NJ Biz

Companies give back, and receive, in campus program

For William Paterson dean, summer boot camp is way to build the business school

By Andrew SheldonAugust 17, 2015 at 3:00 AM
Dean Siamack Shojai at the first Crux of Industry Niche (COIN) Boot Camp.

Dean Siamack Shojai at the first Crux of Industry Niche (COIN) Boot Camp

Marlon Addison took time out of his schedule to speak to a room of William Paterson University business students on a Wednesday morning earlier this month. It's not as though he considers it a donation of his valuable time, either. It's a part of doing business.

“Primarily, we give back and have been partnering with the business community for over 80 years,” he said. “The other part of it, from a selfish perspective, (is that) I do look for more talent and I do look for programs like William Paterson University.”

In fact, the manager of client relations for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield NJ engages in these speaking events regularly.

“It’s pretty much the norm and we want to continue to do that to get new partners,” he said. “If I can seek new talent, why not?”

It was a first for the Wayne-based university, however, which held its first Crux of Industry Niche (COIN) Boot Camp during the first week of August. The four-day event, which was free for students, brought 14 professionals from the banking, insurance and financial service industries to elucidate for the students the everyday realities of the work field.

The COIN Boot Camp is a pet project belonging to Siamack Shojai, dean of The Cotsakos College of Business at William Paterson, who began developing the event when he was appointed to his position last summer.

It’s one component in his larger goal: In two years, Shojai wants to make Cotsakos College the most industry-connected business school in the state.

“Business education has been criticized for being so academic and out of touch with the realities that it’s almost irrelevant,” Shojai said. “We’re seeking new and innovative ways to make sure what we teach is relevant.”

By working together with industry, Shojai believes a student’s experience can be better curated to be both theoretical and practical.

“You can have a good business program by just emphasizing the academic side with little to no interaction with the real world and business; you can have a good business training program just doing the experiential work,” he said. “But if you really want an excellent, high-quality business education, you have to bring academia into practices, businesses and industry.”

The COIN Boot Camp is a chance to do exactly that.

“Many of our faculty are coming from industry, but they are leaving industry and we know how dynamic the business world is,” he said. “We really think that, in order to offer an excellent business education, we have to bring professionals to classrooms, forums and boot camps like this.”

And that purpose isn’t lost on the students. Vincenty Stark, who is entering his senior year at the Cotsakos College, recognizes the value of connecting and communicating with industry insiders.

“Our professors are giving us the knowledge; these professionals are giving us insights on how to apply that knowledge,” he said. “It’s further bolstering and building upon the ideas we already have.”

A year in review

With his first year as dean of Cotsakos College of Business at William Paterson University behind him, Siamack Shojai is taking inventory on the steps the college has taken toward his goal of becoming the most industry-connected institution in the state.

One way, Shojai said, is for the college to position itself as a resource for the business community through programs such as the college’s new Practice and Policy Research Forum, which includes 17 faculty members working in five teams, each with their own projects.

“We’re looking at everything from the global to the local,” Shojai said. “One team is looking at the value of social capital to small businesses in Wayne.”

One stipulation Shojai had was that the final product be accessible.

“We didn’t want them to do the highly specialized papers they always do,” he said.

The project was made possible by the allocation of an additional $100,000 in resources, according to Shojai.

Gabrielle Gallagher took away a suggestion presented by one of the presenting professionals, an interdisciplinary insight she recognized she might not have ever received in one of her lectures: keep a journal.

“We had a speaker, Saul Simon (of Simon Financial Group), talk about how we should be writing down ways to help us grow as a person and in our education,” she said. “I don’t think that’s something that would’ve been brought up in a classroom.”

Watching the presentations, Shojai has noticed a difference in the way the students interact more conversationally with these professionals, compared with the more traditional lecture hall.

“The students are really interactive, they’re asking questions, and it’s fascinating how engaged they have been,” he said. “When you see them in the classroom, the instructors are teaching the students, but when these speakers come, we are sharing experiences.”

Addison noticed a similar energy from the students during his presentation.

“The questions and feedback I got from the students during my time there shows how intense they were, in a positive way,” he said.

For Shojai, augmenting the more traditional classroom setting with these relaxed forums and seeing his students engage on both levels is indicative of the program’s success. As such, he hopes to expand it to other industries for next year’s boot camp, including health care.

Expansion also means holding more boot camps throughout the year to service more students.

“We really want to make it scalable; in four days, we’re covering close to 800 students out of 1,800,” he said. “If we do a couple of these a year, we’ll literally cover everyone.”

The business school has a business advisory and advancement board, which currently has 21 members. Shojai aims to raise that number to 40.

“We have great alumni who are very successful and we also have tons of good friends who are willing to help,” he said. “These are influential people in business.

“We have all these tremendous resources and, we know to be excellent, to achieve that high-quality business education, it would silly not to utilize these resources and bring them to our students.”

Shojai also understands that traffic on this bridge runs in both directions.

“It will help us help businesses as well, because we now understand what they are looking for in terms of the workforce development,” he said. “Also, helping with consultation as well as practice and policy-oriented questions as well.”

For Addison’s part, his engagement at the university has opened up possibilities for new, mutually beneficial relationships for the company at the school.

“By reaching out, they made the connection internally with me and, by doing it, now I have a connection with their director,” he said. “My goal is to give back to the community and meet new talent so that they might think about Blue Cross Blue Shield when they enter the corporate world.”