The Integrated Core Experience (ICE) curriculum at McIntire is renowned for its unique and rigorous approach to providing undergraduate students with a solid understanding of business. Students complete the 21-credit program during their third-year at UVA by taking 12 credits in the fall and 9 credits in the spring. Part of what makes the experience enriching is the integrated aspect found throughout the coursework, class dynamics, and team projects.
One big reason the ICE curriculum stands out is due to the case method approach in instruction. Unlike many traditional courses, in which students are assigned readings from textbooks, students in the ICE curriculum are assigned daily readings from case studies and business articles. These readings are then analyzed through intensive, professor-led classroom discussions that cover content in seven functional areas of business. For the fall semester, these seven areas are split into the following courses:
- COMM 3010 (Strategy, Systems, and Communication)
- COMM 3020 (Organizational Behavior and Marketing)
- COMM 3030 (Finance and Quantitative Analysis)
Despite the different courses, concepts from each area continuously intersect with each other, especially when completing projects. Students spend either their mornings or afternoons in their ICE block with 40-45 other students as their dedicated teaching team, with a professor for each content area, instructs and facilitates. And rather than operate independently from each other, professors within each teaching team collaborate extensively to ensure seamless delivery of the content. For example, a student may start their day in ICE with a Strategy lecture by one professor but end their day in ICE with a lecture from a communication professor. This occurs over the entire length of the curriculum. In the spring, six functional areas of business are covered in the following courses:
- COMM 3040 (Strategy, Finance, and Communication)
- COMM 3050 (Organizational Behavior, Systems, and Quantitative Analysis)
While the ICE teaching team remains the same throughout the entire year, a notable difference between each semester in ICE is the general focus of course content. During the fall, content centers around topics at the business level, which is needed to complete projects for block corporate sponsors. In the spring, content is focused on issues at the corporate level and covers topics in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) during the first half of the semester. In the second half, content focuses on negotiations, data visualization, and more advanced quantitative analysis.
As to be expected with the case method approach to instruction, classroom dynamics in ICE prove to be an exciting experience from both an educational and social standpoint. As I touched on above, daily classroom discussions are a critical component of the ICE curriculum. Students come to class every day and partake in professor-led discussions of the readings (whether it be cases or articles) for the majority of class time. Participation in these discussions fosters a highly effective learning environment, as a large part of the learning comes from students interacting with each other and giving their unique perspectives on the material. As you can probably imagine, this means that each day in ICE is different from the last, with each day bringing its own set of challenges and opportunities to learn.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of ICE comes from the group projects students complete throughout the program. Students complete three projects during the fall and two during the spring. As to be expected from the integrated aspect of ICE, students apply concepts learned across the entire semester(s) into their projects. For example, students take what they learned during the first few weeks of Strategy in the fall and use it to help shape their recommendations in their final project for their block’s corporate sponsor. The last week in fall ICE is known as presentation week, as executives from each block’s corporate sponsor come to Grounds to hear each team present their analysis and recommendations in support of a new initiative for the company.
The two group projects that students complete during the spring semester are considerably different from those completed in the fall semester. Instead of working on projects for a corporate sponsor, teams are tasked with choosing from a list of companies and providing recommendations on a corporate-level strategy. And rather than present to real executives (like in the fall semester), student teams are put into three roles–corporate executives, board of directors, and analysts. Each team presents their project as fictional executives to other fellow teams–one of which plays the role of the company’s board of directors, with the other playing role of analysts on an investor call. This provides students with a hands-on opportunity to analyze issues from the perspectives of different stakeholders.
Group projects in ICE also differ in format and requirements. During fall semester ICE, a written report accompanies each project. In the spring, the first group project is a “slideument” that’s completed in PowerPoint; the second group project is a data visualization presentation in Tableau.
The Integrated Core Experience (ICE) curriculum proves to be an enriching educational experience for students. When I reflect on my time in ICE, I view it to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my entire undergraduate career. For students starting ICE this fall, I offer one piece of advice–take time to cherish all the memories you’ll create in the program.