Aquinas Has New Degree Program

May 5, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Three years ago when Matt Tueth began teaching at Aquinas College he never thought he would use his sustainable business and research background, however, this year it was put to good use when Tueth helped establish the new Sustainable Business degree at Aquinas.

The Sustainable Business Degree will be the first of its kind in the country and while the principles of sustainable business, balancing economic growth with responsible environmental practices, have been around for over a dozen years, a formal undergraduate program integrating science, business and environmental studies has not.

The ball began rolling last summer when Ed Balog, Aquinas’ provost and dean of faculty focused on the school’s successful science and business programs and looked for a way to make them work together.

He then invited a number of business people from Steelcase, Dow Chemical and General Motors to talk with some of the science and business faculty about how to develop a program where the two programs could work together.

With the support of Dr. Luis Tomatis from the Van Andel Institute and Peter Wege, trustee emeritus, Balog began serious discussions of furthering the program.

“Our provost received positive feedback from the business leaders and leaders in the community, and while he didn’t have a clear vision of what he wanted to do, just presenting the idea got others to think,” said Tueth, coordinator of the Sustainable Business Program and faculty member of geography and environmental studies departments.

“The business leaders agreed that they would like to have a business student with a science background because that is very rare.”

At the culmination of the project, Balog was then seeking someone to put the program together. With Tueth’s doctoral work from Oklahoma State being in environmental science, research on sustainability and master’s work in sustainability, he was the obvious choice.

Together with two business professors, Tueth developed a concept for the program including what to call the degree, what core courses to include and what type of a graduate it wanted to turn out in the end.

“One thing I have tried to do is keep in touch with businesses because I want this program to put out a graduate that businesses will be interested in,” said Tueth. “I have talked to business people and these sustainable business principles are already being used in many businesses here and nationwide, it is starting to gain momentum.”

What also makes this program unique is that fact that it isn’t being fueled by environmentalists, which makes it easier for businesses to see the benefit and the direct correlation in adopting some of these sustainable business principles and gaining a profit.

The Sustainable Business Degree program is a four-year program, comprised of both classes the college already offers as well as a handful of new ones.

There are 62 total required hours, making the program medium in length compared to other Aquinas degree programs, and classes are broken down into four types. The curriculum includes eight business core classes, science classes including three chemistry courses, one physics course and one biology course. There are two environmental studies courses and five sustainable business course that are also required.

“One of the more difficult things to come up with was a curriculum that everyone was happy with, coming up with something that business and science could live with, and environmental studies could live with,” noted Tueth.

The sustainable business courses, five of which the students have to choose from the six offered, are what are new to the college. They are a combination of business, science and environmental studies courses, mostly Tueth said, having to do with case studies of businesses that have implemented sustainable business principles and how they were successful.

Being a small school, there aren’t many extra faculty members floating around available to teach these additional courses so of the 21 courses offered for the degree, 15 were already available at the college.

“I think that was part of Balog’s vision, we had some courses in place to serve for this kind of major, we just needed to put a program around them,” said Tueth. “We were able to hit the ground running with this because students can take up to 15 courses they are going to need.”

The six sustainable business courses, three of which will be taught by Tueth, will be phased in as enrollment increases. The program already has seen some interest, all are students that were already on campus, either as undeclared majors or majoring in something else and then switched.

Tueth is also beginning to see interest from the business community in receiving Aquinas’ students as interns. He has begun to cultivate a list of a handful of businesses that would be willing to help students develop their skills. Eventually, Tueth said his vision includes being able to offer students a list of 15-25 businesses they could possibly intern with.

Tueth also envisions creating an advisory council, hiring an additional staff member as well as creating scholarship opportunities.

“We had a donor make an unsolicited $25,000 contribution to the program a few months ago,” said Tueth. “And I had a business call me up last week and ask if his business could sponsor a scholarship for a student. That is very encouraging.”

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