Originally created 03/31/97

Ties vital to Aiken school



This is the last of a three- part series on business schools in Augusta area. Today, "The Augusta Chronicle" profiles the University of South Carolina at Aiken School of Business Administration and Economics.

Larry King buys what the University of South Carolina-Aiken is selling. Last year he hired three of the business school's graduates to work at Fastenal Co., where he is the district sales manager for Georgia.

He has found that USC-Aiken graduates complete Fastenal's training program faster. This year he expects to hire even more students because he was so pleased with his last trip to the school.

"They prepare you for the big city out of a small town; they prepare you for the world," Mr. King said. Aiken offers fewer distractions than colleges in bigger cities, he said.

Aiken's size and charm also brought Niren M. Vyas to the business school, to stay. Dr. Vyas, head of the School of Business Administration and Economics, gave up a high-powered career as a marketing manager with Square D electrical company rather than take a transfer out of state.

While joining the academic world, Dr. Vyas stays connected with the business world as a consultant and by drawing on his corporate experience. It is the same connections he hopes to see for the business school.

"If I'm teaching business and I haven't run a business, what kind of credibility do I have?" he said.

He stresses that his professors consult with five local businesses and encourage their students to make projects out of case studies of Aiken-area companies. He sees a dual goal for the business school of sharing academic resources with the community while also exposing students - 600 of the 3,000 total at the university - to practical experience.

From the 1950s to the mid-1990s, business schools traditionally tried to prepare students to become middle managers at Fortune 500 corporations. Dr. Vyas shifted gears by focusing on small businesses spawned by entrepreneurs or franchises.

He points to the small business job creation as the solution to unemployment caused by layoffs at Savannah River Site.

The business school offers courses in entrepreneurship along with seminars, newsletters and trade shows. College students teach it to high school students, and Dr. Vyas preaches its gospel at every occasion.

He has nudged the faculty into offering new courses in small business operation and international business.

He is also trying to build a "brand image" for the school to combat declining enrollment. Although the university extends residence status to students from two Georgia counties, he admits struggling to compete with the HOPE Scholarship advantage Georgia colleges have.

USC-Aiken's brand image, in Dr. Vyas' vision, begins with applying in the business school those skills employers request. For example, he has implemented teamwork practices called partnering among his faculty.

"In the school of business we certainly work more as a team, consciously, than we did a few years ago," said Donald Mitcham, management professor. The faculty works in teams toward earning accreditation for the business school from the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, he said.

Another example is the work the school has done fine tuning the computer courses.

Policy Management Systems Corp., which has hired many USC-Aiken interns and graduates, is working with the faculty about designing courses with more practical applications of computers.

"The students who come out of our colleges, particularly the business schools, are extremely well-prepared in marketing, accounting and the fundamental business skills,"said Mike Mazen, assistant vice president of professional training and development for Policy Management.

"The students coming out of USC-Aiken will have a leg up."