Share This Page

Wisconsin BBA Students Study Ethics Through Lens of Art and Literature

by Katie Ginder-Vogel Monday, October 26, 2015

As part of Go Big Read program, Wisconsin BBA direct admits analyze textual themes through art 

Some questions don’t have easy answers. That’s why leadership training at the Wisconsin School of Business extends beyond traditional business fundamentals to connect our students to campus and deliver truly inspiring learning experiences.

wisconsin school of business undergraduate university of wisconsin

A student prepares to dry one of many posters created by BBA students after reading "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson.

Dani Barker, associate director of admissions and pre-college programs at the Wisconsin School of Business, partnered with the University’s Go Big Read program so Wisconsin BBA direct admit students could learn important lessons about leadership by reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, an examination of racial inequalities in the American justice system.

“We’re committed to helping students become more culturally competent and socially just,” says Barker. “We want to help them learn to look at the world with a critical lens. How are people being excluded, and how can we, as business professionals, work to overcome some of those injustices?”

The exercise is part of the Principles of Leadership, Ethics, Authenticity, and Development (LEAD) course, which is the first required course in The Compass Program for all direct admit students.

When Barker learned that Go Big Read was sponsoring arts experiences for students in participating programs, she teamed up with Angela Richardson, aesthetics and business project coordinator at the School’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, to give Wisconsin BBA students the opportunity to visit Wheelhouse Studios in Memorial Union and create screen prints of some of the social justice themes found in Just Mercy.

“I’m always looking for ways to integrate arts-based learning into the School's existing curriculum,” says Richardson. “The LEAD course’s participation in Go Big Read seemed like a perfect opportunity to engage our students through the arts, so Dani Barker connected me with Wheelhouse Director Jay Ekleberry, and we wrote a project proposal that was generously supported by Go Big Read and the chancellor’s office.”

wisconsin bba university of wisconsin madison

Kellan Brunke (BBA '19) grabs a poster as he and classmates work on their Mercy Printmaking projects at the Wheelhouse in Memorial Union on Monday, October 12.

Students worked in small groups to design and print posters that reflect the social justice themes in Just Mercy, and they produced more than 150 handmade blank books to donate to the Wisconsin Books to Prisoners and LGBT Books to Prisoners programs.

“Making art is important for emerging leaders because it allows them to practice a wide range of skills that are useful in both business and in life,” says Richardson. “During the course of this particular project, students exercised collaboration, critical analysis, communication, creative thinking, and empathy, among other skills. It provided all of us with a chance to reflect upon the reading we’ve been doing and make connections with our own lives and shared struggles.” 

There’s evidence that active learning experiences like the students’ screenprinting project creates what Richardson calls “memories with momentum.”

“When teachers use arts-based methods in the classroom, students are more likely to remember and to further reflect upon the concepts introduced,” Richardson explains. “This project was designed to create an opportunity for students to discuss and think deeply about mass incarceration, police brutality, and problems with the criminal justice system. By working together to make their own social action posters, they added their voices to the ongoing dialogue around these issues.”

wisconsin school of business undergraduate university of wisconsin

Lexi Burns (BBA '19) makes sure she spreads the paint evenly as she works on her poster for the Mercy Printmaking project at the Wheelhouse in Memorial Union on Monday, October 12.

Ben Massey (BBA ’19) describes the art portion of the project as “a unique and creative way to express our feelings about the book,” adding, “instead of simply discussing and answering questions about it, we were able to create our own interpretation. The images that we created can also serve as inspiration for those who are working for more righteous conditions for the oppressed.”

Massey connected his participation in Go Big Read to his leadership aspirations. “From reading the book Just Mercy, my eyes have been opened to the many injustices that some leaders impose on others still today,” he says. “As a future leader, I can now better recognize the negative effects of discrimination and unethical legal behavior.”

Kat Gavin (BBA ’19) talked about the challenge of translating her group’s interpretation of the book's themes into a work of art—a screenprint, no less. “We had to come up with a visual as a group, which was an interesting way to think about the book,” Gavin says. “We had to think of a theme and convey it in an image that would get viewers thinking about the things we believed the author was trying to get us to think about.”

The students’ posters were professionally mounted and displayed at an Innovation Fund donor event on Thursday, October 15. Suzanne Dove, assistant dean for academic innovations, who also manages the Innovation Fund, described the images as an example of how the Wisconsin School of Business prepares future business leaders by helping students reflect upon their experiences and learn about those of others.

“By giving students the time to reflect on the reading and the chance to work on an assignment where they could connect their thoughts with other perspectives and communicate these to an audience through the posters, we help them develop self-awareness, as well as the ability to understand others and see multiple—sometimes very different—perspectives on a complex issue,” says Dove. “We know that these are critical attributes for leadership development.”

Barker describes the poster project as a manifestation of the BBA program’s core values: cultural competence, being a global citizen, and social justice. “It offered us another way to encourage students to think creatively about the themes present in Just Mercy,” she says.

On Monday, October 26, several students will present their posters to Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson after his Go Big Read talk on campus.

“We hope he sees what we were trying to focus on and understands it,” says Gavin. “I’m excited to share my thoughts about the book with him and my gratitude toward him for sharing his story with us.”

Learn more about the Wisconsin BBA program.