Business students explore integrity and values at Ethics Boot Camp
November 9, 2012
By:Tamara Chapman

Today's college students are no strangers to ethics scandals. They've grown up with headlines chock full of them. Think Enron. Lance Armstrong. Penn State.

Such debacles, says Corey Ciocchetti, an associate professor of business ethics and legal studies in the Daniels College of Business, represent a serious problem that needs addressing. After all, ethics failures create messes for all of us.

Enter the Ethics Boot Camp, a high-impact Daniels College program that not only puts ethical issues center stage, but aims to create leaders whose decisions are guided by values. "If you become a values-based leader," Ciocchetti explains, "then everything else falls into place."

Unique to the Daniels College, the boot camp is part of a required business law and ethics class that every business major takes sophomore year. The two-day camp typically occurs about three weeks into the class and offers everything from a comedy event to presentations exploring how ethical and legal issues arise in day-to-day business operations. The boot camp also includes breakout sessions in which the 350 or so participants analyze a range of thorny scenarios.

Just as important, Ciocchetti says, students engage in activities and projects that demonstrate the ramifications of ethical — and unethical — decisions. At the most recent boot camp in October, students competed in a bicycle race that began with vehicle assembly and ended with a dash around a campus quadrangle. Teams — each named after a virtue — were tasked with business-world priorities: "You need to be first. You need to be quick," Ciocchetti says. But you also need to be careful.

When one bicycle malfunctioned, putting the rider at risk for a fall, students could see how flaws or shortcuts in the assembly process were linked to product safety. Other lessons also were on offer. "Ethics is also how you react when you mess up," Ciocchetti says.

In keeping with the spirit of the camp, the 35 bikes were later donated to needy kids—which sent the message, Ciocchetti says, that "you should have some integrity when you put these together."

To keep participants on task and engaged, the camp relies on student team leaders. At October's event, Cora Foley, a junior finance major who has served as a leader at two boot camps, took charge of Team Reliability. At meals, she led conversations centered around that virtue. For example, everyone could share stories about how participants in group projects all paid the price when one member shirked responsibilities.

"There are a lot of kids," Foley says, "who go into [the boot camp] thinking, 'Oh who cares about ethics?'" But once they see the ramifications of unethical behavior, they start to see things differently.

Daniel Connolly, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the Daniels College, considers the boot camp an essential experience for students. That's because it involves immersion in what he calls "a topic that is so important it needs to be part of everybody's DNA."

Connolly believes the boot camp reinforces the Daniels College's emphasis on infusing innovative approaches to ethics instruction throughout the business curriculum. Many other schools, he explains, compartmentalize ethics education within a single course heavy on the theoretical and light on applications.

"We're trying to personify some issues for students and help them see that this is not just textbook; this is real world," he explains. "We want to make sure we're shining the spotlight on these things, so when students are in a decision-making capacity, they are making decisions they can stand behind and that they are modeling the way for others."

To learn more about the importance of ethics, watch Associate Professor Corey Ciocchetti's presentation at the Ethics Boot Camp on YouTube. His thoughts on the topic are also explored in his book Real Rabbits: Chasing an Authentic Life (CoreySpeaks, 2007).

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