In December 2007, the nation stood by helplessly as the stock market plummeted and unemployment climbed. Consumer confidence fell to an all-time low in October 2008—only to fall again two months later. In such a turbulent economic climate, professors at the University of Cincinnati College of Business recognized the need to act. Operations and business analytics professor Amit Raturi was especially concerned with the needs of Cincinnatians who had recently found themselves out of work. He felt that “as a college, we need to make a statement in terms of ‘we care.'” That sentiment marked the beginning of the Back to Business Program.
A specialist in manufacturing planning and scheduling and operations strategy, Raturi has published over 30 papers and consulted for more than 30 manufacturing firms. In February of 2009, he proposed that the UC College of Business offer a workshop to bring recently displaced mid-level managers in Cincinnati up to date on a variety of business topics. “The faculty response was overwhelmingly positive,” he recalls.
Raturi and a group of faculty members refined the idea into a free mini-course designed to provide a solid business foundation. Through 16 four-hour sessions, the Back to Business program covers topics ranging from analytics and human resources to marketing and social entrepreneurship. The free program requires only a $500 deposit—and provides a full refund upon completion of the program. By the time the program was ready to launch, 11 faculty members (including Raturi) had volunteered to teach the sessions pro bono.
By visiting networking and job search support groups, Raturi recruited 33 participants for the program's first cohort. “The fascinating part was the way the group came together,” Raturi says. Before the first group even graduated in July 2009, participants were networking via LinkedIn and passing along job postings through email.
The program was offered a second time in fall 2009, and by the time the second group graduated, more than 23 of the program's participants had found jobs. One graduate even gained the confidence and the know-how to launch his own market research consulting firm.
Emails regularly circulate among group participants sharing their successes and their appreciation of the Back to Business program. The first two cohorts even sent letters praising the program directly to the University of Cincinnati president. “We are certain that the experience of this class has given all of us tools and motivation that will help us in our future careers,” the summer 2009 class wrote. One participant added, “UC's response to the lagging economy strikes me as part of our society's best hope for recovery and long-term survival.”
Such words found their way to the Just Community Awards nomination committee, which identifies individuals across the campus who best demonstrate the values of community by displaying a high standard of contribution to student life both within one's college and the campus community. Raturi was selected to receive a Just Community Award in May 2010, just as the third iteration of the Back to Business Program began.
“It's gratifying,” Raturi says about the award, “but it's not why we're doing the program.” He emphasizes that the true reward is the economic impact the program has on the community by giving displaced individuals an edge that helps them land new jobs.
“Our main concern with this whole process was to make it an uplifting experience,” he says. “What comes through in an interview is not just the content, it's confidence.”