Since the school’s creation, Managing in Complex Environments (MCE) has been a required introductory course at the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration, providing first-year and transfer students with the foundational concepts, vocabulary, and tools to understand the basics of business strategy and operations. It is the oldest course in the Pitt Business curriculum, growing from 153 students in 1995 to about 500 per year.
The course architect and lead instructor Clinical Professor Bob Atkin updates the content annually to keep MCE relevant and timely, but most of the curriculum’s underlying issues are timeless. Questions such as “Why do see new products and firms, even if many fail?”, “Why do firms have multiple, often mutually inconsistent, goals?” and “How do firms build and maintain competitive advantage?” shape the intellectual core of the course. Case study, various exercises and examples, and an optional project drive this core into the practice realm.
“My goal is to stoke curiosity, to turn curiosity into inquiry, and to then get out of their way,” Atkin says.
This fall term, he introduced a new wrinkle to the honors section of MCE. The theme was “all things data,” and to thrust that home, Atkin assembled a diverse lineup of guest speakers who demonstrated the profound impact of data across industry and government.
The honors section, modeled after a graduate school seminar, includes small group discussion and deep exploration of the topic. The students enrolled in the honors section take both the 1-credit MCE honors section and the 3-credit MCE course that all Pitt Business students are required to take.
Guest speakers and their topics for the MCE honors section will include:
- Simon Hinks, marketing consultant in England – The new European Union policy regarding data privacy (the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR) and its potential impact on U.S. firms. This talk featured an innovative, real-time class link between Hinks in London and students in Pittsburgh in cooperation with CAPA, the school’s on-the-ground partner in the Pitt in London program.
- Alan Wallace, a print journalist in Pittsburgh – Media and the information age in the challenging environment of credibility, context, and “fake news.”
- Pitt Business Clinical Assistant Professor Deborah Good – How data analytics is used today in human resources management.
- Pitt Business Assistant Professor Leon Valdes – Data visualization and telling a story through data.
- Andy Hannah, CEO of Othot and Pitt Business Executive in Residence – The economics of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence.
- Pitt Business Professor Dennis Galletta – The prevention of data breaches in the corporate and personal setting.
- West Virginia University Associate Professor Mike Walsh – Social media marketing and digital media management.
- Elizabeth Adams, director of academic advising at Pitt Business – The use of business analytics in the higher education setting
- Michael Cohan, vice president of acquisitions, MLA Properties – The use of analytics in a real estate environment
“The content selected for this course is meant to have both conceptual staying power and vocational utility,” Atkin says.
He chose data-driven topics for the honors section of the course because, he says, “In essence, business is about obtaining and analyzing data to make decisions today that inform investment decisions that become tomorrow’s products and technologies.” He believes that regardless of which business path his students pursue, data will be central to their jobs.
Atkin’s MCE honors section is part of the Pitt Business Honors Program. Designed for the most accomplished and capable business students, the Pitt Business Honors program offers an enriched academic experience, personalized academic advising support, and experience-based learning opportunities.
The Pitt Business Honors program has three academic components: the enhanced core course requirement, an honors elective course, and an experience-based learning capstone. The MCE honors section counts toward the enhanced core course requirement.
Atkin says his honors section of MCE will conclude in December with the students giving presentations that encompass what they learned from the guest speakers throughout the semester.
“My goal was to offer students an enhanced educational experience that gets students thinking seriously about something. In this case, it’s all things data,” he says.