9 Questions with Summer Business Scholars Program Professor Kathleen Fitzgerald

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Chicago Booth’s Summer Business Scholars Program (SBSP) is a course-credit summer option for undergraduates that is designed to help those early in their college careers build business acumen and prepare for future internships and full-time jobs. As undergrads start to think about ways to make the most out of their summer, we sat down with Professor Kathleen Fitzgerald to discuss why SBSP should be on their list.

Why is the introduction of course credit this year important?

The introduction of course credit is significant because it provides students with a viable alternative to pursuing an internship over the summer.  While some students may continue to couple SBSP with an internship, the ability to take part in a meaningful, three-week summer experience and obtain course credit for your time at SBSP allows you to return to your home institution one step closer to obtaining your degree.

Given your experience as an MBA professor, why did you want to get involved with SBSP?

I work with students whose experience spans a wide range, from undergraduate students to business executives. Because of my time working with MBA students and senior executives, I believe I am uniquely qualified to understand the skillset that students need to eventually obtain a C-suite position.  SBSP allows me to help students at the start of their professional careers build the foundational skills that will enable them to rise through the ranks in their chosen industry.

What’s your most memorable moment from SBSP?

Rather than one specific memory, I reflect back on when my students have had “aha” moments and a concept has really clicked for them. Or when they have become interested in a company or industry because of an experience they had during SBSP. Since we incorporated an experiential element into SBSP in 2018 that involves extensive work in teams, I always enjoy watching groups figure out their communication style and successfully navigate the challenges of cross-cultural communications. Watching students learn to work through the issues that inevitably plague any working team is incredibly gratifying.

What are the most valuable skills that students will take away from the program?

I could share my insights, but I think it’s best to let past students speak for themselves. Here are some of the main takeaways from the final reflection papers of our inaugural class of SBSP students who participated in Integrated Strategic Management: the importance of relationships in advancing the interests of your business; the alignment of tasks with each team member’s respective strengths; the repercussions of failing to communication with your teammates; and the value of short- and long-term strategic planning.

What is SBSP Business Foundations and why is it the ideal methodology for this course?

SBSP Business Foundations builds off a theoretical foundation in accounting, finance, statistics, economics, strategy, marketing, operations, decision-making, negotiations, and leadership. The course takes students’ learnings to the next level and provides them with an experiential exercise that ties the concepts together in a logical way. Students play a game using a computer simulation tool that allows them to apply concepts from class to build a business and negotiate with other teams to gain market advantage. Teams compete with each other and can track their progress. This format allows students to learn through practical application, rather than regurgitation, which makes them more equipped to handle challenges in their future careers and to better understand the impact of decisions. Students walk away with a deeper understanding of how businesses run, and a new appreciation for how executives’ choices affect their organizations.

What are the benefits of experiential and theoretical learning for college students?

There is absolutely value in theoretical courses, because they provide students with a useful framework for approaching and dissecting complex problems. However, without a complementary practical or experiential element, students will struggle to learn how theories translate to real life. Students who have some exposure to experiential coursework will enter the workforce with more critical thinking and problem solving expertise, as well as an increased level of comfort navigating the challenges of working with diverse groups of people.

What do students gain from group work, in terms of collaboration and managing different personalities?

One of the most difficult parts of any job is successfully navigating team dynamics. Everyone brings a different skillset, perspective, personality, and set of biases to the table, so practicing working in teams early on is essential. SBSP provides a safe environment where students can work in multinational teams in a simulated business environment. We know that there are different norms for how business is conducted and how students study around the world, so cross-cultural communication is an incredibly valuable skill that SBSP students build.

Any stories of students transforming over the course of the three weeks, from Day One to the end of the program?

I have numerous examples of liberal arts majors who develop a newfound interest in business and/or obtaining an MBA as a direct result of SBSP, which is always extremely gratifying. The world is so interconnected that, no matter what you are studying, it relates to business in some aspect. And from our point of view, non-business majors contribute in such a meaningful way to SBSP given their unique perspective. Even if students do not have a professional epiphany over the course of their three weeks in Chicago, they often come to view themselves differently or challenge their own long-held beliefs.

College students have lots of choices for how to spend their summers, why do you think this is the best option for them?

If you are looking for a meaningful way to spend your summer that will position you well to obtain top-tier internships and full-time jobs, SBSP is the program for you. The academic rigor you find at the University of Chicago is unparalleled, and you will leave your three weeks with extensive experience working on multinational teams and reasoning through complex problems. You’ll be more confident in both the classroom and recruiting process as you return to your home institution in the fall. 

SBSP is designed to be an incredibly diverse program, with students hailing from around the world, and from a wide array of academic backgrounds. Whether a business major or a non-business major, each student brings a unique perspective to the program from which their classmates can learn.

I hope you’ll consider applying to SBSP, and I look forward to seeing you in my classroom this summer!