Oddly enough, a multitude of conversations in the Walla Walla University School of Business during winter quarter centered around white bread—those soft, doughy loaves once considered a “superfood.” Discussions focused on: “What constitutes ‘good food’?” “What do our thoughts about white bread say about social hierarchy?” “How do food experts and companies with profits to make shape the type of food we eat?”
Every business student at WWU winter quarter was reading Aaron Bobrow-Strain’s book “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf.” As part of the School of Business colloquium series, “White Bread” was one of four books WWU business students have read together during the last four years—one book each year.
“My goal for the reading colloquium is to expose business students to new ways of looking at the world and to how many different forces influence success and failure,” said Josefer Montes, professor of business and dean of the School of Business.
As students begin their business careers, Montes encourages them to continue reading books for “education and edification” and not merely for a grade. “It’s truly among one of the best ways to open your mind and your imagination to the possibilities of commerce,” he says. “There is a reason that most top business leaders are voracious readers. They never stop learning. There is also a reason that American business history is littered with once-great companies that are now in commerce’s trash heap. They stopped learning!”
In addition to “White Bread,” business students have read “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don’t” by Nate Silver, who looks at how forecasters use statistics to make accurate predictions about areas such as politics, the weather, baseball, and even business; “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone, an in-depth look at the rise of Amazon; and “Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace about the success of Pixar Studios.
Each business student is automatically enrolled in the required colloquium series, which is similar to a book club except that discussions are held online. Students read together or read on their own and are required to post one original thought and make two comments about a question posed by Montes.
Bringing it all together
Shandra Cady, senior business major, said the reading colloquium has been very helpful in providing a well-rounded look at business practices. “This summer I’ll start a two-year residency at the Adventist Health System corporate office in Orlando. The books we’ve read as part of the colloquium were helpful in the sense that they overlap marketing with successful business approaches and with quality service.”
“This year we were fortunate enough to bring in the author of ‘White Bread’ to speak on campus,” said Montes. “Some questions students asked him dealt with corporate ethics. At one point in his presentation he said that maybe what will change questionable business practices are business schools like the one at WWU that have moral and ethical underpinnings.”
Montes says the reading colloquium is an inexpensive way to round out business education. “Students get great instruction in the classroom; they get great experience via internships and class projects; and then reading a book by someone successful gives them a chance to pick the brain of a successful person for just $15,” he says.
Beyond the core expectations of a business student, such as accounting, marketing, economics, and finance, Montes says, “We must ensure that students leave WWU with world-class communication and writing skills, along with having read an impressive canon of business literature, business periodicals, journal articles, and trade books.”
“I want students to have some shared experiences that are part of being in the School of Business,” says Montes. “The reading colloquium becomes an anchor point in their collegiate experience that gets them thinking about what’s being written outside the classroom by thought leaders who shape the business world of the future.”
Posted April 15, 2016