The first of their respective kinds in the nation, two innovative courses -- In the Executive’s Chair and Senior Experience -- ushered in a new approach to business education. This fall marks a milestone for both signature programs, as the College of Business Administration (CoBA) celebrates 10/20: ten years of In the Executive’s Chair and 20 years of Senior Experience.

Rather than simply focusing on business theory, CoBA transformed business education with the creation of Senior Experience where students gain knowledge through hands-on projects, andIn the Executive’s Chair, which allows students to interact and learn firsthand from top CEOs. These concepts of immersion and experiential learning have become synonymous with CoBA and have remained on the cutting edge of business education.

"Senior Experience and In the Executive’s Chair are pioneering programs that while revolutionary at the time of their creation, remain on the cutting edge of business learning models," said Sharon Lightner, dean of CoBA. "These immersive learning programs are bringing students and community together for unmatched mutual benefit."

Blazing the Business Trail

Senior Experience was first introduced in the fall of 1993 as a required capstone course for all business administration majors. Under the direction of a faculty supervisor, teams of senior-level students work as consultants and conduct real world business projects for local companies.

Students typically invest upwards of 1,000 hours in their projects, which have run the gamut from analyzing accounting deficiencies and writing business plans to spearheading the launch of a new branding campaign. Since its inception 20 years ago, Senior Experience teams have worked with over 1,000 companies and logged nearly 1.7 million hours.

What began with 25 students working with seven sponsoring businesses in 1993 has grown to nearly 500 students conducting projects for 100 businesses each year. Today the collective value of Senior Experience projects is estimated at two to five million dollars annually.

Many of the participating businesses, close to 50 percent, are returning sponsors who value the fresh perspectives and innovative solutions that CSUSM students bring to their company’s project.

“The City of San Marcos continues to be impressed each year by the talented students who provide innovation and a fresh spirit to our projects, programs and services,” said Jenny Windle, spokeswoman for the City of San Marcos. “This symbiotic arrangement provides the city great insight and the students a great experience.”

The City of San Marcos is one of seven founding Senior Experience sponsors along with Home Depot, Hunter Industries, San Marcos Brewery & Grill, Smith Barney Shearson, Trios Gallery and The Wyatt Company.

Like the City of San Marcos, Vista-based communications manufacturer Datron World Communications knows firsthand the financial value of student innovation. In 2011 a Senior Experience team led a comprehensive assessment of the energy use of two of Datron’s manufacturing plants. Working with local utilities sources, students were able to identify more efficient and cost effective energy solutions that resulted in substantial, long-term cost savings for the company.

Senior Experience has also proved to be a great recruitment opportunity for businesses looking to hire new graduates. Students who go on to work full time for their Senior Experience sponsor have a 15 percent higher retention rate, nationally, than the average business graduate.

“Senior Experience is an immersive and relevant capstone that allows students to experience the complex problems that businesses face today, and acting as consultants they are empowered to solve those problems and take ownership of the results,” said Jim Hamerly, director of business community relations for CoBA.

At the end of fall and spring semesters, student teams develop and host interactive booths for the Senior Experience Trade Show, where they share their projects and results with business leaders and community members. This fall’s Trade Show, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 13, will include a special celebration for the 20th anniversary of Senior Experience.

Take a Seat

Businesses today require employees at all levels to step into leadership roles to inspire and influence others to achieve a shared vision. To give students insight on the varying styles of successful leadership, CoBA invites top executives to quite literally take a seat and share their business philosophies, successes and challenges with business students in the innovative course known as In the Executive’s Chair.

Since the course was first developed ten years ago, In the Executive’s Chair has welcomed more than 150 CEOs, founders and executives to campus.

“We bring in top business leaders to talk about their careers, their companies and the critical business decisions with which they are commonly faced,” explained Professor David Bennett, who co-founded and co-teaches the course. “Our primary purpose for exposing the students to these successful executives is to better prepare them for their own business careers.”

The concept for the course was inspired by the Bravo television series, Inside the Actor’s Studio. At the core of the show, highly-regarded actors shift from celebrity to teacher, imparting successes, failures and words of wisdom to the next generation of actors, or in the case of CSUSM’s course, future business leaders.

Co-taught by professors Dr. Raj Pillai and David Bennett, the pair also serves as the interview hosts. Some of the past guests include Ralph Rubio, chairman and founder of Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc. and Irwin Jacobs, board chairman of Qualcomm. Both Rubio and Irwin will return this fall, on Oct. 9 and Nov. 6, to once again take a seat in the executive’s chair.

In the Executives Chair seminars, held on Tuesdays from 10 to 11:50 a.m. in Markstein Hall room 125, are open to all students as well as the campus and business community to attend.

CSUSM President Karen Haynes kicked off the milestone year of In the Executive’s Chair on Sep. 4, followed by Judi Sheppard Missett, CEO and founder of Jazzercise. Upcoming guests include: Sep. 18: Jim Tenuto, CEO of Renaissance; Executive Forums; Sep. 25: Holly Green, CEO of The Human Factor; Oct. 2: Emilie Hersh, CEO of InterKnowlogy; Oct. 9: Ralph Rubio, co-founder and chairman of Rubio's Restaurants, Inc.; Oct. 23: David Batchelder, founder and principal of Relational Investors LLC; Oct. 30: Janet Beronio, regional president of Harrah's Rincon; Nov. 6: Irwin Jacobs, founding chairman and CEO emeritus of Qualcomm; Nov. 13: Tony Baron, president of Servant Leadership Institute; Nov. 20: Jerry Rollins, chairman and founder of Sage Executive Group LLC; Nov. 27: Jon Carder, founder of MOGL

“Senior Experience is an immersive and relevant capstone that allows students to experience the complex problems that businesses face today, and acting as consultants they are empowered to solve those problems and take ownership of the results,” said Jim Hamerly, director of business community relations for CoBA.