An End of Semester Note to my Students

At the end of each semester, I provide my students with a closing note about the course. That note seeks to place the course, its content, and its requirements into a larger context. I do so, because I believe it is helpful for students to have one last opportunity to understand why they took the course and perhaps better identify what they gained from the course. Such understanding can perhaps reinforce learning for the long-term.

Below is the note to my fall 2012 BBA 305 students:

With the Fall BBA 305 course nearing its conclusion and the final exam looming larger with each tick of the clock, it is a good time to share some thoughts and insights about the course. Looking back, some may see the course as having been little more than time-consuming lectures. A few might believe that the course’s 20-page research paper inflicted the kind “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment or the “great suffering” worthy of being pursued by the International Criminal Court.

Perception and reality are not always identical. In fact, perception and reality can differ dramatically.

In the larger context, there was more to the course than reading, lectures, assignments, the research paper, and grades. The true value of BBA 305, and any course for that matter, is the lasting knowledge one gains and the analytical framework one builds or reinforces.

The class provided some understanding of consumer behavior and exposure to broad array of investment, savings, and insurance products and services available in the marketplace. The course is part of a broader academic framework that empowers one to ask and understand the “why” as opposed to the “what.”

Although humanity does not possess the gift of prescience, one can be confident from the historical experience that tomorrow will not automatically be an extension of today.  Today’s subtle nuances can blossom into drivers of tomorrow’s megatrends. Today’s inferior substitute products can evolve into tomorrow’s disruptive technologies.

If one looks beyond seemingly exhaustive research requirements and iron-clad compliance with the rules of grammar, one can find value from the course’s writing component. Each of you has the potential to say something relevant, useful, or important. An ability to write effectively gives you a powerful vehicle for expressing yourself.

The paper focused on one of the more important tasks one faces during one’s lifetime: Helping one distinguish oneself in pursuing career opportunities or advancing one’s career. In the contemporary economy, it is no longer enough for one to demonstrate competence. Firms demand more than the ordinary.

The ability to differentiate oneself from one’s rivals is increasingly critical. The global marketplace is intensely competitive. The technology, information, and communication revolutions and globalization have substantially reduced barriers to competition. Innovation and continual improvement are now the “new normal.” Employers have little choice but to recruit and retain people whom they believe offer tangible value.

Human resources can be a powerful source of sustainable competitive advantage for any company. Specialized skills, knowledge, or insight are difficult and costly to imitate. As a result, companies increasingly look for workers with such attributes.

An understanding of a company’s industry, its value chain, and how its competitors view and respond to industry opportunities and challenges is a starting point for building a compelling case for one’s employment or advancement. That understanding permits one to articulate how one’s credentials, skills, expertise, or knowledge can help a company improve itself, address its problems, or realize its strategic goals.  It allows one to shift the employment or career conversation to why the company needs that person and increases his or her bargaining position.

During the semester, I saw glimpses of potential. All of you have the ability to progress through your studies, receive your degree, and advance in your careers. The more each of you takes from your courses, the more you will increase your prospects of harnessing that potential and the rewards that outcome will bring you.

More immediately, I wish all of you success on the exam and a good grade for the course. For an instructor, even as it is sometimes necessary, it is quite unpleasant to measure, record, and report unsatisfactory results. It is even more unpleasant to have to do so when an instructor knows that his or her students are fully capable of much better work.

The purpose of this closing note was to give you a larger context for the course. An ability to view things within a bigger context will serve you well. For now, focus on the remaining final exam, the review slides, and practice case. Afterward, try not only to pass, but also to excel.

Good luck to all.

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