You never know when you might find yourself wrapped up in a University of Washington Tacoma business student’s class project—it could happen through your PTA, the local Boys & Girls club, a city park or the inner workings of your business.

That’s because UW Tacoma faculty like to send their students out into their communities to do real-life projects and learn things from teamwork and leadership to international business strategies. Like phones with dials, classes featuring only lectures are largely a thing of the past, they say. Research indicates that students learn better when they engage in group projects, simulations and real-world work experience.

“When we started here,” says Patricia Fandt, director of the UW Tacoma Business Administration Program, “we had an opportunity to do something absolutely creative and innovative and new.”

And they did.

“We wanted to make it so students wouldn’t just sit in classrooms but would experience what they will really encounter in the workplace,” says Professor Tracy Thompson.

They accomplished that goal as well.

When Fandt, Thompson and three other founding faculty members came on board in 1994, they contacted individuals in the region’s business community to see what skills were in demand. They also looked at a deep body of research and writings by scholars and business leaders across the nation, along with the international business accreditation standards. With that information, they built a distinctive approach upon the foundation provided by UW Seattle’s nationally recognized business program.

These pioneers identified six competencies students must have to graduate—teamwork, strategic thinking, communication, problem-solving, flexibility and life-long personal development—skills and values drilled into students at every turn at UWT. They built a core of classes every business student must pass, so no matter what their specialty—accounting to marketing—students will graduate with broad business skills. This framework ensures that graduates have the flexibility, skill and knowledge base needed to adjust to today’s fast-changing work environment.

Today, UWT’s Business Administration Program has more than 14 faculty members each quarter teaching more than 350 students. Several of those faculty members are business men and women from the area who teach part-time, bringing their experience, along with the academic credentials, to the classroom.

“We survey students, alumni and employers to see what they like about the program and we do focus groups. We’re very systematic in our evaluation,” says Thompson. This is one of the many ways in which UWT’s Business Administration faculty practice what they preach.

Students study in one of six areas of concentration: accounting, management, marketing, international business, organizational leadership and, new this fall, management of information technology. But all must complete a capstone course developed by Prof. Richard Stackman.

That course demands that students grapple with personal development and 0ther competenciesto help them understand and articulate what they’ve learned.

“We want them to start thinking less like students and more like business people in the workforce,” explains Stackman.

Students serve on teams that may be made up of classmates from other concentrations and apply their skills to the operation of sophisticated mock corporations that compete with each other in the marketplace. Every week, a computer analyzes their decisions on issues such as pricing, countries where products are to be sold and celebrities chosen to endorse those products. Sales, stock prices and other consequences based on those decisions are sorted through, and the mock-corporations are ranked. Meanwhile, students prepare resumes and analyze the job market in a field of particular interest.

At quarter’s end, students are graded, in part, on how well they articulate their development in core competencies.

“Employers should be able to ask graduates how they developed their competencies and get an articulate explanation,” says Stackman.

Because UWT offers only upper-division courses—the junior and senior years of a bachelor’s degree—a majority of its business students transfer from community colleges in UWT’s service region, which includes Highline Community College in Burien, Green River Community College in Auburn, Olympic College in Bremerton, South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Tacoma Community College and Pierce College.

Yet standard bachelor’s degrees—and the graduates who earn them—aren’t all UWT has to offer the business community. With 400 students enrolled in the Business Administration program, for example, there’s a wealth of potential interns looking for opportunities to lend support and gain experience at local businesses.

UWT also provides opportunities for those already in the workforce. Suppose you get a promotion into the marketing department but didn’t emphasize marketing while earning your bachelor’s degree. Or maybe you’re workplace is shifting to a team-oriented approach and you’d like to learn more team leadership principles. Or perhaps you have a business administration degree but dream of being a Certified Public Accountant. UWT business advisors can help you determine what courses you need to succeed.

UWT continues to grow. Today, the university campus enrolls 1,300 students and is projected to grow to enroll up to 10,000 students by 2010. The Business Administration program will also grow and change to meet regional needs, and faculty will continue to look for ways to improve their craft.—Mike Wark, UWT public relations and communications officer.

By Mike Wark, UWT public relations and communications officer.