Students Learn How to Start a Business

Roanoke's Business Policy course is unique when compared to others’ final courses

The Business Policy class at Roanoke College not only prepares students for the real world experience of starting a business from the ground up, it paves the way for start up businesses. Business Policy is the final course for business majors at Roanoke College, and, while it may be considered the toughest business class, many also consider it to be the most rewarding.

Dr. Kevin Baker has been teaching Policy since 1993, and it is now the only class he teaches at Roanoke. "Although I miss teaching other courses, I enjoy the interaction with students and the challenge of Policy," says Baker.

Business Policy is unique to Roanoke College when compared to other schools' final courses. The course involves case studies, an advanced business simulation, workshops, labs, readings of top-tier articles and lectures on strategy. "Any one or two of these could make the major content of the course at other colleges while we combine all of them seamlessly in our class," says Baker. The other main aspect of Policy is that the students must complete the project of developing a business plan for an entity and must present this to the faculty and local business leaders. "The requirements for the project are determined by the faculty and business community and these requirements stay very current and realistic. This project allows us to integrate our curricular components more effectively and this makes our course one of the most advanced of its kind for any college," says Baker.

The class is managed with the students functioning in autonomous work teams. The teams can decide to throw out non-performing members and they grade themselves at the end of the term. Their grading of each other goes a long way in determining their overall grade. "This gives the students the experience of working in the same kind of group situation they will face in industry. This mimics a 360-degree appraisal," says Baker.

Business Policy is about as close to the real world as a class can get at the college level. Among other things, students experience teams, leadership, personal responsibility, and oral and written communications. "The class is structured to put the same pressures and constant deadlines on the students they will face in the business environment."

Students have launched businesses as a result of the class. Because of the success and reputation of the class, outside companies are now approaching Baker to enlist the help of the students for developing business plans. Just this term alone there are four such projects.

Baker puts as much effort into the class as the students. It is very time consuming to arrange speakers, project reviewers and presentations. But that is not the hardest part of the class for Baker. "The hardest part for me is having students graduate and not seeing them everyday. You really get close to the students in this course."