next crop of CXOs.

TOPICS: CXO, Education

STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education is en vogue as the U.S. government and plenty of executives are bemoaning the lack of talent and worrying about this country's competitive edge. Meanwhile, business schools continue to churn out those students who become auditors, accountants and investment bankers.

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These two educational institutions---found at most universities---have existed as silos for decades. But that education as usual practice needs to end in a hurry. As most ZDNet readers know, today's enterprise tech leaders need to know business as well as computer science. In reality, the computer science major won't become CIO often because of a lack of people skills and business literacy.

If STEM programs and business schools don't at least find a way to collaborate and build bridges they're doing a disservice to industry and their customers---the students. That message was delivered via a panel this week at the AACSB International (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) conference this week in Phoenix.

I sat in on a panel that included Brad Jensen, CIO of U.S. Airways; Munir Mandviwalla, Chair and Executive Director, Institute for Business and Information Technology, The Fox School of Business, Temple University; and Michael Goul, Professor and Chair, Information Systems, W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University.

The aim of our talk was to outline how business schools should get STEM designations. After all, educational institutions need to get this business alignment thing down too. The logistics are a bit unclear, but there are some natural overlaps in enterprise IT and business. For instance, IT auditors and accountants go together well. Analytics will combine computer science types with business people too.

This slide via Goul and Mandviwalla tells the tale:

stem and business


For universities, there are some real returns by bridging business schools and STEM programs. STEM has some government funding behind it. Business schools have a bigger megaphone and can promote STEM better in the field.

How this STEM-meets-business collaboration works out at universities remains to be seen. Some universities were already started and others were interested. For now, here's a look at the key takeaways:

  • Jensen said that one easy fix for STEM and business school collaboration revolved around joint degrees. For instance, you can't get enough auditors with cybersecurity knowhow. A harder task would be having faculty taking turns at STEM and business schools. The hardest would be reorganizing structures to combine STEM and business.
  • Storytelling is key. A few administrators noted that STEM students are increasingly speaking English as a second language. As a result, communication is difficult. Nuances of English, emotional intelligence, people skills and basic story telling are required for any potential C-level exec. The challenge is efficiently providing STEM students with these skills via liberal arts classes as well as the business literacy they need. After all, the debt load with triple majors (communication, computer science and business) would be a tad ridiculous.
  • Specialization is important, but can go too far. STEM/business students need to know a lot, but they can't overspecialize. Why? They'll be automated at some point. Universities have to walk a line with their curriculum.
  • Immigration matters. A STEM designated student can stay in the U.S. longer under current law. Jensen said the visa situation has forced him to lose talent as students are forced to go home.

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Topics: CXO, Education

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  • Focus

    The real problem is the focus of the two areas. STEM focus on solving technical and engineering problems while business schools focus more on general business problems. Those trained in STEM areas have a very good idea of how much they do not know in other STEM areas. Thus they are more apt to ask some more expert for help. Business majors tend to be taught they can run any business without reference to the business' nature. The smart business majors realize this is a conceit and know they lack knowledge in many areas. But sadly many mediocre business majors swallow this conceit hook, line, and sinker.
    • Bogus article by Zack

      Many business schools already offer at least M.S. in informatics that combine computer science and business administration.

      Sure not everyone is interested, as many of us want to focus on the Computer Science part and really have little to no business inclination. Studying an MBA bores many people, believe it or not
      • I meant Larry

  • Fundamental barrier to cooperation

    As long as it remains easier, faster and more lucrative to defraud customers rather than deliver goods or services, there is no practical or effective return to any sort of synthesis between business and engineering. As the LIBOR and now ForEx manipulations should make clear, the new way of making money is to cheat it out of other people. Innovation has no place in this schema, particularly technical innovation. Leave that to the Chinese and Koreans, and concentrate instead on taking over their banks. That's the new golden road to American mastery, and we are well along it.
  • One of the problems I found..

    was that those people taking business courses just could NOT follow logic. They were just incapable of understanding even basic physics and math.

    As others have already noted- they are very good at bs-ing their way through.

    That doesn't work with physics or math.
  • There's a cultural hurdle

    Management is traditionally seen as a gentleman's occupation; science and technology are things that a gentleman might pursue as a hobby (as Charles Darwin did), but not as a career. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but I think that for the most part, this centuries-old attitude remains intact. Until it changes, business schools aren't going to want to have anything to do with tech.

    Says me, this is also why techies turned managers are not deemed to be in the same class as people who started their careers as managers.
    John L. Ries
  • STEM Misses the Point

    My 27 year old daughter is a high school physics teach. Before that, she taught chemistry at a community college. My 29 year old son teaches Calculus and Lego robotics, and is a private tutor for advanced math. Both were home schooled.

    The basic problem with STEM subjects is the same as the basic problem with Language Arts - progressive education.

    Progressive education has ensured that basic reading, writing, and arithmetic are not being taught in any sensible way. Spelling isn't taught. Times tables to 12 are not taught. Long division is not taught. Except for some AP classes, high school students cannot perform long division without a calculator. They cannot multiple 12x6 in their heads; they don't know the answer by heart. And trying to multiple 625 by 4? Forget it! They can't do it. Even if you explain to the how easy it is, they still may look bewildered and tell you that they're sticking with their calculator.

    Before you react and ask why you need to know these things, I will give a short, simple explaination. It's not merely figuring out which size box of Cheerios gives the lowest cost per ounce. That's usually printed on the price tag. It's not about figuring out MPG; your cars' computer does it for you.

    It's all about learning critical thinking and reasoning and problem solving skills. This is what progressive education de-emphasizes, and this is why STEM initiatives are enacted. Watch Professor Cliff Mass' video Math Education - A University View. Incoming college freshman are incapable of basic math skills.

    True story. My youngest daughter, at about age 15, was taking a math class. As they were working problems, she was the only student in the class not using a calculator. The other kids wondered in amazement how she could do column addition, multiplication, and division without a calculator. Her teacher told her to get a calculator. My daughter's response? "Why do you need a calculator to do basic math?"

    We taught our children mental math. Every math problem, from 1+1 on, is a word problem. You not only learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, you learn how to think things through and to process information.

    You have on apple and your mom gives you another. How many apples do you then have?
    You mother baked a dozen cookies. She says that you may share them with your three friends. How many cookies will you share with your friends so that each of you will have an equal number of cookies?

    The goal of progressive education is to produce students who can conform, take instructions, and provide services for the elite. It's been very successful. You don't have to know math or how to spell to operate in retail, food, or service industries. You don't even have to know how to think. Punch these little buttons, and when you get off work you can go back to your clubs, your video games, your reefer, your videos, you music, or whatever it is you use for escape. Then tomorrow you can fix me another sandwich, or wash my car, ring up my new pair of shoes, or ship my latest Amazon order.

    The average 8th grade American of 1890 had a better education than the average high school graduate today.