Small class sizes, a focus on teamwork, and a semester-long case competition are defining features of Georgetown McDonough’s selective First Year Seminar program, celebrating its ninth anniversary in 2018-2019.

Each fall, first-year students in the Undergraduate Program have the opportunity to sign up for one of 12 courses of 20 students each designed to provide an introduction to the principles and skills they’ll need to succeed in business school, including strengthening academic reading and writing skills. Each seminar focuses on a different topic, from the evolution of business enterprise to patterns of global commerce to Jesuit leadership.

The program also partners with a nonprofit to present a real-world business challenge that students work on throughout the semester in groups of four or five. The integrated nature of the case competition into the curriculum is a unique feature of Georgetown’s program, said Monija Amani, senior assistant dean in the Undergraduate Program.

This academic year, the program partnered with ZOE, a nonprofit aimed at empowering children in the developing world and breaking the dependence on charity. Students addressed the challenge of how to increase ZOE’s funding and expand its philanthropic reach to those who need it. The winning team proposed a campaign to increase brand awareness by marketing ZOE to a younger audience and by introducing brand ambassadors.

Students of the winning team said the experience of working intensely in groups was a valuable one, both in terms of acclimating to the McDonough School of Business and strengthening their academic performance. “I’m still friends with the people I was in a group with,” said Gina Grillo (B’22). “We shared so many late nights, making jokes and cracking up at 2 a.m. I think that’s really how we won: The time that we spent together was fun.”

Trinity Johnson (B’22) added that she was able to apply the material covered in her seminar, Individual Differences in the Workplace with Professor Michael O’Leary, to her case competition team. “It helped because we talk about what makes teams work together, like how do you reconcile these differences between people, and looking in hindsight that really helped us work together,” she said.

Across the 12 sections, teamwork is a key skill. Daniela Brancaforte, senior assistant dean of the Undergraduate Program, said that teaching her students to work together is an important part of her seminar, Anthropology in Business. “I want to make sure that they get to know each other as peers, and that they know how to work together,” Brancaforte said.

Other students said that the small class sizes made it easier to have access to the professors. “It’s nice in the way that there’s easier access to your professor. He’s always willing to meet you with, and not just about schoolwork,” said Ahmed Ibrahim (B’22), referring to O’Leary.

The program has a strong basis in intellectual thought that aligns with Georgetown’s focus on academic excellence. Ronald Goodstein, associate professor of marketing, provides the fundamentals of marketing in his seminar and expects his students to learn quickly. “It’s tailored to students as if they are global marketing managers,” he said. “I don’t treat them like they’re freshmen and new, I treat them like they’re young executives that need more experience.”

For Goodstein, the chance to work with first-year students is rewarding. “It is unbelievably fun to teach it, because the first-year students are smart, and kids here have a heart,” he said. “The ethical and moral and social issues with business scenarios is just as important to them as making money.”