BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH
Back in 1921, when Robert Morris first began as the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy, the Underwood No. 5 typewriter was considered state-of-the-art technology. Now RMU’s business students learn through giant touchscreens, interactive whiteboards, and telepresence capabilities.
Welcome to the future of business education.
On September 6, during a celebration of its 90th anniversary, the university officially opened the doors of its brand new, $8 million School of Business complex, the centerpiece of a $40 million capital campaign. Adjacent to the colorful blossoms of the Rudolph Family Gardens, the 18,000-square-foot building provides the business school with its first official home on the Moon Township campus.
The new building allows RMU to “replant the flag of who we are,” says Daria C. Crawley, Ph.D., associate professor of management. “We’ve always been strong in business,” she says. “This new building will show how we do things differently and better now.”
On the first floor, The ATI Center, funded by a grant from Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, is equipped with advanced computer stations and online research capabilities covering international trade, emerging market, financial, economic, and political information and data. The facility not only serves as a resource center for faculty and students but for regional industry as well, which benefits from a global laboratory and the opportunity to partner with RMU’s experts in international business.
The center’s main attraction, the Interactive Learning Module, is “like a giant iPad,” says Dean Derya A. Jacobs, Ph.D. The module is similar to the interactive touch-screens on major news programs, and it gives students a hands-on tool for accessing the latest market and financial information. The center also will have a student project room, the first such space on campus for business students. “That room was our students’ idea,” says Jacobs. “Now they have a dedicated space of their own in which to work.”
Crawley, who teaches international business, says the technology in The ATI Center “really pulls us closer to that international marketplace, and it will enable students to engage in more colorful, diverse, deeper conversations too. The goal is to have them say, ‘Wow! I saw the world a little differently, and I understand your viewpoint better now.’”
The distinctive, glass-encased PNC Business Center, funded by a grant by the PNC Foundation, features a fully functional trading room with real-time stock tickers, market information, and analytical software. Faculty will incorporate the center into several courses, giving students a powerful educational experience that transcends the traditional classroom.
Up on the second floor, the United States Steel Corporation Video Conferencing and Technology Center, funded by a grant from the United States Steel Foundation, serves as an economics research center as well as a distance-learning and corporate-training resource for companies and other organizations. The center's multimedia workstations familiarize students with software and databases that drive modern business decision-making. It also offers students direct exposure to the day-to-day workings of the professional world, giving them the experience they need to compete and succeed in an international business environment.
The center’s Bloomberg lab gives students access to all major stock exchanges, the entire Lexus/Nexus database, and economic and financial data from the major central banks. Human resources students can utilize the Bloomberg technology to compare productivity across industries. Strategic management students can use it to model boardlevel best practices. Nursing students can retrieve clinical trial data earlier than any other source. Foreign language students can read foreign newspapers and periodicals as soon as they are published.
“No other source is as all-encompassing,” says Frank Flanegin, Ph.D., department head of finance. “These terminals have real-time trade data from every market in the world. If we have a Chinese student, she can have real-time Shanghai trade data at her fingertips.”
One of the center’s coolest features is the “telepresence center.” With three 65-inch plasma monitors and two 52-inch LCD screens, the center gives students an immersive videoconferencing experience, allowing participants feel as if they are sitting in the same room even if they’re on opposite sides of the world. RMU is the only university in western Pennsylvania now offering this technology to its students.
“The video conferencing capabilities will also enable students to talk to the alumni who work in the industry but who might not be able to make it back to campus,” says John S. Clark, Ph.D., director of the M.B.A. program and professor of sport management. “These alums will be able to interact with and teach the students, as they share some of the particulars of the industry.”
Clark, who’s teaching sports sociology this fall, says the new computer lab will allow his students to use some of the proprietary software and national databases that deal with sports consumers. “For M.B.A. students who will be coming here to take classes, the lessons they are learning can be illustrated better in these new facilities,” he says. “It will drive the teaching point home better and make abstract ideas more tangible.”
Jill K. Maher, Ph.D., professor of marketing, is teaching consumer behavior and marketing research this semester. She says giving her students access to labs where they can utilize databases containing consumer and market information will be invaluable. “Some of these databases will be the very same they will use in industry,” she says. “The administration, faculty, and staff have worked so hard over the past 10 years to earn AACSB accreditation. Now, along with this recognition, we have our own home. Our students deserve a place to hang out and socialize with each other and the business faculty.”
Marcel C. Minutolo, Ph.D., assistant professor of management, says the new technology in the building will create a more effective learning experience for the students.”I’ll be able to directly link the concepts we’re covering in the class with realworld data during lecture time itself,” he says. “It’s difficult for some students to absorb the textbook info without having something concrete. Drawing the connection between the textbook and what we can tangibly grab will reinforce the learning process and make a better connection.”
The building also houses the new presidential suite and conference room, along with reception areas and space for administrative and I.T. staff. It is LEED-certified, meeting environmental design standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. Its architectural features complement nearby Massey Hall, the building that replaced the original Kauffman house; most School of Business faculty members continue to have their offices in Massey.
Minutolo sees the new building as a “next step” for RMU. “It allows our business program to establish a solid brand for itself,” he says. “The technological link is important for our students. After all, this is the world they’re going out into.”