Published: April 13, 2023 / Author: Brandi Wampler
Earning a college degree can feel like a competition.
Pitted against their peers, undergraduate students search for activities and programs to fill out their résumés in preparation to graduate and stand out in the job market. Honors programs can contribute to this cycle, pushing students to higher levels of achievement just for the “honors” credential.
But the Mendoza College of Business wanted something different. The College wanted an honors program that identified top performing undergraduates who were seriously interested in the motto to “Grow the Good in Business” within a like-minded community. Instead of being another line on a résumé, the Business Honors Program is asking its students to consider what it means to study business at a Catholic institution.
“The Business Honors Program was designed as a departure from other kinds of honors programs,” said Jim Otteson, faculty director of the Business Honors Program and John T. Ryan Jr. Professor of Business Ethics. “While most other programs at business schools select students almost primarily or exclusively on academic achievement, we decided to, yes, look at that, but also, in keeping with the identity, purpose and nature of the University of Notre Dame, to look at character.”
Launched in 2021, the Business Honors Program (BHP) set out to attract sophomores at Mendoza who viewed business as an honorable vocation, even as a calling. Applicants come from almost every corner of the College, showcasing the diversity and breadth of students pursuing business majors.
In addition to requiring honors courses, BHP invests a lot of effort in building a sense of community and camaraderie amongst its members. Bi-weekly colloquia feature various speakers who discuss everything from finding a career path to leading a value-based career. After each talk and Q&A, students have lunch together and often have an informal chat with the featured speaker.
Students also participate in a mentorship program. But unlike in other programs that may teach the basics of interviewing for a job, these mentors are intended to help BHP students think intentionally about building a career and life that not only contributes to society but integrates into a life well-lived.
But like any startup, this programming isn’t quite set in stone.
“We are trying lots of different things, which means that some programming is permanent, like the course requirements, while others are in flux because we want students to have some ownership over the program. We ask students, ‘Whom should we invite to speak? What kinds of social events do you like? Which students want to help organize the events?’” said Craig Iffland, BHP program director.
There also is a number of social events including a formal ball, weekly Masses and volunteer activities such as serving as tutors for Mendoza’s tutoring program. Although the social events aren’t a requirement, they are a fundamental part of building the BHP community. And that community has become an unmistakably key element for the students. Some will tell you their best friends are in the program while others share that without the BHP, their only social group is within their dorm.
This tight-knit quality is exemplified in a truly distinctive aspect of the program called “Honors 911.”
“Honors 911 was an idea I talked about the first time the program met,” said Otteson. “This means that at any time of day, 24/7, if any of their fellow honors students are in need, they commit to picking up the phone and answering. That commitment lasts not just while they’re here, but for the rest of their lives.”