The Nebraska Business Honors Academy celebrated its fifth anniversary with an open house and reception on November 17. Students, faculty, staff and alumni came together to commemorate the moment together. Founded in 2012, the academy transforms high-ability students with leadership potential into the next generation of business leaders.
“We started recruiting the first cohort of students in the fall of 2012. At the time, we shared a common goal but weren’t sure if it would be successful and what the true outcomes would be. With the help of our College of Business and on-campus partners, we have been able to build an experience that propels eager students to be challenged at a greater level and towards opportunities to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom,” said Erin Burnette, academy director.
An enhanced business curriculum challenges cohorts of approximately 40 students. As part of the academy, students complete most of their foundation and core business courses together using an action-based learning style. Smaller classes allow students to discuss and develop solutions for real-world business problems and create the social and intellectual bonds necessary to ready students for the ever-changing business world.
"These students bring a unique set of skills and achievements coupled with the desire to challenge themselves and find ways to positively impact the academy, the College of Business and the university as a whole," said Burnette.
This positive impact is exemplified by the first cohort who graduated in May. Their accomplishments include traveling abroad 26 times to 13 countries, competing in competitions across the U.S. and participating in internships at nearly 75 companies. They also took on a multitude of leadership roles across campus. Within five months, 97 percent pursued full-time positions or graduate education. Ashley Quiring McDowell ’17 graduated with the first cohort and stayed an extra year to pursue her master of professional accountancy degree. She believes students are attracted to Nebraska because of distinctive programs like the academy.
“Being a part of the academy really helped develop my confidence, especially when tackling difficult coursework and projects. The honors academy stands out to students because it is a close-knit group. We form relationships with each other and faculty that lead to opportunities and growth,” she said.
While the academy is regarded for its academic rigor, the first five years also brought an evolution to its programming. Dr. Rebekah Neary-DeLaPorte, assistant director, joined the program in 2015, and helped champion the expansion of its leadership development and experiential learning opportunities. Students connected with employers through site visits locally and on trips across the nation, as well as competed in academic and leadership competitions.
“We wanted to expand how we help our students develop outside the classroom and push them to achieve excellence through creative ways. With the students’ feedback, we understood we are shifting generations to Generation Z, and our programming needed to evolve to do it,” said Neary-DeLaPorte.
Moving away from a typical, lecture-style business seminar, Neary-DeLaPorte and Burnette sought to put the students at the center of their learning. The result was a “Book Lab,” where the academy students read selections of “This I Believe” edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman in association with National Public Radio. Students chose between reading essays centered around honor, compassion, pluralism and intellectual inquiry, and then, they attended a book lab to discuss the topic and their beliefs with peers and one of more than 40 facilitators who represented faculty and staff across the university.
“Together, the facilitators and our students told their stories and compared the book to different applications in life. The topics provided a short read in which people of different ages could buy in and take something away from it. The program culminated with Tom Henning, CEO of Assurity, sharing his reflections on those four topics as a business leader,” Neary-DeLaPorte said. “The idea of being a good human and business leader go hand in hand. Through programming like this we are moving in a cool direction that is different than a normal business program.”
As the Honors Academy evolves its leadership development programming, the program continues its standard of academic excellence. Each year the academy receives more applicants from students who are academically competitive, as well as highly involved in high school.
“Applicants to the academy now understand what to expect and are eager to get involved right away. With their diversity of experiences in high school, we are starting to see their immediate impact on the college and university,” said Burnette. “We have a great foundation right now, and the sky is the limit from here.”
To learn more about the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, visit: business.unl.edu/honorsacademy