Westmont Magazine An Education in Business
When Georglyn Panel Rosenfeld ’61 decided to major in business at Westmont in the 1950s, she met resistance from her professors. Studying business was a waste of her time, she was told. No one would hire her. When she insisted, the faculty sought permission from the trustees before agreeing. Fortunately for Georglyn, Ruth Kerr, president of Kerr Glass Manufacturing Co. and Westmont’s principal founder, was still an active member of the board.
How times have changed! Today, economics and business is one of Westmont’s largest and most popular majors, and the department includes many women. In fact, they often win the Wall Street Journal Award as the best graduating senior.
But one characteristic of the program remains unchanged. Georglyn remembers a practical, entrepreneurial focus to her studies. She says this preparation helped her when she started her own business years later.
At Westmont, economics and business majors study economic theory and concepts in depth, but they also get real-world experience through contacts with local businesses. The college’s ties to the business community have increased significantly, providing greater opportunities for students (see page 13).
As Professor Roy Millender explains, all economics and business majors must either serve as an intern or complete a small business case study. He oversees both programs.
“Students have a wide variety of experiences as interns,” he notes. “Some carry a briefcase and shadow an executive, while others have significant responsibility. One young man spent a year totally revising the city of Oxnard’s employee policies.” About one-third of interns receive formal job offers.
Students in Millender’s management and marketing classes can choose to undertake a small business case study instead of doing an internship. They work with local retail and wholesale businesses and service organizations to define the scope of the project and the desired outcome. Students take this responsibility seriously and produce detailed, 150-page reports.
“Several years ago, students made a series of recommendations for one business owner, who thought they were crazy. He then hired a professional consultant, who made the very same recommendations,” Millender notes.
His favorite way to give students hands-on experience is taking them overseas. For years in Europe, and more recently in China, they have learned how business works in different cultures, gaining a global perspective.
Professor David Newton is an expert in entrepreneurship. “Westmont is a great place for students interested in launching their own ventures,” he says. “Located in an area known as the Tech Coast and Silicon Beach, the college is within easy reach of 135 publicly traded high-tech companies.”
Students can seek internships in these firms and network with employees through two programs in Santa Barbara. Newton takes students to the monthly MIT Enterprise Forum (one of only 14 chapters nationwide), where a panel critiques a local high-tech firm’s start-up business plan before an audience of 150.
The Central Coast Venture Forum, which Westmont co-sponsors and helped found, also brings together entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Students help organize and staff this annual event.
Newton asks students to identify emerging industries such as global positioning systems and wireless communications and complete dossiers on them. Developing a start-up business plan is more than just an academic exercise. For the fourth time in five years, his students have reached the national semifinals in collegiate business plan competitions, where Westmont is the only liberal arts college as well as the only undergraduate program represented. Other contestants come from large universities and graduate schools.
Professor Paul Morgan, who teaches economics, rejects the idea that economic theory is esoteric and unrelated to day-to-day business. He is passionate about political economics and notes its international impact. “The quality of our lives depends upon the economy,” he points out.
While it’s politically correct for social observers to be pessimistic, Morgan says the 20th century was a time of unparalleled human advance. There were stunning gains in the battle against early death and per capita gross domestic product (up 650 percent in the United States). He notes the benefits of capitalism and the utter failure of socialism to create even a minimal standard of living or anything close to economic equality. “Profit works well as a motive,” he says, “but it must be accompanied by effective competition in a sin-distorted world.”
But capitalism does not provide its own moral base, and Morgan warns students about the god of consumerism and greed. He also criticizes the application of pure self-interest to issues like abortion. “Talk of convenience or cost-benefit analysis shifts the debate from morality to personal expediency,” he explains. “We have to resist making this just an economic issue.” Noting that Jesus probably came from a middle-class family, Morgan denounces the extremes of materialism and asceticism.
Economics Professor Edd Noell engages students in quantitative analysis, but also discusses the ethics of possessions. “In the New Testament, wealth is seen as danger, duty and delight,” he says. “We are called to delight in the creation and what God has provided without making idols of wealth.”
In classes on comparative economic systems taught in Asia and Europe, he encourages students to carefully examine different forms of capitalism. “While centrally planned economies failed, market-based economies succeeded in raising living standards,” he notes. “But are there limits? Should we have markets for babies and body parts?”
Noell introduces his classes to Scholastics and Protestant Reformers who discussed the benefits of private property and voluntary exchange well before Adam Smith. They also warned Christians about the harmful effects of coercion and deceit. He challenges students to explore modern applications of these ideas as they engage in microeconomic analyses of product standards and certification.
“Christians have been thinking about economic justice for centuries,” Noell adds. “As believers, we must avoid swallowing ideologies, probe the underlying assumptions of any economic system, and think carefully about its compatibility with Christianity.”
From theory to practice to values, Westmont students get a solid grounding in the world of business and economics.