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If you want to be good at marketing in today's business world, you may need to understand data analytics.

So the University of Montana School of Business Administration recently updated its marketing major to emphasize both analytics and digital issues, said Terri Herron, associate dean and professor in the department of accounting and finance.

"We are highly engaged with working professionals. We don't just sit in the ivory tower and think we have it all figured out," Herron said.

The School of Business maintains a stable core curriculum focused on foundational business principles that remain steady over time, she said. Then, she said, it adapts seminar series, short courses, guest speakers, certificates, and curriculum to respond to trends in the workplace.

"We are always continuously engaged in trying to figure out what the trends are. Is it sticky enough to do something about? Or is it going to be gone in three weeks?" Herron said, noting curriculum changes can be a lengthy process.

The school apparently has been successful in the way it adapts to business in the real world. The School of Business Administration is accredited in both business and accounting, Herron said.

In order to pass muster, the school must demonstrate it is having an impact on constituents, including students, employers, alumni, faculty, staff and the university as a whole. This spring, she said, the accrediting body extended the school's certification.


In class, professors prepare students for working in an actual business environment, said Teresa Beed, a professor of accounting and finance. 

Instead of having students simply learn about a job, the school requires them to take a hands-on approach to a task in the field.

"I think that's across the board in the business school," Beed said.

In her graduate class, for instance, students must give a professional presentation on a research topic to regional CPAs, or certified public accountants. In several other classes, they work shoulder to shoulder with professionals in the field.

"Students are sent to businesses to help build business plans or to help them with their information systems needs," Beed said.

The school also has strong liaisons with top executives in the business world, and it fosters relationships with working professionals in a variety of ways, Herron said.

"It's really part of our core mission to stay engaged with the professions that we send our students to," she said.

When recruiters come to campus, professors quiz them on the information students need to know to get jobs, she said. The school also has advisory boards for each academic department and a larger board for the entire school.

"These are people actually in industry, so that a major part of those meetings is learning what is going on in their companies, what keeps them up at night, what kinds of trends they're seeing," Herron said. "It's just a really nice way to stay up to date with a wide variety of professionals."


The school also has an executive in residence, currently Bill Whitsitt, appointed in November 2013. 

The University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research selected Whitsitt as its executive in residence and visiting professor in public affairs management.

Whitsitt had served as executive vice president for public affairs at Devon Energy Corp., one of the largest U.S. exploration and production companies.

The oil and gas sector of the energy industry is changing rapidly, so Whitsitt was charged with bringing real world experience to the school. Last year, he gave keynote economic outlook talks in Montana on the fundamental energy revolution.

"I think there was a feeling we needed to jump start appreciation for how things have changed," Whitsitt said.

On campus, he teaches a short course promoted to business students. His area of expertise is energy, but his goal is to prepare students regardless of their chosen field.

"My whole purpose is to give students the tools to make informed decisions regardless of what area of business they choose to go into," Whitsitt said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.