Syracuse University Turns to Harry Potter to Motivate Business Students

To get undergraduates to care about corporate finance, the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University is going full-on Harry Potter. The business school is launching a program on Thursday that will place undergraduate business students into four teams, or “houses,” for the year, “each with a faculty advisor who serves as a house master, and each with its own name and shield, a la Harry Potter,” according to the school’s website.

Whitman School of Management

Students who overachieve will be awarded points that will count for their teams. Attending optional lectures, or getting a certificate in Microsoft Office, for example, will add to students’ point tallies. At the end of the year, the house with the most points will win a ceremonial cup and get a party with Whitman’s dean, says Kevin Bailey, a school spokesman. “That also was inspired by Harry Potter—the whole idea of the house cup.”

Bailey says that, like J.K. Rowling, Whitman took its cues from the long history of residential colleges at the U.K.’s University of Oxford. But when parents ask about the program, he says, the standard response is: “Well, you know Harry Potter, right?”

The Potter Plan, or as it’s officially known, the Goodman IMPRESS program, came out of a brainstorming session last year in which current students, faculty, and alumni discussed ways to make the student body more attractive to recruiters. The idea was to motivate students to attend more professional classes by making learning a competition.

“We were getting feedback from recruiters that [said]: ‘Oh, I wish your students were a little more polished, or knew a little bit more about accounting,’” says Bailey. “Employers are really looking for young people who can handle multiple responsibilities.”

This year’s freshman class, which contains about 400 students, will be the first to enter the program, which the school plans to continue for future incoming classes. Whitman is using a website designed by Bunchball, which makes online games for corporations. Students will consult the website for tips on how to amass points and will receive badges for certain achievements. They will also get access to a “leader board” that ranks students with the most points in each house.

It’s like FourSquare, but for your education. If you were a wizard.

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