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Math + business + economics is a winning formula

An Artist's rendering of the new Global Innovation Exchange building at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Wilfrid Laurier

Math is the new business. At least, that's what Wilfrid Laurier University's business school suggests, as it looks to add that department to the school's new building.

The new home of the business school, currently under construction, reflects the university's ambitious plans for its rapidly growing school and marks the start of a new initiative to encourage more interdisciplinary collaboration, research and integrated learning in business education.

Site preparation is under way and construction is expected to start soon on the Global Innovation Exchange (GIE), a new building that will house Laurier's School of Business and Economics and its Department of Math. The facility, expected to open in 2014, will have pride of place on Laurier's Waterloo campus and will serve as a gateway to the university.

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It will give the business school more visibility and exposure in Waterloo, especially among the area's high tech industry and other organizations, said Bill Banks, acting dean of business and economics.

"We have a lot of business partners here," he says. "What we are trying to do is make our facility also part of their facility," and encourage interaction and collaboration that will ultimately benefit students. "If a business student can talk to executives in the trenches, then that's better than just talking to faculty members," he explains.

The initiative also aims to encourage more collaboration between the three disciplines that will be housed in the new building. Wilfrid Laurier has always grouped business and economics together within the same school. The addition of the math department will be new, a reflection of the ties that have been building in recent years between business and financial and applied math.

Sharing office and classroom space will also provide the chance to undertake interdisciplinary research, Dr. Banks says. It will also foster more integrated learning, a common practice at Laurier that sees professors from different disciplines co-teach a class.

The building itself is designed to encourage interaction. The 215,000-square-foot facility will feature seven lecture halls and a 1,000-seat auditorium. Classrooms will be shared among the three programs and faculty offices will be scattered throughout the building, rather than clustered by discipline.

The hope is that the informal discussions that take place in hallways and coffee shops will breed new ideas for research opportunities and other collaborations, Dr. Banks explains. Within classrooms, business and math students will sit side by side, wrestling with various issues and problems.

Dr. Banks says the collaboration could lead to the introduction of new joint and double degrees. Laurier's business school currently offers a five-year double degree in which students receive a bachelor of business administration from Laurier and an undergraduate degree in math from the University of Waterloo. It also offers a double degree in computer science and business and has several more on the drawing board, Dr. Banks says.

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The $103-million building is also intended to alleviate a severe space crunch at Laurier and allow it to meet the growing demand for enrolment in the three programs. It will accommodate 2,000 business, economics and math students.

"Laurier business is one of the most rapidly expanding programs in the province," Dr. Banks says. The Ontario government announced in June it would contribute $72.6-million to the project; the remainder will be raised by Laurier.

The GIE will also help the school boost its international reputation. Laurier plans to introduce more opportunities for foreign exchanges among students and faculty, and eventually an international MBA program, the next step in its expansion plans.

Laurier is one of several Canadian business schools in the midst of expanding, including the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, York University's Schulich School of Business, McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business and the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business. The trend reflects increased competition for students among business schools, as well as strong student demand for business education – which is no surprise, given the current turbulence in the economy, according to Dr. Banks.

Students are "nervous about jobs and their futures," he said, and believe that business and other professional schools can deliver some measure of employment and financial security. "I think it's all about jobs," he added. "Anything that seems to have a flight path into a career, the students are more interested in."

The trend has, to some extent, worked against arts and humanities departments, many of which are retrenching or shutting programs. This could turnaround in a few years, Dr. Banks posited.

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But for now, "it's our time," he says.

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