Marquette Emphasizes Empathy, Diversity & Justice in Business Curriculum

Contributed by Marquette University’s Office of Marketing and Communication

Marquette University (Photo by AJCU)

Marquette University (Photo by AJCU)

Alyssa Stokx, a student in Marquette University’s Graduate School of Management, remembers long nights that blurred into early mornings spent hunting for signs of fraud in a Milwaukee restaurant’s files and ledgers.

Stokx was working for the University’s Justice for Fraud Victims Project, which turns real-world investigations of potential fraud into valuable learning experiences.

This is experiential learning, and it is something that Marquette integrates into its curriculum with the Jesuit emphases of empathy, diversity and justice. It’s such a priority that Brian Till, Marquette's James H. Keyes Dean of Business Administration, is offering mini-grants to faculty members who restructure their classes in a way that encourages their students to learn by doing.

“Experiential learning deepens the extent of the students’ knowledge of the concepts,” Till says. “It’s fundamental to the overall direction of the College.”

Stokx and several accounting students partnered with a professional fraud examiner, the Milwaukee Police Department, the District Attorney’s office, and a small local business in need, to conduct an investigation. 

Dr. Jodi Gissel, the assistant professor of accounting who brought the program to Marquette, is passionate about the ways that students use skills and know-how acquired in the College to live out the Jesuit value of being men and women for and with others.

The local businesses that became project partners are too small to afford a private fraud investigation, and Milwaukee police often don’t have the resources to investigate these kinds of cases in-depth.

Their investigation complete, Stokx and her classmates presented their findings of fraud to the restaurant owners, along with recommended steps to help them prevent similar instances of potential fraud in the future. 

This time, those recommendations amounted to a crash course in segregation of duties — the best practices relating to who manages different aspects of a company’s finances. The students’ findings were also turned over to the DA’s office, which investigated them further to determine if criminal charges were warranted. 

“It was really cool, but there also was a lot of pressure,” Stokx says. “If we didn’t do what we needed to, that would affect the business as well. There was more of a sense of responsibility on us. We had to step up.” 

Fortunately, many faculty members are big believers in this kind of learning, and already invested in building thoughtful partnerships that yield opportunities for their students to apply what they’re learning. Here are some other examples.

Branding Diversity
Marquette senior Charlie Murphy walked into the first day of his branding course with Dr. Felicia Miller, chair and associate professor of marketing, expecting to receive his course syllabus, hear a little bit about the class and be on his merry way.

Instead, he watched a clip of his professor on the local news explaining what the class’s project would be for the semester: partnering with the Village of Brown Deer, a northern suburb of Milwaukee, WI, to develop a new brand identity to help the community attract new residents. 

“I want my students to get an appreciation for the world outside the Marquette bubble, or whatever bubble they were living in before that,” Miller says. “I try to push them regardless of race, creed or color, to get outside of whatever that bubble is and see the rest of the world.”

The class analyzed findings from focus groups previously conducted by the village, census figures, state of Wisconsin crime data, and other primary and secondary sources to conduct a brand audit and marketing plan. They identified that the village — one of the few racially integrated suburbs in the highly segregated Milwaukee region — needed to fully embrace its diversity in order to have the most accurate and inclusive brand identity.

The student team offered suggestions to the city for how to go about making that happen. Miller then compiled the work into one 35-page document that was presented to the Village of Brown Deer Board of Trustees.

“They gave us free reign,” Murphy says. “[Brown Deer] is a great place to live, and that’s supported by facts.” 

Murphy credits Miller’s class with helping him realize that he wants a career in which he can see tangible impacts of the work he does, ideally in ways that improve people’s lives. 

“It wasn’t just for the grade,” Murphy says. “We did the project for the community and that just made more sense. I wanted to do well for the people in Brown Deer.”

Selling Empathy
The door of Dr. Alex Milovic’s office flings open as he announces to anyone in earshot, “She just got a job!” pointing to a girl standing behind his shoulder. 

Such informal career-planning meetings — celebratory or not —are a regular occurrence for the director of Marquette’s sales program and adjunct assistant professor of marketing, someone who students describe as an advocate for their interests, futures and general well-being. “He likes to see everyone succeed,” says Thomas Madaras, a junior in Marquette’s College of Business Administration.  

When he arrived at Marquette in 2014, to develop the College’s sales program, Milovic set out to show that sales is more than the stereotype of the pushy salesperson working a used-car lot. “I want my students to learn that selling is helping others,” Milovic says. “Empathy is becoming the first word that people associate with sales.” 

Companies are begging for college graduates to fill high-paying sales positions, he adds. “Not only is [sales] lucrative; it’s really fun,” Madaras says. Milovic served as his mentor and exposed him to a whole new side of sales that made him want to pursue it as a career. 

Milovic introduced Madaras to the field by getting him a job. As part of their course work for his second-level sales course, Milovic’s students were paid to participate in an eight-week sales internship, selling tickets for the Milwaukee Bucks or the Marquette Golden Eagles, or coffee for Buena Vida Coffee. 

After his experience in Milovic’s class, Madaras landed himself a sales internship for this summer. And, as expected, Milovic was the first one there to congratulate him.