The School of Business will be the latest addition to the Lee University campus beginning July 1 after a decision was made by the college's board of directors to separate the Department of Business from the College of Arts and Sciences.
After Lee President Paul Conn presented the proposal to the board, a new business building came under construction, which is expected to be completed in late September as the final piece of the old First Baptist property to become part of campus.
The approximately 49,000- square-foot structure will be part of Lee's south campus expansion, which also includes Pangle Hall, the Communication Arts Building, the School of Nursing, the Forum and Dirksen Row, a townhome unit for female students, according to Lee's Assistant Vice President for Operations Cole Strong.
"We're excited about the new building as well as being designated as a separate School of Business," Department of Business Chair and future Dean of the School of Business Dewayne Thompson says. "It's good for us that these two events are occurring at the same time and gives us quite a bit to be grateful for, thankful for and to celebrate."
While features of the new building include a large lobby, investment center, tiered lecture facilities and new computers, Conn cited the growth of the business department as the primary reason for the transition into a separate School of Business.
"As you grow and you get more business majors, more specializations in business and graduate studies in business, there becomes a more and more compelling case to think of this as a separate school, not subsumed within arts and sciences," Conn says. "We decided to wait until it got bigger, better and offered graduate degrees, and then, I said two years ago, until it has its own building."
But business instruction is no new program at Lee — as a matter of fact, it is older than any other discipline on campus, except religion. For the first 50 years, before Lee became a liberal arts university, rudimentary business courses were included as part of ministerial training, according to Conn.
After introducing the popular MBA program three years ago, along with a new marketing emphasis, Lee has seen a steady growth of students graduating with business degrees such as accounting, finance and management. On May 6, 59 students graduated with business degrees, including 21 with MBAs.
Olivia Conaty, a 2017 accounting graduate, plans to start her MBA at Lee this fall and expressed her excitement for the new business building as well as "going more in depth" into the business realm. She has worked in Lee's business and finance office for two years and hopes to eventually work at a tax firm and get her CPA this summer.
"I think it'll be cool to have our own identity instead of being part of all the sciences and arts," Conaty says. "We finally have a program that might help Lee promote the business program a lot better."
Conn noted the rise in pre-professional degrees, including business, nursing and communication, in the 30 years he has been president.
"The traditional liberal arts majors are waning somewhat and pre-professional majors are growing somewhat, and the reason is pretty obvious – people want jobs when they get out [of college]," Conn says. "People are much more career-oriented and occupation-oriented.
"The needle has really swung from 'What's your passion? What do you love? What would you like to learn more about?' to 'Where can I get a job when I get out? What am I gonna do with this when I graduate? What am I gonna do for a living?'"
With more business students expected in coming years, the admittance of 140 new freshmen to the nursing program and over 5,000 total students at Lee, all areas of campus have seen fuller classrooms.
Conn added that while many people tend to hear about the music program on campus, there are about 100 more business majors than music majors, and more general business administration classes than all of music combined.
"The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, especially for young people," Conn says. "There's a lot of talk among business majors about 'I want to own my own business, teach me to be an entrepreneur', so we're trying to figure out how to do that and that's what they're working on now."
Taylor Curtis, a 2017 graduate with a degree in business administration and management emphasis, currently works as a management trainee at Enterprise and echoed Conn's thoughts. She said she also feels the expansion is needed due to the small classrooms and lack of updated technology in the Walker Memorial Building, the previous building for business students.
"I'm excited that they're expanding because Lee really does have a solid business program going right now, and if they expand on that then I'm sure it'll bring in a ton of new people," Curtis said. "I feel like the business department gets overlooked, but now it'll be its time to shine and really show everyone that Lee can do more than just the arts."
More business students means more staffing, and the School of Business there will add three hires this summer, according to Thompson, who has taught at Lee for 36 years.
"We work really hard to hire people who have had good, mature careers in business and corporate life instead of hiring somebody right off the grad school stage," Conn says.
Thompson also said that the School of Business will also be rolling out some new programs, such as a nonprofit emphasis, that will be consistent with their mission.
"I'm convinced that business is a tremendous major, whether that's accounting, information systems, business administration or healthcare administration," Thompson says. "That is a terrific way to carry out the Gospel and to be a missionary in corporate America."
While Thompson doesn't see the possibility of adding an executive MBA in the near future, he said the school would come closer to adding some specializations within the MBA since the program is conveniently part time and also offered online.
He also added that many Lee business graduates have had success with internships that have turned into jobs within the Cleveland area.
"Many students end up staying," Thompson says. "The cost of living is very moderate and we're so strategically located between Knoxville, Nashville, Atlanta and Chattanooga that it's just a good place to be."
One such graduate is Zack Zyburt, a 2017 Lee graduate who majored in business administration with a finance emphasis. Zyburt took a job as a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual in Chattanooga right after graduating in May and has been licensed as an insurance agent since August 2016.
While at Lee, Zyburt said he formed strong connections with both Thompson and Shane Griffith, future associate dean of the School of Business. He said the new building is part of a "vision sustaining growth" for the university.
"I think it's amazing what they've done in my four years of being there," Zyburt said. "Both those guys have a direct focus to what they want to do and the new building just shows what that means to them, the university and the business department."
Zyburt said he has made several connections since he's been at Northwestern Mutual and is taking steps to build a financial practice.
"I'm building the clientele, I'm growing the name in the market that is within my realm and building the relationships with people in order to do my own thing later down the road," Zyburt says. "I just want to engage, build and sustain a lifestyle for others to enjoy. I believe that God has a purpose for what I do with the people that I work with."
As the transition to the School of Business commences, both Thompson and Conn agreed that providing a better space for students to learn while equipping them with the necessary resources and connections to succeed in the world of business is part of the university's mission.
"We're looking forward to what the future has for us and we believe that our best days are ahead," Thompson says. "Continuous improvement is our mantra. We're going to be better next year than we were last year, and that's just who we are."