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Corporate social responsibility is a core value of the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business

Dean MaryAnne Hyland, PhD, has been named a 2024 Power Player in Corporate Social Responsibility. But the honor, she says, belongs to the entire Robert B. Willumstad School of Business.

PoliticsNY recently named MaryAnne Hyland, PhD, dean of the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business, one of the 2024 Power Players in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The list honors those who are “pioneering social responsibility within their organizations,” with a dedication to “positive change and shaping a brighter future for all.”

It’s a recognition Dr. Hyland described as “very humbling,” but she quickly shifted the credit to where she said it really belongs.

“It is the School that has done all the work,” Dr. Hyland said, “and that is because developing socially responsible leaders is an integral part of our mission.”

She defines CSR as “creating a positive impact on society through one or more strategies or initiatives. It can involve minimizing environmental impact, improving the workplace, supporting community causes, charitable giving, among others.”

Dr. Hyland explains that the School is focused on two of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to guide its CSR efforts. The first goal, she said, is providing a quality education that is inclusive and equitable. The second is reducing inequalities, especially as related to education.

A Mix of Classroom Education and Real-World Insights

This focus on CSR has become more structured over the years. As a result, the School offers a business education today that is a strong mix of classroom education and real-world insights. Courses include case studies and decision-making exercises that “give students an understanding of how to address CSR in the business world and the tradeoffs that might be required,” Dr. Hyland explained. “We also have ethics as one of our School’s learning goals, and CSR comes into play there, too.”

Additionally, students hear from guest speakers—many of whom are Willumstad alumni—who can tell them about the challenges of implementing CSR in the world of business they will encounter after they graduate, where “doing good” and “doing well” are often at odds.

“CSR is something that remains aspirational for many organizations,” Dr. Hyland said. “There has been a lot of progress, but there is still plenty of room for growth. If a company wants to get CSR right, they should be addressing all their stakeholders. That’s the ‘doing good’ part of their business, and some companies are real leaders in achieving that.”

The School’s commitment to CSR continues to evolve. The annual Business Plan Competition, for example, added an award category in 2022 for the best socially responsible plan. The goal, Dr. Hyland said, is to encourage students to think of CSR as an integral component when developing their business concept and writing their plan.

Faculty Research: Practicing What They Teach

For Willumstad faculty, moving CSR forward in their scholarly pursuits—practicing what they teach—is a key part of their role in the School’s mission.

“I’m especially proud of what our faculty has done in their research,” Dr. Hyland said. She cites several projects, including studies of CO2 emission abatement by Zhimin Huang, PhD; employee physical fatigue by Zahra Sedighi Maman, PhD; and the implications of self-reporting CSR activities by Yun Jung Lee, PhD.

But in the end, the result of all the combined efforts is the “product” that goes out the door: the Willumstad graduates.

“When our students graduate, many of them are interested in CSR,” Dr. Hyland said. “They often look for companies known for being socially responsible.”

The hope is that the values embedded in the School’s curriculum have also become embedded in its new alumni. Dr. Hyland says the School strives to envelop students in what she calls “a culture of conscience.” It’s not only increasingly important in preparing them for the business world they will enter, but also, like CSR itself, she said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

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