The Offutt School is one of the only business schools in the country that is deeply rooted in a larger liberal arts curriculum and environment. It’s precisely this interplay between the study of business and the liberal arts curriculum that allows Concordia’s Offutt School students and alumni to learn, work, and lead with passion and effectiveness on campus and in their communities.
As a part of the college’s strategic plan and enrollment strategy, the Offutt School is working closely with the Enrollment and Marketing Division to grow overall enrollment by more than 700 students. To learn and explain more about this growth plan, Concordia’s director of recruitment, Mike Vandenberg, sat down with Chris Mason ’84, the interim director of the Offutt School, to share reasons why prospective students are choosing to study business at Concordia.
Vandenberg: Business programs have been a staple at Concordia since the college was established, but the Offutt School of Business itself is relatively new. What are some of the advantages of having a standalone business school at a liberal arts college?
Mason: The Offutt School of Business was founded as a reaction to the changing marketplace.
When I graduated from Concordia and started working, my business education really helped me get my first job, maybe the second, because those are really the hard skills that were needed. But what allows me to create and navigate my career now, 35 years later, is my liberal arts background.
Being inquisitive, continuous learning, being able to handle unstructured circumstances, the ability to be involved in projects that don’t have a very precise path to a solution but figuring out exactly how to get there, being effective problem-solvers. Those are the skills you get from liberal arts.
V: Talk through characteristics and traits that you see in students who do well in the Offutt School, that really excel and find an academic home here.
M: Essentially, it’s exactly like the skill sets that we would expect in any of the liberal arts areas. It’s the ability to problem solve, the drive to learn as they go in their career and their life, the ability to handle those unscripted circumstances is really what allows our students to excel once they graduate. So, when we embed both the liberal arts in business education and vice versa, they’ll be able to excel. One thing we’re very fortunate for here in the Upper Midwest is the work ethic. Our students are hard workers. Clearly, those that come for an education, rather than a degree, tend to do very, very well.
V: Talk about the role of technology in students’ learning here in the Offutt School.
M: That was actually part of why we formed the Offutt School of Business. The fact that education is very different now than it was 10 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. So, the old days of a faculty member reading from a textbook and testing based on that really has gone away. Education now is application-based and we’ve got the height of technology in various different disciplines available, so students know the tools they’ll be using on day one of a potential job. And, we use technology as it’s laid out in the professional world in our academic setting. Students have the opportunity to earn certifications and learn how to use the software, oftentimes better than their supervisors when they first take a job.
V: What’s new and exciting in the Offutt School of Business right now?
M: Our new entrepreneurship program. It’s an amazing opportunity for entrepreneurs to grow and has really connected the environment and the eco-structure within Fargo-Moorhead.
The entrepreneurship program at the Offutt School of Business starts with an academic certificate of three courses, which is intended to be for every student on campus – not just business students. If they go to work at a corporation or start their own nonprofit, those courses will help them. And if they want to go further and get involved in venture planning, there’s a minor that supports that.
I would love to see virtually every student on campus take the Entrepreneurial Mindset course just to find out how entrepreneurs look at things and the curiosity they have. So, whether they go to work for someone else or start something on their own, they’re equipped to make those decisions. They’re able to pick out those skills that they already have and learn new skills that will allow them to navigate their careers with a more entrepreneurial focus.
We are very blessed by the F-M area’s focus on entrepreneurship. Organizations like Emerging Prairie, and events like 1 Million Cups, allow our students to leave these four walls and see how it’s done. They get to interact with people who are highly successful and who are in the middle of the process, to learn what it’s like.
V: What would you suggest for students or families who are interested in learning more about the Offutt School?
M: The first thing that I would suggest would be to go to the website and see the scope of what we offer and then schedule a visit to come to campus. One of the things that I enjoy about my job the most is meeting all of the prospective students that come in and giving them a higher level of understanding of exactly how we set things up and what makes us unique in the marketplace. Through that process, hopefully they’ll get a feeling for whether they like the culture and if they feel comfortable here.
Editor’s note: Since this interview, Chris Mason was appointed dean of the Offutt School of Business.
Originally published in the 2020 Concordia Magazine