As dean of the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at MTSU, David Urban feels a deep responsibility to ensure his graduates are equipped with the skills necessary to forge business and personal relationships that go much deeper than an email, text or phone call.
That's why he worked to bring Dale Carnegie Training to Jones College in 2015, entering an exclusive partnership in Tennessee with the internationally recognized professional development training organization. The move made Jones College the first collegiate business school in the nation to require the course as part of its curriculum to graduate.
Thus far more than 1,250 MTSU business students have taken the semester-long course and more than a dozen faculty and staff members have become certified instructors. Offered to undergraduate business majors starting their junior year, students are taught the invaluable human relations principles and "soft skills" that many employers are seeking in today's job candidates.
Urban's commitment earned him Dale Carnegie's top honor, its Global Leadership Award, presented to a surprised Urban earlier this spring by Joe Hart, president and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training Worldwide, during a meeting of the Nashville Cable women's professional networking group.
Hart told the crowd that the award is given to people and organizations who have made "very significant investment into the talent development of their people," and Urban has done so at MTSU through a commitment to Dale Carnegie that was both "consistent" and "aspirational."
"It was a vision that said 'I want to make sure that my students are becoming the very best selves that they can be,'" Hart said. "It's someone who said, 'I know this hasn't really been done before in a university setting, but I believe in the students, I believe in the university.'"
Urban calls implementation of Dale Carnegie within the Jones College curriculum "a transformational experience" for students, with hands-on learning that nicely complements the university's ongoing experiential learning and MT Engage curriculum enhancement plans.
"We get calls fairly often from other universities that have heard about what we're doing and want to know how we did it," he said. "I think we're really on to something."
International companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Verizon, FedEx, Charles Schwab and Apple are among those honored since the Global Leadership Award began in 1985. While noting less than 10 leaders each year receive the award, Allyn Walker, president of Dale Carnegie Tennessee, said Urban was chosen "due to his extraordinary commitment to the success of the students of the Jones College of Business."
"He led and developed the unique relationship with Dale Carnegie that provides students with the professional development training coveted by employers," Walker said. "The students build skills that separate them from their fellow graduates."
For his part, Urban recognized that the prevalence of electronic media has somewhat distorted the importance of having meaningful relationships, particularly among millennials, who excel at maximizing digital media, but sometimes at the expense of more personal, face-to-face interactions.
"What really matters in business is the depth of the relationship," Urban said. "Those are the relationships that endure, and in those relationships, you have to go way beyond what you could ever achieve with an electronic device."
Those principles -- outlined just over 80 years ago by Dale Carnegie's foundational book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and built upon over the years by others -- are grooming the next generation of business leaders at MTSU. Students are forced to leave their comfort zones in many cases to directly apply the principles and share their experiences with classmates.
"It's training them not just to be comfortable with getting up on their feet and talking in front of other people, but to be concise and get their message across in a direct way," Urban said, adding that student feedback thus far points to improvement in their self-confidence and personal relationships.
As one student shared: "Dale Carnegie has truly helped me to harness the good nature of people and to want to bring out the best in others and myself." Another: "Worry no longer controls me; I don't let it consume my mind and life."
Paula Calahan, an adviser in the Jones College of Business and one of the certified Dale Carnegie instructors, has seen the impact first hand.
She was among faculty and staff within Jones College who responded to Urban's invitation to participate in a three-day Dale Carnegie immersion course to get a feel for what it offers. Those who wanted to become instructors underwent further training, including teaching the full 12-session course twice while being monitored by a Dale Carnegie master trainer.
A Jones College alumna with a degree in marketing and business education, Calahan went on to teach marketing and economics for 10 years within Rutherford County Schools before teaching University Studies courses at MTSU for several years.
"For me it was like doing student teaching again," she said of becoming a Dale Carnegie instructor. "The interest to me was learning something new. I had 20 years of teaching method experience, but I knew that Carnegie had something special that I could add to my toolbox."
The experience thus far has been "amazing," said Calahan, whom Urban named Outstanding Dale Carnegie Trainer at MTSU for 2016-17.
"Students come in a little skeptical when they find out the required textbook is 'How to Win Friends and Influence People,'" Calahan said. "They come in with the mindset of, 'I have friends; I don't need any more friends.'"
But as students progress through the course and learn more about Carnegie's human relations principles, "it starts to click," she said. Students are given homework assignments where they apply the human relations principles and are required to report back to the class.
"The techniques are so simple that they're like, 'Why haven't I done this before?'" she said. "And by the end they're true believers and are all in."
The Dale Carnegie Course is the first course at MTSU in which all sections across all instructors have been approved as MT Engage courses and Experiential Learning, or EXL, courses. MT Engage is the university's latest Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, and emphasizes reflective and applied learning. It was preceded by EXL, which emphasizes hands-on learning outside of the classroom.
"At Jones College, we are committed to student success and will continue to find new ways to connect with our students so they will learn by doing," Urban said.