Student Success


Oakland University’s unique undergrad business program expands yet retains all its advantages

Students sitting in a room

icon of a calendarDecember 5, 2023

icon of a pencilBy Mary Gunderson-Switzer

Share this story

Oakland University’s undergraduate Business Honors Direct Admit Program celebrates exciting developments within its program – a surge in applications – and its largest incoming class this fall.

Housed within OU’s School of Business Administration (SBA), the Business Honors Program (BHP), which began in 2018, is the only standalone business honors program at a Michigan university.

Providing a unique pathway for incoming students to gain direct admission into OU’s School of Business, the BHP’s rigorous academic and holistic-based curriculum is aimed at developing well-rounded, successful professionals and community leaders. In addition to creating a high standard of academic excellence, the program uses innovative teaching methods and emphasizes novel experiential activities. Vital mentorships and internships are also incorporated into the program.

To date, the program’s 49 graduates have gone on to pursue successful careers in finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and consulting.

The dynamic duo running the program are Steven Stanton, an associate professor in OU’s Department of Marketing, who’s the BHP faculty director; and Meaghan Cole, the SBA’s experiential programs manager, who’s the BHP manager/academic advisor. Stanton and Cole credit Nivedita Mukherji, former SBA associate dean, for “working tirelessly” in her efforts to create the program.

“We want to be on the cutting edge of undergrad business education, so we’ve developed the best possible experience we can offer, tailoring it to high performing high school graduates,” says Stanton.

Encouraged that this fall’s incoming first-year class has nearly doubled in size (from the previous) to 31 students, Stanton and Cole are also mindful of maintaining a 35-student enrollment limit, which is key to the program’s success.

Not business as usual
“From the start, the cohort is what makes the program special,” says Stanton.

Each incoming small group of students (“cohort”) will take all their specially-designed core business classes together, spread out over four years. It’s a model intended to foster personal growth, teamwork, and leadership.

Incoming BHP students receive a handy on-campus lifeline right away, with access to BHP upperclassmen mentors.

“We offer an ‘upward-downward’ mentorship program,” says Stanton. “On one end, our freshmen have an upperclassmen mentor, to help them navigate OU and the honors program. On the other end, they’ve been matched with a professional mentor through the SBA’s Executive MBA Program (EMBA).”

The EMBA mentors are area business leaders, who meet with the students regularly, serving as a powerful conduit to the outside business world.

Their final semester of senior year, students take a class (taught by business strategy and business law faculty) that also provides them a connection to international business leaders.

“Students are given a real-life challenge that exists within an international company, presented to them by that company’s executive,” Stanton says, mentioning that one of last semester’s challenges was based on genetically-modified cotton seeds produced by a company based in South America.

Students use their coursework over the semester to solve the challenge, while giving regular status updates to the international executive, through Zoom. On the last day of the semester, students present their findings and suggestions, and the executive gives them feedback on their suggestions.

“Besides getting a feel for the importance of the global marketplace, it’s an opportunity for students to get comfortable with remote work, which is playing a bigger role in business these days,” says Stanton.

Another innovative way the BHP prepares students for the future is through OU’s ACHIEVE courses, which use a hybrid model that includes professional development workshops, online learning modules, and engagement with industry volunteers. Students also participate in mock interviews and other networking experiences.

There was one experience Stanton and Cole wish their BHP students never had: COVID. Yet it served as a real-life example of remaining positive and flexible in the face of disruption.

Forward-thinking and thriving
“COVID was a twist we didn’t see coming, but the cohort dynamic actually lessened the impact,” Stanton says. “We kept students engaged in all the usual outdoor team-building and social activities, and we even held some classes outdoors.”

The dedication Stanton and Cole infuse into the BHP program is evident to both past and present students, who tout Stanton as “steadfastly maintaining the program goals” and Cole as “putting her heart and soul into everything she does.”

“They’re great students and humble people,” replies Cole. “It motivates us to provide all the extras possible for them.”
Intended to make for more well-rounded students, there’s a three-pronged approach to the hands-on experiences Cole facilitates: service, engagement, and career-focused events.

“They’ve really enjoyed working with our on-campus Veterans Support Services, making holiday cards year-round to send to those living in a veteran home,” she says.

Another favorite student service project is OU’s “Fleece and Thank You,” an alumni-created nonprofit organization. Students make fleece blankets, which they love to personally distribute to local hospital pediatric wards.

Through Cole’s perseverance, there’s been an expansion in OU’s partnerships with external, not-for-profit organizations, such as Pontiac’s Baldwin Center, which works to eradicate homelessness.

“It’s a collaborative effort with many, internally and externally, and the continued growth is exciting,” she says.

When it comes to the student engagement component, the more fun, the better.

“Students need breaks and college should be fun, so we do things like take them to events at Meadow Brook or hitting balls at the driving range – sometimes they prefer food and games on-campus,” she says.

For career-focused events, they need look no further than their own backyard.

“We have so many great companies right here in the Detroit area,” Cole says. “This past year, we took the students on Career Trek industry tours, where they met the executives, who gave them great advice and answered all their questions.”

It’s all about the endgame.

“I always tell new students in the program: ‘We want you to love OU, and when you graduate, we want you to love the job you have – so the question we’ll answer, together, is how we get you there,’” says Cole.

Student-by-student, that question is being answered.

Catalyst for change

Michael Haban, BHP graduate, SBA '22

Graduating third in his class at New Baltimore’s Anchor Bay High School, Michael Haban was familiar with the benefits of an honors cohort, having been in one throughout his high school years.

“I enjoyed the smaller class size and all the benefits that come with that, so I felt OU’s program would be a good fit,” says Haban, who was in the very first BHP cohort and served as a program mentor.

Haban had thought since high school that he’d major in engineering, but once in the BHP, he quickly saw other options.

“A great advantage of the program is how it opens your eyes to so many different career options, and those initial business classes made me rethink the possibilities,” says Haban, who graduated with a 3.98 GPA from the SBA in 2022, with a degree in business economics and a minor in business analytics and finance.

Haban says teamwork is one of the major lessons of the program.

“We worked so many group projects over four years,” says Haban. “Listening, evaluating, helping each other…we gained great practical interpersonal and professional skills to take with us to our workplaces and into the community.”

One of Haban’s favorite parts of the program was “picking the brains” of professors.

“We were comfortable enough to ask them all kinds of questions, and I think that’s a by-product of the extra personal time we received, getting to know everyone well,” he says. “It was fun to get profs talking about their own special interests and research.”

Although Haban values all the program’s big professional development and networking opportunities, he also appreciates the smaller touches to the program, including a student portfolio project.

“We created and maintained an online resume that employers could access, which is a useful career tool,” he says. “Looking over mine before graduating, I thought about all I had accomplished in those four years and how I did it, so it was also a useful tool for reflection.”

Haban feels BHP internships are life changing.

“We were required to do one internship, but many students do two or three,” he says. “My internship led to my first post-graduate job at PricewaterhouseCoopers [working as a digital assurance and transparency associate].”

However, Haban recently felt led to find a new niche within his niche. He’s now working as a branch service specialist (universal banker) for Macomb Township’s Michigan Schools & Government Credit Union.

Haban says the honors program brought him “out of his shell,” serving as an impetus to make these types of changes.

“The program helped me become more of a people person,” he says. “Similar to how after two years of commuting to OU, I decided to live off-campus with [BHP] friends my last two years, I also was ready for a job with more interpersonal interactions, which I’m loving,” he says. “My new job is also a perfect complement to all the investment classes I had at OU.”

Wherever his future takes him, Haban is ever-mindful of one thing.

“Oakland [faculty and administration] want their students to have a great college experience and to also represent the school well,” he says, “which means striving to be a better citizen –
a better professional – a better person. That’s a big takeaway.”

Experience of a lifetime

Tressa Palomba, Sophomore, Business Honors Program

“Blessed” is how accounting and finance sophomore Tressa Palomba feels about being in the BHP.

With the “world’s quickest commute” (living just down the street from OU), Palomba was concerned she wouldn’t have a real college experience.

“That wasn’t the case at all,” she says. “The program has exceeded all my expectations. Being in this cohort, we’re always tapped into everything on campus, and I’m having so many fun and rewarding experiences.”

Referring to her cohort as “my great new group of friends,” Palomba feels they were set up for success from the start, at student orientation, when they met each other and their upperclassmen mentors – all while sharing a fun-filled day of food and fun activities.

“As a cohort, we did a team building exercise on OU’s campus rope course, and it felt like we instantly bonded,” she says.

That feeling lasted.

“Now we do everything together – meals, studying, even yoga,” laughs Palomba. “It’s the best.”

The relationship with student mentors has been lasting as well.

“They go through the same core classes we do, so it’s a big plus to be able to ask them about classes, campus activities and clubs – they even loan us their textbooks,” Palomba says, who looks forward to being a student mentor.

She sees mighty benefits to a small class with tight-knit rapport.

“Our profs go at our pace, which is usually quicker, but if anyone ever struggles, we always help each other through it,” she says. “Nobody is ever left in the dust.”

There’s also always a watchful guide and supportive cheerleader in the wings.

“Meaghan [program manager/academic advisor] checks in on each of us regularly and cares about us so much,” Palomba says. “She’s a great encourager and is always updating us on new opportunities.”

The students also enjoy making their own opportunities.

Palomba is currently serving a turn on the BHP Student Advisory Board. The three-member board (selected by BHP peers) meets monthly to discuss student concerns and new ideas, which they then present to Stanton and Cole.

“We have a voice and input into the program,” she says. “They really listen to our suggestions.”

One recent suggestion of hers is now in the works: a BHP golf program.

“There are so many business professionals who golf, and there are so many business deals made on the golf course, so it seems like a good idea,” she says.

Palomba is extra busy these days in other ways, happily engaged in her BHP finance co-op, working at Troy’s Accelera by Cummins.

“I used to be nervous about finding a job after graduating,” she says. “Because of this program, I no longer feel that way, and I’m incredibly grateful.”

No matter where she goes or what she does, Palomba feels she’ll always have backing.

“For me, the greatest network I’ll ever have is with this cohort,” she says. “After we graduate, I have no doubt that we’ll continue to be there for each other.”

For more information about Oakland University’s Business Honors Direct Admit Program, or to register for a prospective student information session, please visit the Business Honors program website

Share this story