MS in Commerce Blog

Integrated Core Curriculum: Learning a New Way of Thinking

Robert Hebert is an M.S. in Commerce student pursuing the Marketing & Management track. In this post, Robert discusses the M.S. in Commerce Program's Integrated Core curriculum.

UVA McIntire students working on a team project

The Integrated Core is a vital component of the M.S in Commerce Program’s curriculum at the University of Virginia. Students are able to apply the information they learn about the marketplace through the use of case studies, team-based projects, and classroom discussions. Five courses make up the curriculum: Global Strategy and Systems, Strategic Cost Management, Financial Accounting, Marketing and Quantitative Analysis, and Organizational Behavior.

How the Integrated Core Provides New Ways of Learning and Thinking
The idea of an integrative core experience was present in the undergraduate curriculum at the McIntire School of Commerce before the M.S. in Commerce Program began 15 years ago. When the M.S. in Commerce began, faculty decided to implement the Integrated Core to give students a rigorous, yet informal learning environment where ideas and topics are integrated across all courses

I spoke with Professor Ira Harris, Director of the M.S. in Commerce Program, about his experience with the Integrated Core and how it provides a new way of learning and thinking for all students. Professor Harris teaches Global Strategy and Systems with Professor Steven Johnson and Professor Rob Patterson. Professor Harris believes that the Integrated Core is a more holistic and powerful learning experience for students, allowing them to combine many core concepts and think as managers do in the marketplace. Classes are set up to allow professors the opportunity to team-teach and collaborate on various topics throughout the semester.

Professor Harris said that his favorite part about teaching in the Integrated Core is being able to see how students grow and develop mindsets for the marketplace and reflect on how their experience has changed from the beginning of the semester to the end. Students from various backgrounds comprise the STEM-designated M.S. in Commerce Program, which is designed for non-business majors, creating a melting pot of education and experience among its class.

Current Student Thoughts on the Integrated Core
I also had the chance to speak with current students in the program and classmates Ali Rahoui, Nick Arledge, and Ed Cunningham about their experience with the Integrated Core. I asked each of them: 1) What is your favorite thing about the curriculum? 2) What is your favorite class? 3) How has the Integrated Core changed your learning experience? 4) Would you recommend this experience to prospective students?

The Integrated Core created a new perspective for the classroom setting, influencing us all in different ways. Nick said his favorite thing about it is how focused it is. He states, “It is hard to imagine a job in which you would not use everything that is being taught. There is no fluff.” Our courses are structured to provide us with relevant coursework that we can use as experience for our future careers. Ali loves the carryover from one class to another. He said, “The effect of this is that you begin to see the multiple layers of decision-making and thinking required to fully understand a business context.” My favorite part of the experience is how team-oriented all of our courses are. It was exciting to start the program and immediately be placed in a team of five people where I was able to form friendships and grow as a team player. Ed also likes the team-based learning, saying that work at his previous university had been almost most entirely individual.

My classmates and I had different answers regarding our favorite class during the Integrated Core. Nick’s favorite class has been Global Strategy and Systems, specifically the Strategy portion. He said, “It has truly shaped my thinking of business to a degree that I previously thought was impossible to do in a classroom setting.” Ed’s favorite class was also Global Strategy and Systems; however, he was more interested in the Systems portion. He said, “Understanding and utilizing different methods of advanced data visualization are new skills for me, and very rewarding.” This was different from Ali’s favorite class, which was Strategic Cost Management. According to Ali, this class “helped illuminate many concepts that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.” My favorite class has been Organizational Behavior. Having come from a science background, this course draws on various aspects of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, allowing me to apply my STEM background to the program.

The Integrated Core has changed the way that my classmates and I understand the traditional classroom setting. When I asked my classmates how the curriculum changed their learning experience, it was interesting to see what stood out the most among my peers. Nick said, “It has shown me how connected each part of a curriculum can be and the benefits of that.” It has been interesting to see how the topics from each class relate to each other. In a similar way, Ed believes that the biggest change for him has been the holistic nature of the program. Additionally, Ed thinks of it as a 360-degree learning experience stating, “The distribution of the classes challenges you from each angle, constantly.” Ali believes that “[the curriculum] has allowed me to not only foster a business acumen but also real-world skills.” The professors have created such an interactive and informal classroom feel that fosters discussion and collaboration among all the students in the program. This aspect of the program has been the biggest change in the learning experience for me. I appreciate the fact that my peers and I can voice our opinions and talk openly with our professors on any topic taught in class that day.

This program has been very beneficial to my classmates and me. As we come from very different academic backgrounds, it has been a transformative experience for all of us. When classmates are asked about whether they would recommend this program to prospective students, our answers are the same. Nick said, “Yes. It is hard to truly sum up the Integrated Core experience because it is such a unique structure that is executed at a high level.” The structure of the M.S. in Commerce Program is unlike anything we had experienced in the past. Ali would 110% recommend this program to any prospective student. He further stated, “Everyone in the program comes from a non-business major, yet, as we approach the end of the semester, the amount and breadth of knowledge captured by everyone, in part due to the Integrated Core, are nothing short of amazing.” I have loved my experience with the M.S. in Commerce Program thus far, and I am happy to say that I would recommend it to any student interested in continuing their education. Ed also said that he would recommend this program to prospective students, and being an international student, spoke to changes in structure compared to his previous coursework. He stated that “the GPA assessment method is worth bearing in mind as an international student more used to exams at the year’s end.” Each student has their own experience at McIntire, and it is interesting to see how their views have changed over the course of the program.

The Integrated Core in the M.S. in Commerce Program at the University of Virginia has created a new way of learning and thinking for its students. The five courses my classmates and I have taken during our fall semester have provided a holistic classroom experience in which we can take everything we learn and apply this knowledge to the marketplace. For those who are interested in the program and would like to hear about the Integrated Core, feel free to contact any of the M.S. in Commerce Ambassadors! We would love to share any information that we can about this program and our experience.

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