Faculty Director for Mendoza Honors Program discusses program’s structure and mission

The Mendoza Business Honors program enrolled its first cohort of students in the Class of 2024 this fall after the application process last spring.

“We want them to be—as we say—instantly recognizable not just as business graduates, but Notre Dame graduates. And that means something,” Jim Otteson, the Faculty Director of the Mendoza Honors Program, told the Irish Rover, regarding the students in this program. He discussed the program’s formation and logistics, especially emphasizing its mission.

After being appointed Dean of the Mendoza College of Business in 2019, K.J. Martijn Cremers released a statement with his plan to continue to be a force for good in the business world. This vision has since developed into the central motto of the Mendoza College of Business. Not only will students learn to grow companies or their own wealth, but also to “grow the good in business.” As Otteson said, “the idea of ‘growing the good in business’ presumes there can be good already there.”

The first cohort of undergraduate students in the newly formed Mendoza Honors Program formed this fall. Though Mendoza faculty members like Otteson and Craig Iffland, the Mendoza Honors Program Director, have been thinking about creating an honors program for several years, Otteson credits Dean Cremers and the one hundredth anniversary of Mendoza’s founding to much of the formation of the program: “It’s caused us to do a lot of inventory taking and thinking about what we’ve done well and where we would like to go in the next 100 years. One of the things [Cremers] thought would serve the undergraduates well is if we had an honors program.” The program itself is composed of three distinct elements: intellectual challenge, formation, and mentorship.

To challenge students academically, the honors program will offer existing classes on an honors level. These classes may dive deeper into the material or move more quickly than those same courses already existing in majors throughout the college. There will also be unique courses created specifically for the program as electives. Otteson stressed that when choosing and instructing Mendoza honors students, they are not simply looking for or educating the students with a perfect transcript. This honors program also looks to form students into “ambassadors for the university to the world.”

In order to form students who will act as ambassadors, the program supports students through a required one-credit course called the Honors Program Colloquium. Otteson told the Rover this course allows students to think about their moral purpose in the business world and become “good stewards using the gifts that they’ve received to create value in the world.” The Colloquium meets seven times each semester to hear established men and women in the business world discuss their experiences and how they found purpose and morality within their professional lives.

The third element of the program is mentorship. Each student is paired with one of seven upperclassmen or graduate student mentors who meet one-on-one to develop plans for their lives as a whole. These mentors will ask honors students big questions like “What do you want to do before the end of your life?” and then help them chart a plan to accomplish these big goals on a deeper level than just planning classes or extracurriculars.

Nate Gadiano, a first year graduate student in Italian Studies, serves as a mentor for students in the honors program. He told the Rover: “In the mentoring, you’re combining high ideals and lofty, transcendent notions with very nitty-gritty, practical concerns.” He emphasized the importance of imbuing each moment of work with the “big picture ideals which often just become nothing but cliches.” As a mentor, he helps students “turn the cliche into the concrete,” as he stated, helping students identify small everyday actions which align with their core values.

In the future, the program plans to accept a cohort of approximately 60 sophomore students who are seeking to grapple with business ethics and what it means to practice honorable business in today’s culture. Though some logistical aspects are still in development, Otteson believes the program and its mission fit in perfectly in the scope of the University of Notre Dame and the College of Business as a whole. “If you’re going to be a person who’s going to study business or dedicate your life to business, you can’t be a virtuous person only in the evening and on the weekend,” he said. The Honors Program seeks to form students who will be virtuous at all times, especially in their business practices.

Lauren Douglas is a freshman studying English and Theology in the Glynn Family Honors Program. She aspires to be a creative writer much like a combination of Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis. If you have any fun writing prompts, feel free to send them—or any questions, comments, and concerns—to ldougla4@nd.edu

Photo credit: Lauren Douglas