Centuries ago, English philosopher and jurist Sir Francis Bacon declared, “Knowledge is Power.”  No one living in the “Information Age” questions the validity of Bacon’s insight, especially those tasked with preparing people for success in our rapidly growing and constantly changing global economy.  In fact, according to Dr. Robert E. Niebuhr, dean of the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business at Florida Institute of Technology, we may be witnessing one of the most radical transformations of how that training is accomplished in history.  Dr. Niebuhr served on the faculty of Auburn University for twenty-four years and chaired the Management Department and Executive MBA programs at Tennessee Technical University before coming to Florida Tech in 2007.   As a trainer of current and future business leaders, Dr. Niebuhr would probably agree with Herbert Spencer’s statement, “The purpose of education is not simply knowledge, but action.”

SCB: The College of Business is one of the fastest growing colleges at Florida Tech, what is driving that growth?

REN:  Today, we have 215 undergraduate students in our College of Business and over 50 graduate students.  The most amazing growth however has been the over 1,200 students we have on our remote sites.  Florida Tech grew out of the need to provide undergraduate and advance degrees to the NASA workforce; that caused us to offer very specialized programs catering to what people working in government and military-related fields were calling for, not only in engineering, but management, logistics and contracts.  As a result of focusing on that target, today, we have five astronauts and over forty-five generals who are among our alumni.  All the way down their respective leadership chain of command, our prestige is significantly enhanced.

SCB: Those 1,200 students on ‘remote sights’ are doing their course work online, correct?  In your catalog you speak of “100{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} distance based” students.

REN:  The campus experience is an important component of collegiate life.  But according to a recent ad for the University of Phoenix, there are 38 million people in America who started, but never finished their college degree.  Many of these people are in the work force or have family responsibilities that would prevent them from attending classes in the traditional setting.  One hundred percent distance based means these students can complete their entire program without every physically stepping on our campus.

SCB: What are the pros and cons?

REN: The only con is that they don’t experience campus life, but the pros are that they can set their own times and gain the tools they need to advance in their careers.  Many students who have experienced both styles say they have more personal interface with their professors through live streams or chat room discussions than they did taking traditional classes.  Often, the class interaction is much deeper and more thoughtful as students have several days to comment on a subject.  Also students who are more shy or don’t like the extemporaneous environment of the class room can weigh their answers more carefully and everyone’s comments are posted in writing for all to read and respond to.

SCB: How is your school working to build the entrepreneurial and small business base?

REN: Recently, we launched a program that allowed undergraduate students to create a business plan and submit it to a panel of business professionals and venture capitalists, much like the TV show.  The winner of this competition was awarded a full scholarship to our MBA program.  We think that is quite an incentive for stimulating entrepreneurial creativity.

SCB: What do students most want to know about business?

REN: There are two major changes that I have seen of late.  One, business students are much more career oriented; they want to know how this body of information or skill set is going to help them find a job and advance in their career.  Secondly, traditionally non-business majors are realizing that whatever field they are in there is a major business component that can’t be overlooked.  For instance, if someone is a theatre major, they are going to have to know about personnel management, marketing, business plans and budgets.  If you are going to run a theatre or a theatrical company, just knowing Macbeth or Hamlet isn’t going to cut it.

SCB: You follow economic trends and forecasts a lot more closely than the average business person; what do you see in our local and state economy?

REN: Our EDC does a great job of marketing the community and trying to create attraction to our area.  But in general, Florida lacks the aggressive attitude I saw in Alabama and later in Tennessee.  There, economic development efforts were the first priority of the governor and the state.  They created tax and sight preparation incentives and it was the governor who served as the primary agent or ambassador of economic development.  These states realized that the big businesses tend to create small businesses in their wake, in a kind of symbiotic relationship, which creates and economic mushroom.