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3 Keys to Business Success—and How to Teach Them in Class

Building a business involves more than seed money. Business instructor Steve Riccio, EdD, shows students how to drive ideas forward in a values-based way.


Steve Riccio, EdD, SPHR, CPC

Lecturer in International Business and Management, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA

EdD in Educational Administration, MPA in Public Administration, BS in Education, iPEC Certified Professional Coach

Steve Riccio, EdD, a lecturer in International Business and Management at Dickinson College, starts every semester by handing out a syllabus, affixed to which is a quote, two font sizes larger than the rest of the text:

“People don’t learn well when their major learning context is teacher-centered—that is, when they passively listen to a teacher talk. Rather, they learn when they are actively engaged in an activity, a life experience.”

The quote, from Teaching at Its Best by Linda B. Nilson, PhD—an internationally known expert on college teaching—has become not only a guiding light for Riccio but also a signal to his Fundamentals of Business students that his class will take them well beyond the textbook. Indeed, Riccio’s own life experience extends far outside the classroom.

He has worked as a human resource and change management consultant with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to state and local nonprofits, and he now shares his real-world experiences with his students.

“You cannot learn business in a classroom,” Riccio asserts. “We can conduct simulations and case studies, but more importantly, we need to get students out in the community to help them become working professionals.”

To help students become savvy and sensitive entrepreneurs, Riccio has developed three types of revelatory experiences within the main business courses he teaches: Fundamentals of Business, International Organizational Behavior, Human Resources Management, and Applied Business Ethics. In each of these settings, detailed below, his goal is to help students learn how to associate their classroom learnings with ethical practices that can benefit their business, their community, and the wider world.


“One thing I love is having opportunities to share with students who are aspiring leaders, thirsting for knowledge. It relates to my purpose of contributing to the greater good. Facilitating the learning process as a mentor. Outside of being a parent—there’s no greater gift in the world.”

— Steve Riccio, EdD

Course: INBM 100 Fundamentals of Business

Course description: This course features an introductory focus on a wide range of business subjects including the following: business in a global environment; forms of business ownership including small businesses, partnerships, multinational and domestic corporations, joint ventures, and franchises; management decision making; ethics; marketing; accounting; management information systems; human resources; finance; business law; taxation; uses of the internet in business; and how all of the above are integrated into running a successful business. You will learn how a company gets ideas, develops products, raises money, makes its products, sells them and accounts for the money earned and spent.

See resources shared by Steve Riccio, EdD

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Below are Riccio’s three strategies—and how he brings them to life in the classroom and beyond.

1. Create a (fictitious) business

Riccio’s intro-level Fundamentals of Business course requires students to create a fictitious business from the ground up. The project unfurls in segments so students can experience each phase of entrepreneurship and evolve their group’s idea into a thriving business. The overarching goal is for the business to achieve long-term profitability while ensuring that employees are intrinsically and extrinsically engaged. Some examples:

Chose a company that is complex enough. Riccio’s students work in teams of eight to generate ideas for a new company. It must be community based, require a team of employees, be housed in a physical space (whether that is a food truck or a five-story building), be sustainable, and be beneficial to society. This can mean anything from peddling reusable water bottles to selling fair-trade coffee to employing at-risk youth.

Create a charter. Riccio has his students create a charter that they use as a gut check for their work after each segment. “They can determine whether or not they’re living up to their charter’s expectations,” Riccio says.

Applying the Lesson to Any Course

As this story discusses, Steve Riccio, EdD, weaves practical business instruction as well as values into all of his courses, including upper-level classes that move beyond Fundamentals of Business. He is currently using these practices in several courses, which are listed here with their official course catalogue descriptions.

INBM 230 International Organizational Behavior: This course looks at how human systems function within the structure of the organization and how individual and group behaviors affect collective organizational culture and organizational effectiveness. Students study individual, interpersonal, and group processes; the relationship between attitudes and behavior; ethical decision-making; and the management of organizational conflict and change. Approaches for developing leadership, managing conflict, communicating effectively, enhancing efficiency, and encouraging organizational adaption to changing environments are explored. Examples taken from domestic and international organizations are used throughout the course.

INBM 300 Human Resources Management: Sustained organizational success is directly related to the effective management of its human resources. Respected and observant leaders widely acknowledge the value associated with recruiting, retaining, rewarding, and recognizing talent to be successful contributors to their organizations mission. This course examines human resource practices managers and organizations must prioritize, regardless of size or industry, while attempting to remain competitive in the today’s global climate.

INBM 300 Applied Business Ethics: The course will focus on the contemporary realities of business professionals who must work in culturally diverse arenas when resolving personal and socially ethical questions. As future employees and managers, students must be aware of the possible results of their actions (as well as others) and understand that sometimes fine ethical balance is required in reconciling the needs of the enterprise, the demands of business practice, and their own personal lens. While the course is designed to prepare you for future challenges, we will also examine current (the college climate) and past environments to identify your natural tendencies related to ethical decision making. The course will be conducted primarily through class discussion, case analysis, as well as individual and small group exercises.

Tackle real-world challenges. Students must develop a management structure and create financial statements—although they get a little help from the accounting department in making spreadsheets. Students must also learn how to deal with conflict within their groups, such as missed deadlines and subpar work. “If this is conducted in a respectful manner, [students] will certainly benefit from the experience,” says Riccio.

Make a Shark Tank–style pitch. At the end of the course, students must pitch their company to fellow students, who serve as fictitious investors. Each student has $10,000 in fake money. They can invest nothing, $2,500, $5,000, $7,500, or $10,000 in ventures not their own. Riccio says some businesses have gone on to become a reality, including a student-run, on-campus dog-sitting service and a pedal-bike coffee stand that sells fair-trade coffee.

2. Work well with people

“I would argue that it is essential for students to both comprehend and appreciate the foundational principles of managing human resources, regardless of their future career path,” Riccio says. Some examples:

Take on the role of hiring manager. In the business-building activity in his Fundamentals of Business course, he has students determine how they are going to hire, support, and keep employees engaged. They are not allowed to hire themselves and, even if they plan to pay minimum wage, they must complete a survey analysis of salaries for similar positions in their region, as well as account for benefits. “Sometimes it’s a lightbulb moment,” he says. “Students realize, ‘Oh, people cost money.’”

Students run the interviews themselves, too, which can be challenging and requires a high level of emotional intelligence. “It teaches students, first and foremost, how to listen, as well as how to handle sensitive information,” Riccio says. “The key is to not only prep students for these conversations but to also give them time to reflect. That can help define what was eye-opening for them.”

Research cultural differences. In his International Organizational Behavior course, Riccio assigns student teams a country. Each group researches the cultural and professional considerations that shape business interaction in that country, then create an experiential exercise to demonstrate what they have learned to the rest of the class. They act as training teams, onboarding employees as if they were going to work in another country. Students must present in a way that is experiential, so the class has the opportunity to practice what it would be like to work and live in that culture.

Serve a real client in the community. Finally, in Riccio’s 300-level Human Resources Management course, students participate in a community-based project, which differs every semester based on both the client and the need. Clients can be for-profit or nonprofit organizations, and the need can be anything from developing employee policies to making recommendations to improve employee retention.

3. Integrate ethics into everything

While ethical behavior is woven throughout all of Riccio’s coursework, his 300-level Applied Business Ethics course takes a deep dive into the subject as students participate in two major projects:

Analyze the ethics of a business character. The first is to identify and analyze a movie that has a strong tie to business ethics. “The students love movies, and most often pick The Wolf of Wall Street, Wall Street, or Up in the Air,” he says. The students then have to consider how the main characters can live with themselves when their profession is, say, in George Clooney’s case in Up in the Air, making a living as a corporate downsizer. “They have to reflect on that and discuss how it relates to class content,” Riccio says.

Create a business ethics TED-style talk. Riccio’s students must also compete to participate in the school’s Annual Ethics Symposium. This begins when Dickinson College’s ethicist on campus creates a writing prompt for the event—usually on something topical, such as artificial intelligence or pay equality. Riccio encourages his students to reflect on the prompt and design a presentation that has implications for business. Then they must each create a related six-minute, TED Talk–type presentation. Based on these presentations, each 16-student section of Riccio’s Applied Business Ethics class votes to send one member to represent them at the symposium.

“The students have to make an argument, have a strong conviction, and finish up with a call to action,” Riccio says. “Their audience is made up of fellow students, and they have to tailor the talk to them—and give them something to think about.”

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