STEM education, business schools need to be joined at hip

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.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.

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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