This article was originally published on McCombs Today.
David Lopez, BBA ’16, has seen his ability to communicate more effectively with colleagues result in greater opportunities at work.
By keeping his thoughts succinct, Lopez stood out in his summer internship with Ernst & Young in McLean, Virginia. “It’s something that I haven’t had to learn on the job, and by already having that skillset,” he says, “I was able to focus on tasks that aligned more with my interests and gave me a greater opportunity.”
Lopez attributes his concise way with words to Business Communication, a required course for all undergraduates at the McCombs School of Business. He’s not alone. Students and alumni often credit the class for providing them with a strong communications foundation that sets them apart in workplace settings.
In the classroom, Business Communication students learn to analyze communication situations and audiences in order to respond appropriately, conduct research for oral and written reports, deliver effective business presentations, craft business documents with correct grammar and style, and give and receive feedback to improve communication. The course (also called BA 324) reaches all undergrad students at McCombs: It has around 20 sections each semester, taught by faculty members throughout each school day, all week long from Monday to Friday.
Management Lecturer Mary Anne Taylor corrects students’ written assignments for brevity and active voice. In-class presentations, meanwhile, are graded on use of an attention-grabbing opener that previews students’ main points, logical organization, clear and strong conclusion, and a delivery that is smooth while also employing effective vocal variety and body language.
These types of abilities translate directly into careers, something alumni continue to applaud about the class. “If you really understand everything that was taught in BA 324, it really sets you ahead of everyone else in your field,” says PwC assurance manager Ross Hovde, BBA ’09.
In class, instructors teach both communication and professional development. With a common syllabus across all the course sections, students learn to write memos, emails, letters, and more. The class also requires students to develop their abilities in time management, project development, and evaluation and feedback. “We do a lot of writing. We do a lot of public speaking. We do a lot of work in groups. I think all of those things support all the disciplines in school,” says Dan Pryor, a management lecturer.
To gain that experience working in teams, students are assigned a group capstone project that requires both primary and secondary research on a communications issue. The capstone projects are tailored to an area of each faculty member’s own interest or expertise.
For example, JJ Riekenberg, a management lecturer who has taught the class since 2001, has students address an ethical or illegal action by a company from their major. Students in the section taught by Management Lecturer Katie Pritchett, meanwhile, take on a real-time communications project on behalf of a nonprofit client organization.
Underscoring the value clients get from interactions with her students, eight of Pritchett’s students have gone on to internships with their client organizations. For example, the Wildflower Center hired Brianna Seidel, BBA ’18, as a summer intern after her BA 324 student team helped gauge — and then offer ways to improve — student and parent awareness of the center, which became a part of The University of Texas at Austin in 2006.
Lee Clippard, the center’s communications director, says he’s been impressed by Seidel’s professional approach, organizational skills, and her ability to communicate with other Wildflower Center employees.
“There is some magic happening at McCombs in preparing students for the workplace,” Clippard says.