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The Honors Cohort

Story: Adam Lee, Design: Bob Craig, Images: Lily Wang

To succeed in the long term, business students must be willing and able to ask questions and apply the technical skills they have mastered in new avenues. Fisher’s Honors Cohort program is one tool students can use to hone leadership skills and apply critical thinking to the community’s most pressing issues.

After a rigorous essay-writing and interview application process, leading faculty select 30 students to take several major classes in a tight-knit classroom environment and participate in the program’s seminar course, in which students collaborate with businesses to tackle projects and make a commitment to service during their junior and senior years.

The Honors Cohort program’s mission is to become “a program of national prominence with global reach.” With senior lecturer Ty Shepfer at the helm, “no other undergraduate program in the world will offer a more intimate and tailored approach to developing tomorrow’s leaders.”

Shepfer’s aim is to deliver a unique, personal experience for each of his students. His first step was to bring the students together in the summer months. Shepfer recognized that the more the students know about each other’s personal backgrounds, the more comfortable they will be in challenging one another. It turns out that seemingly trivial games of sand volleyball and capture the flag were the key to facilitating powerful discussions throughout the academic year.

Although these discussions may not result in clear-cut solutions, it allows students to look at issues from all angles and gather the information necessary to make their own conclusions. Why does the Ross School of Business receive higher ratings than Fisher? Why has the GPA system been untouched for decades? Why does the International Monetary Fund’s desire to provide financial aid to struggling nations receive harsh press worldwide? Should the U.S. permit physician assisted suicide?

Finance major, Sonal Gupta, emphasizes Shepfer’s role in revamping the program. “Ty has fostered a collaborative, fun and constructively uncomfortable environment and has proved to care about each of us individually, reaching his hand out to help whenever and in whatever way he can,” she says.

In constructing the curriculum, Shepfer has prioritized student feedback. By connecting his students with Fisher’s Dean Anil Makhija as well as Cohort and Fisher alumni nationwide, the students can bend rules and help shape the program of which they are a part.

To culminate the efforts made to explore societal issues in coursework, the students are given the opportunity to plan and implement a year-long service project. Students are given the autonomy to attack a problem of their choosing, and are graded based on their level of impact.

Shepfer’s hope is that “a life will be changed, a community transformed and the world left a better place” through this Cohort Impact Challenge.

To kick off the Impact Challenge projects, Ohio State Men’s Basketball coach Thad Matta spoke on his experiences in unifying a team towards a common goal.

Matta’s focus is trust and humility “Most of my players are going to transfer. They don’t know it yet, but I always tell them to just shoot a text. I need players that want to be here,” he says.

Team members must sacrifice aspects of their own personal agendas for the greater good. “The legacy that you build is on the people that you have a positive impact on, not the wealth you accumulate,” Matta proclaimed.

They had to learn that the key to making an impact is ensuring that all team members are on the same page and have respect for one another, the team and the mission.

The result: a refreshing makeover for the Fisher Impact Day, a Unified Sports basketball league for disabled collegiate athletes, a wellness program for Columbus’ autistic youth in collaboration with Cleveland’s Empower Sports, and a career readiness program intended to prepare inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women for life post incarceration.

Not only is the Honors Cohort determined to promote Fisher’s current community outreach, but it also aims to build the leaders who will drive change in the future. By tightening the bonds between students and local companies, the students are able to encounter real world problems firsthand.

The program brought in Ernst & Young, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Nestle, Shell Oil Company and Texas Instruments to network and conduct mock interviews with the students. The Mock Interview Day dug deeper than basic behavioral questions, utilizing intimate individual and group cases to provide a picture of the types of challenges posed throughout the internship and job search process.

Recently, L Brands executives presented their business model in seminar and asked the students to pinpoint the root causes behind its meagre sports line sales. The students were required to think outside the box and present their creative solutions to help Pink and Victoria’s Secret catch its competitors Lululemon and Under Armour. In return, the students toured L Brands’ headquarters.

This year’s highlight included a trip to Washington, D.C. With the goal of examining the intersection of government and business in mind, the Honors Cohort packed 10 meetings into three busy days. From governmental institutions to local businesses and entrepreneurs, the group was privileged to interact with a wide range of personalities. With such diversity in character came great variety in career advice.

Ohio State alumnus and Chief Financial Office for the Department of Defense, Mike McCord, stressed the importance of “taking advantage of any opportunity that comes your way because it is impossible to predict the nuances of a job.” McCord never would have guessed that his passion for history and study of economics would propel him to one day managing a budget worth $500 billion dollars.

“Fifteen years from now, you will only be judged by references,” McCord asserted. Although it may be easy to get caught up in grades, McCord hopes that students take the time to formulate long-lasting relationships.

Former Fisher student and Gallup Product Manager, Ashley Artrip, urged the students to “find something that annoys you.”

Artrip was always bothered by her peers going through the motions but failing to understand why they are doing what they do. During her time at Ohio State, Artrip discovered Gallup’s Strengths Assessment and felt that it described her better than she could. Intent on expanding the influence of the test, Artrip created a startup. She emailed Gallup and described her objective. The company responded by buying out her company.

“Everyone has a perspective of what you should do. You need to define what your version of success looks like,” Artrip advised.

The trip “brought together different perspectives, personalities, and passions into a collaborative and rewarding experience,” states finance major Annelise Dahl. The challenge is to harness that energy and mold action plans. As the curriculum shifts from the political world to the realm of technology, the Cohort program is preparing for a trip to Silicon Valley in January. How do organizations drive creativity and innovation in the workplace?

Dean Makhija’s strategic plan includes Fisher becoming a top five business school in five years. He intends to “expand experiential learning opportunities, community involvement and global presence with partner schools, alumni and businesses.”

The Honors Cohort is taking a step in that direction. Shepfer, current members and alumni of the Cohort are working to set an example of what a transformational experience in the classroom might look like. Fisher is taking notes and devising methods to offer more opportunities for each of its 6,000 students to grow individually and give back to the community.

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