Purdue’s Daniels School Is Shaping the Future of Business Education. Here’s How.

Purdue University's Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business had a banner year following its 2023 launch, and its leaders tell BestColleges the momentum shows no sign of slowing in 2024.
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on February 7, 2024
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  • Purdue University's revamped Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business is heading into 2024 with major momentum after its launch in 2023.
  • Daniels School Dean James Bullard, the former head of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank who joined the business school last year, underscored the importance of tech in business education.
  • Purdue, a preeminent STEM institution with major efforts in high-tech areas, is in a unique position to shape the future of business education.
  • While the business school is highly focused on STEM, school officials also underscored the importance of communication skills and critical thinking in educating future leaders.

James Bullard knows the importance of tech skills in today's modern business world.

"Every company is a tech company," Bullard told BestColleges in an interview.

Bullard led the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis for more than a decade. He was the longest-sitting head of Federal Reserve Banks when he departed last summer to take on a new challenge as dean of Purdue University's newly relaunched and reimagined Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business.

His encounters with leaders across industries over the past two decades showed him the challenges businesses face when it comes to rapidly evolving technology.

Those challenges have evolved over time — from the emergence of social media to the more recent breakneck development of artificial intelligence. But Bullard told BestColleges that the Daniels School, sitting within one of the country's preeminent science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) institutions in Purdue, is in a unique position to shape the future of business.

"Purdue's in a great position to combine the business school with the technological prowess of the rest of the campus and create a distinctive brand that will challenge the top business schools in the nation," Bullard said.

A Reimagined Business School

2023 was a transformational year for business education at Purdue.

Bullard joined Purdue amid a major reshaping of the university's business school with a heavy focus on STEM. The university's board of trustees approved plans for the revamped Daniels School in February 2023.

What followed was a year of major momentum-building for the school. In February, the Daniels School received a $50 million gift from the White Family Foundation to set up a new undergraduate institute with a revised curriculum to integrate a tech focus, including in Purdue's specialty areas like engineering.

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs Kelly Blanchard, a clinical associate professor at the Daniels School, told BestColleges that the school has already added two new STEM-focused majors to its roster: integrated business engineering and business analytics and information management.

Interest in those innovative new majors resonates beyond the campus, Blanchard said.

"Those two have not only been very popular with students, but they're also very popular with employers," Blanchard said. "Employers that are interested in getting students in as early as possible for internships."

The school scored other major donations in 2023, including millions for experiential learning opportunities as part of the Larsen Leaders Academy, and landed world-renowned experts: In addition to Bullard, former World Bank leader David Malpass also joined the university.

At the core of the school's reimagining is STEM — and Blanchard and Bullard both said the school is in a unique position to meet that tech demand.

Combining STEM and Business Education from Bachelor's Degrees to MBAs

A growing number of business schools have embraced STEM, whether through their master of business administration (MBA) programs or in their bachelor's curriculum.

That includes Purdue, which offers a STEM-integrated focus in both its undergraduate and graduate curriculum.

While undergraduates have access to degrees and specializations in tech fields, as well as a host of hands-on training, the Daniels School also offers a one-year STEM-focused master of business administration program that helps students with technical backgrounds break into leadership roles.

The Daniels School is working across the university to create innovative opportunities to combine science, technology, and business for students, Bullard and Blanchard said.

Bullard pointed out that the broad range of experts within Purdue in a variety of technologies — from aerospace engineering to advanced computing — provides the business school with many opportunities to engage with experts who are leading their fields.

"There's no shortage of technical prowess in many different dimensions," he said.

The curriculum is also informed by Purdue's vast network of industry partners, Blanchard added. The school's Business Partnerships Office, for example, lets students undertake real-world project-based courses with corporate partners.

A STEM focus also puts the school in a position to engage in areas that are increasingly important to businesses and students alike, including social ethics and sustainability, Blanchard said. It's an approach to business curriculum that reflects the needs of students and the workforce alike.

"We're also actively seeking feedback from the executives we work with, from our alumni, and from our students," Blanchard said.

But even though the Daniels School is set to be a leading STEM business educator, Blanchard and Bullard said there is still a place for liberal arts and the humanities at the institution.

Blanchard said the Daniels School curriculum incorporates a "cornerstone for business" program, part of a larger universitywide effort that includes courses on oral and written communication, history, and other aspects of the humanities. Each semester's cornerstone program incorporates a theme. And in fall 2023, that theme was "wealth."

That included an open-ended competition at the end of the semester. Blanchard said the submissions included everything from poetry to essays and even dance music.

"Listening to technopop with the theme of wealth was fascinating," Blanchard said.

Incorporating liberal arts into the humanities "adds that extra layer of critical thinking," Blanchard said.

Communication skills are also "vital" in the workplace, even as STEM demands more and more technical training, Bullard said.

"In order to be successful, every single one of those students needs to be a good communicator," he said. "They have to be able to write well. They have to be able to communicate proposals well. They have to be able to explain technology to a group that may not be as well-versed as they are in the technology."

Being a communicator without any technical skills, or having technical skills without any ability to communicate them, won't serve students well, Bullard said.

"It's tougher," he said, "but everyone has to be able to do both."

Daniels School Momentum to Continue in 2024

The Daniels School's momentum is already continuing strong in 2024: The Lilly Endowment Inc. approved $50 million in January to go toward the construction of a new building for the school.

That 164,000-square-foot-building, which is set to be finished in 2027, is meant to be "student-facing," Bullard said. The new facility will bring the business school's total buildings to three and is meant to help accommodate the rapidly expanding institution.

Enrollment is booming, Bullard said, and expected to almost double to 4,000 students in fall 2024.

"We need the space," he said.

The $50 million for the new Daniels School building was part of a combined $100 million gift from the Lilly Endowment — the largest in the university's history. The other $50 million went toward Purdue Computes, another one of the university's top strategic initiatives alongside the business school.

Patrick J. Wolfe, Purdue provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity, said in a release at the time that the Daniels School and Purdue Computes would work together to prepare students for the high-demand tech workforce.

Blanchard expects that momentum will continue into 2024 and beyond.

"We have a lot that we're still working on and working toward," Blanchard said. "I have a hard time believing when that momentum is eventually going to start backing down a little bit because I don't think we're anywhere close to that yet."

Disclosure: Purdue University is a BestColleges partner
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