Teachers and Entrepreneurs Reshape Business Curriculum to Suit Evolving Needs
Sisters Ali Grace Williams (left) and Audrey Caroline Williams, went the extra mile to celebrate their dad for Father’s Day in 2019 at the MSU Idea Shop. Makerspaces like these are emerging as important tools for business classrooms.
Photo by Logan Kirkland, MSU Office of Public Affairs
Mississippi State University Idea Shop Program Coordinator Michael Lane sits in a conference room at the facility. A new facility guide produced for the Mississippi Department of Education’s new curriculum covering the areas of business, marketing and finance suggests classrooms provide meeting space for students so they interact in environments they'll experience in the real world.
Photo by Megan Bean, MSU Office of Public Affairs
Justin Lombardozzi, the owner of Chick-fil-A in Turtle Creek Mall and the mobile truck in Petal, speaks to local business and marketing students last semester and shares the company’s customer service philosophy.
The business world is evolving at a rapid pace, and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is committed to keeping up with modern needs by providing students — the state’s future entrepreneurs — the skills they’ll need after their high school graduation.
The MDE will implement a new curriculum — a two-year business, marketing and finance program — in the 2020-2021 academic year that blends three separate programs — business management; marketing; and finance and accounting — into a modern representation of what students are expected to know as they pursue jobs or higher education.
In their first year, students will study the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship before moving to marketing, while management and finance are the focus of Year 2. By condensing the three individual programs into a single curriculum, students will have a broad understanding of a variety of topics, said Sam Watts, the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) project manager who oversees business curricula development.
“If students are interested in getting into business after high school, they must figure out what business means — it’s not just financial analysis, marketing and selling, human resources or management; it’s all of them combined,” he said. “This new curriculum gives students the chance to see what it would be like to work in any of those areas. MDE leaders had the foresight to see how businesses are adapting to changing needs and work climates, and this new curriculum will prepare graduates to handle numerous real-world issues they’ll see in the workforce.”
A new facility guide for the corresponding curriculum also calls for new physical amenities in classrooms — the same features students will experience in traditional offices, business incubators and startup locations. Watts pointed to student-run businesses with physical presences on campuses and in communities as a growing trend emerging in Mississippi schools that helps students learn both the mental and tangible aspects of entrepreneurship. For example, Stone County High School (Stone County School District) culinary students opened their own coffee shop, the Border Brew Café, in 2018; Gulfport High School (Gulfport School District) marketing students sell, among other things, items made by school carpentry students; and numerous horticulture programs across the state have hosted local plant sales for decades.
“Business classrooms are not just about desktops and traditional recreations of office spaces anymore. Modern business experiences include conference rooms, makerspaces and other community spaces where work and business occur,” Watts said. “Conference rooms aren’t exactly your primary meeting space, either. A lot of business is done in more-casual settings — coffee shops and other community areas, for example.”
Work on the new curriculum began in 2017 when the MDE created a task force comprised of business leaders, industry representatives and academics — including representatives from high schools, community colleges and universities — to study existing curricula. Task force members chose to refine the separate documents and combine them into one new offering. At that time, most schools across the state offered one or two of the original three classes, with business management and marketing being the most popular options.
“It was a challenge to take the material offered in a one-year course and condense it down into one semester’s worth of work — teachers had to pick the most important parts — but that’s what business and industry members want and say is most important: a diversity of knowledge,” Watts said. “They see the needs of employers and understand what needs to be covered in the classroom: it’s an array of material that’s not so focused down one specific pathway.”
Editor's note: In-person spring training sessions for business teachers to familiarize themselves with the new curriculum were postponed after the global outbreak of COVID-19.