Olin Business School to offer new minor in Business of Social Impact

William Lu | Contributing Reporter

As the culmination of over a year’s worth of close collaboration between students and faculty, the Olin Business School will offer a new Business of Social Impact minor this fall.

The minor, formally approved by the Business School Curriculum Committee last Tuesday, aims to provide students with an understanding of how business skills and techniques can be applied to drive positive social impact rather than to simply maximize profit.

The development of a program in this area was first explored by the student organization Net Impact in 2015. While progress was initially slow, things began to truly move forward after a survey conducted to gauge student interest in fall 2016 returned over 200 affirmative responses. The curriculum committee officially began working with the students on the proposal at the end of 2016, a process that continued for much of the next year.

The effort was led by four undergraduate business school students: seniors Jackie Oestreicher, Sarah Greenberg and Assiatou Jallow and junior Michael Kaushansky. Significant early faculty support came from professor Stuart Bunderson, as well as professor Heather Cameron, who both will teach core requirement courses in the minor.

“The students really were the drivers behind this,” said professor William Bottom, chair of the business school curriculum committee. “This is an initiative that began from student interest and student research—a group of students…really were quite enthusiastic about their business studies.”

The students were also pleased with the school’s receptiveness.

“It’s incredible that the school was so open to hearing from us [students],” Oestreicher said. “Often, the change comes from within the faculty, what the faculty are interested in.”

The content of the minor derives largely from student research of similar undergraduate programs at other major universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, Berkeley and Emory University. Those other institutions did not view the emerging program at Washington University as further competition, Kaushansky, a finance major, said.

“[Those universities] would love for more schools to be embarking on integrating social impact into their business schools,” Kaushansky said.

The minor requirements include three credits be taken outside the business school in classes called “Issue Electives,” from departments such as Environmental Studies and Urban Studies. These elective courses give students background on social issues in which business techniques may be applied.

Students pursuing the minor will also be required to take three credits of experiential electives offered by the Center for Experiential Learning.

“Business isn’t really something you can do in a theoretical way; you have to actually do it,” Bottom said. “In the case of the experiential electives we’ve put in this social impact minor, they’re all experiential learning that’s focused on something other than just the profit motive.”

With the recent approval of the minor, some faculty and students are already very excited about it.

Professor Bill Lowry, who teaches a sustainability exchange elective that is part of the minor, noted his enthusiasm.

“There are growing opportunities for students to do interdisciplinary work at Wash. U.,” Lowry said. “I think it’s fantastic that the business school is now going to be a part of it.”

Students may officially declare the Business of Social Impact minor, open to all undergraduates at Washington University, starting later this fall. Interested students may contact BSBA advisors for further information.