Ideas Worth Teaching

The Aspen Institute recognizes Wake Forest University School of Business course for its innovative contributions to business curriculum

The Aspen Institute Business and Society Program has recognized the Wake Forest University School of Business as a global innovator and given the School’s “Why Business?” course a prestigious 2017 Ideas Worth Teaching Award.

The award honors extraordinary teaching that redefines excellence in business education, and ultimately business practice. In 2017, the Aspen Institute honored 20 ideas from top-ranked colleges and universities in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, and Israel.

Wake Forest’s “Why Business?” course was developed by Wake Forest faculty led by Jim Otteson, Thomas W. Smith Chair in Business Ethics, over a period of three years. Otteson, a philosopher and Adam Smith expert, assembled a cross-disciplinary teaching team, including legal studies professor Matthew Phillips and economics professor Adam Hyde, to deliver the course to a broad audience of students considering a career in business.

“For years now, the Aspen Institute has been recognizing courses in business around the country that push the frontiers of how business education can be delivered to students in new and innovative ways,” Otteson said.

“In the ‘Why Business?’ course, we also push beyond just technical business knowledge by relating business to other fields of humanities like philosophy, economics, and politics. I think the Aspen Institute recognized this was a new and innovative way to give students a bigger context to understand not just how to do business, but why to do business.”

Phillips, who is also director of the School of Business BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism, agreed that the way the “Why Business?” course connects differing fields together is one of the key things that makes the course unique. “‘Why Business?’ is an introductory course in business philosophy that also offers an environment for thinking critically about whether the business profession is something students want to be part of,” he said.

Michelle Steward, a marketing professor at the School of Business, was so fascinated by the concept that she audited the semester-long course. “Students come away with a sense of professional identity that is in keeping with Wake Forest’s motto, Pro Humanitate,” she said. “They understand that doing well in business is also doing good for society in a way that transcends corporate social responsibility.”

Rachel Mair (BS ’20), a business and enterprise management major at the School of Business, said that she approaches team projects differently after taking the course. “I now look at my work in a more holistic way, and think about how I can better my team, instead of just getting the grade. I want to make a change in the world, and I think the most effective way I can do it is through business.”

The course’s innovative curricula and successful results are what led to recognition by the Aspen Institute. “At a time when business leaders face intense scrutiny about their role in social issues, these award-winning faculty are bravely challenging the norms of what is taught in business school — and creating leaders who can navigate a highly uncertain environment,” said Claire Preisser, Associate Director of Aspen BSP.

“Many students are going to go to work for businesses,” Otteson said, “but even students who don’t will interact with business. They ought to know something about it from the inside, not just from the outside. That’s one of the great features of the course. It allows students to see these connections in a way that they might not otherwise have seen.”

The Ideas Worth Teaching Award winners will be recognized at Working Towards Shared Prosperity: An Academic-Executive Dialogue in Ann Arbor, Michigan in October.