Illustrated by Su Ji Kang.

The Business and Society Major, A Proposed Addition to NYUAD’s Undergraduate Program

As Business and Society awaits final approval, The Gazelle explores the origins and goals for this proposed Social Science major.

After 10 years and only a few thousand students who have passed through its ranks, NYU Abu Dhabi currently offers 25 undergraduate majors, with Interactive Media and Legal Studies as the most recent additions. But how many majors is ideal for a given university? When and how does the university determine when a gap needs to be filled by a new academic program?
As these questions remain unanswered for the institution, a proposed Business and Society major is slated to be the next undergraduate program to join NYUAD’s division of Social Science. As B&S awaits final approval, I explore the origins and goals for this proposed major.
The Origins: Student Desire for More Practical Skills
When Hervé Crès, Professor of Economics and former Dean of Social Sciences, first came to NYUAD, he noticed the disconnect between what students hoped to gain out of their undergraduate experience and what largely American, New York based well-off academics imagined. There was significant student interest in the limited number of business classes that were offered on campus, suggesting that many students wanted to enter the private sector or had aspirations to be entrepreneurs.
Often, these students found their place within the Economics Program, one that was growing in faculty and rigor. “We could suddenly create an Economics degree that would compete with the very best in the world in terms of its level of rigorous training and our ability to send people to graduate school,” explained Jeffery Timmons, Associate Professor of Political Science who designed the B&S program. “Of course, it meant that it was a little sub optimal for students that didn't want to become professional economists, those who had more applied interests.”
And so, Timmons decided to design a major that provided the fundamentals of economics but with a more holistic look at business and organizations. “Not everyone wants to do the more advanced math classes,” added Matea Kocevska, Class of 2020 who worked closely with Timmons. “I think it will allow for people from different disciplines to step in and explore their interests there.”
Nonetheless, the major is explicitly designed as a liberal arts program. “It's not vocational training, it's really assigning higher order skills,” explained Timmons. “If the 21st century is all about flexibility, learning on the job, we're trying to teach people to read, to write, to think strategically, to think creatively ... the expectation is your jobs will teach you more about business.”
An initial bulletin draft further illustrated the vision: “It is designed to give students a holistic perspective on business and society, rather than to train students in any particular aspect of business.” How does that vision translate into courses and a cohesive academic pathway?
Required Minors and an Entrepreneurship Capstone
The proposed major pathway requires three courses from Foundations of Social Science, two required Economics courses, a Math course and various electives. “We're doing as much as we can to interface technology. It starts with the Business and Technology course, though I think there will be subsequent courses I hope,” Timmons highlighted.
A distinctive characteristic of this program is a required minor or second major, which explicitly pushes students to bring knowledge from other disciplines into the business world. “B&S is more attractive to me because I think it allows for more openness in the field,” explained Megan Marzolf, Class of 2024, who is on track to study Economics, but hoping to pursue the new major if possible.
“I want to use this new major, along with minors in psych and design so I can learn how the market works, how people work and how to present these ideas in a way that is visually appealing,” continued Marzolf. “I think that sales are driven by a combination of all three of these aspects.”
Timmons further highlighted the useful combination of skills students would gain from their required minor, which could range from Philosophy to Computer Science to Interactive Media. The range of backgrounds will benefit students who may pursue an untraditional capstone path. “You get skills that you can apply in the workplace,” commented Julius Grüner, Class of 2021, who is soon to graduate with a degree in Economics. “One really good example is that for your capstone you can start your own business. This is an amazing opportunity to put your time and effort to practical use.”
Students can choose to pursue a traditional Capstone research project, but they also have the option for a Capstone in entrepreneurship. The proposed bulletin outlined the Capstone Seminar: “This course takes students through the essential elements of venture creation –– including idea generation, project finance, property rights protection and prototyping –– and finishes with a business plan and presentation.”
“It’s still a little bit aspirational,” explained Timmons, who understood that students were overall intrigued by the option. “There was this realization that startAD …was a resource that could be utilized more intensely.”
Nonetheless, for some, the novel aspects of the program are overshadowed by the fact that the courses are largely a collection of Economics electives, with Social Research and Public Policy and Political Science offerings sprinkled throughout.
“It feels like everything has been carved out of the existing Social Science curriculum,” expressed a student who wished to remain anonymous. “There’s barely any new additions to it, everything is just, let’s take one thing from Political Science, one thing from Economics and all these can cross-count as B&S, as opposed to a range of new course offerings which are fresh and haven’t been done before.”
Yet, the architects of the program expressed the difficulties of creating a new major with numerous top-down constraints. “It was very clear to create this major we had to be resource efficient,” Timmons defended. “The goal was to start by building with the current curriculum and the current faculty.”
The idea is for the major, like others at NYUAD, to leverage the global network for more specialized courses; B&S can be complimented by a semester at NYU Stern in New York, but also Shanghai, London, Madrid or Tel Aviv. “I hope there will be a good set of regularly offered courses here that set really strong foundations,” Timmons elaborated. “But then for a lot of the depth that people want to pick up, they do it through the network. That doesn't mean we won’t get there — it's just it's not in the immediate plan.”
So while the plan for the near future is largely constrained by available resources, with other sites filling the gaps, the hope is for the program to grow and become more robust over the years.
What’s Next for Business & Society?
Helming this new program is Jemima Frimpong, Associate Professor of Social Research and Public Policy, who will eventually transition into the role of Program Head.
With a PhD in Management from Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and previously teaching at the Carey Business School at John Hopkins, Frimpong is bringing her technical, business school experience into a new liberal arts setting. “I was really interested in applying organizational principles and theories to how we think about healthcare issues at the individual level,” said Frimpong, describing her research within the setting of healthcare organizations. More recently, she focuses on the role of discrimination and stereotyping in hiring decisions.
During Frimpong’s first semester at NYUAD, she is teaching Strategic Management. However, in imagining some ideal classes for the B&S major, Frimpong eventually wants course offerings like Design Thinking, Operations Management and a dedicated Business Ethics course.
“I would like to see more people who are involved in the industry teach a course, or even as a guest lecturer,” added Kocevska, who sees the potential insights non-academics would bring to the program.
However, creating a new major is not as simple as envisioning ideal courses. The approval process requires curriculum committees, the Provost and Vice Chancellor’s offices, as well as the partners in New York and Shanghai to all sign off on the proposals. Finally, all majors at NYUAD require individual accreditation by the Ministry's Commission on Academic Accreditation and the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
For example, the idea for Legal Studies, pushed forward by John Coughlin, Global Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Law, came about at a similar time as B&S but found immediate support within the Arts and Humanities Division.
“Law is a bit easier [to conceptualize within the liberal arts framework] because you can see the philosophy,” explained Crès, on why the B&S degrees was a more complicated idea to push forward. “You could be a better thinker, a better person, a better citizen just by practicing this very rich and powerful discipline.”
Nonetheless, as the B&S major finally nears the end of its internal and external approval process, NYUAD students eagerly await the potential new program.
“It allows students to set their own path — in a lot of ways, this is the essence of business itself,” exclaimed Marzolf, hoping to make the most of this major during her upcoming years. “This makes me excited to pursue this major because it will allow me to explore all realms of business with the use of strategy and creativity.”
Caroline Sullivan is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo