Class of students working at desks.

Image Credit: College of Business

Faculty from two Clemson colleges have established a business anthropology undergraduate certificate program that seeks to address business issues through the lens of social science. Faculty designed the program to better prepare students for a business world that has grown increasingly dependent on strategy informed by research that examines culture, customer experience and employee behavior.

Melissa Vogel, director of the program and a professor in the sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department, said business majors understand hard data, but can benefit from using more qualitative research to better understand customers. Conversely, anthropology graduates who want to apply their skills in industry benefit from a better grounding in the business world.

“Both of these worlds are about data as much as they are about people, so students should be prepared to work with both,” Vogel said. “Research that answers questions related to customer and employee behavior and motivation has become more important in industries across the board.”

Vogel said students gain a major advantage if they graduate with the ability to answer crucial “why” questions related to market research and user experience, as businesses are increasingly pressured to better shape a product before launch. Knowing in advance what a large section of the population wants to see in a car, for example, will only increase the chances a business designs one that best serves its audience.

Vogel also cites business decisions that may seem inconsequential on the surface, such as setting up lighting or arranging furniture in an office space. Decisions like these have a major cumulative effect on employee productivity, so qualitative research in the form of spatial analysis and user experience that captures employees’ reactions to their environment can have a long-term, tangible benefit for businesses.

Anastasia Thyroff, assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business, is one of several faculty members involved in the interdisciplinary curriculum committee tasked with designing the program. She said in a business world where cultural and economic value are ever entwined, understanding both is a necessity and not a luxury.

“Business anthropology allows businesses to translate those values into strong economic propositions,” Thyroff said. “It’s more important now than ever to understand the underlying meanings and motivations behind data.”

Vogel and Thyroff are joined on the committee by College of Business faculty members Gail De Priest, Aleda Roth and Tom Zagenczyk as well as Marissa Shuffler from the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences. Thyroff said the collaboration between both colleges has been defined by great energy and vision from the start.

“We have leaders on the committee from many corners of the university,” Thyroff said. “We all see how the program can benefit students directly, and we’re excited to see students’ response to it.”

Beginning in spring 2018, students in any major will be able to easily augment their plan of study with the program, and upon graduation they will receive both their undergraduate degree and a certification in business anthropology. The interdisciplinary curriculum committee also hopes to create a more intensive, graduate certificate program geared toward graduate students and professionals in the corporate world.

Vogel said the committee also plans to create research opportunities for the program’s students through Creative Inquiry. These research projects would ideally stem from problems presented to the research team by businesses willing to sponsor a Creative Inquiry project.

“The prospect of having our students conducting research that they will get to see put to real use in the business world is exciting for the program,” Vogel said. “These projects will allow all students regardless of major to see how this interdisciplinary program benefits them.”