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An Interview with the Dean
Dean Dr. Marilyn M. Helms, Dalton State College's Wright School of Business

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Dean Dr. Marilyn Helms

When proposed students decide to pursue a business degree, they embark on a daunting journey of figuring out what college or university to attend. Also, there are even more degree programs to research when trying to decide the right fit for each student’s current circumstances and desired career. Many questions fill their minds regarding tuition, required credit hours, scholarships, courses, online options, the school’s history, and professional development opportunities. This information can be found on the institution’s website, but what about the more in-depth story? College Consensus had the privilege of talking to Dr. Marilyn M. Helms, Dean of the Wright School of Business at Dalton State College, to find out the story.  

In northwest Georgia, Dalton State College sits at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the city of Dalton. It began in 1963 as Dalton Junior College. It is now part of the University System of Georgia and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools, Commission on Colleges. Nearly 5,000 students are working towards completing bachelor’s and associate’s degrees and certificate programs. The College’s core values include excellence, diversity and inclusion, respect and collegiality, opportunity and access for all, commitment to service and collaboration, and a culture of accountability.  

The Wright School of Business provides opportunities for student innovation, community impact, and engagement. It also makes sure to connect business students with local businesses through the Business Accelerator. In 2019, Gignilliat Hall’s modern renovation was completed, providing business students with state-of-the-art amenities, including a finance lab, interview rooms, a marketing focus group lab, and an atrium for networking events.

The AACSB-accredited business programs include the Bachelor’s in Business Administration degree with majors in Management, Marketing, Accounting, Logistics & Supply Chain Management, Finance & Applied Economics, and Management Information Systems. Business students can also minor in Entrepreneurship, Human Resource Management, Business Analytics, Finance, International Business, Financial Technology, and Forensic Accounting. All coursework involves independent study, research, real-world projects, and case studies to allow experiential learning opportunities. A flexible and accessible way to earn an undergraduate degree from the Wright School of Business is through the fully online Bachelor’s in Organizational Leadership with tracks in Office Administration, Healthcare Administration, and Public Service. 

College Consensus: Please tell us about the Wright School of Business, and what makes it unique? 

Dr. Helms: DSC transitioned to a four-year institution in 1999, offering the first of many bachelor’s degrees to follow. The first four-year degrees were in business supported by the area carpet and floor covering industry in the northwest Georgia area. From operations management closely followed management information systems, and now in 2020, all six BBAs in the functional areas of business followed by 11 minor business focus areas. Dalton, GA, comprises hardworking first-generation students whose parents work primarily in the carpet and floor covering industry and other service businesses that support this cluster. DSC is the first Hispanic Serving Institution in Georgia, with over 30% of our students representing Latinx students. We have extremely strong support from the area and regional business community who tend to hire all our WSOB graduates, and over 90% of our graduates do stay and work in the area. We are also the first state college in the University System of Georgia to obtain AACSB international accreditation. We offer job shadowing experiences for freshman and sophomore-level business majors and encourage internships and study abroad participation for our juniors and seniors. We have a variety of student organizations and are ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Our dedicated faculty and low tuition make DSC and our WSOB a best value institution offering our students a high return on investment. We are changing lives for our first-generation students at DSC. The $10 million expansion and renovation of Gignilliat Hall, home to the C. Lamar and Ann Wright School of Business, offers students the latest technology and modern environment for learning and excelling.  

College Consensus: What do you look for in successful applicants at your business school?  

Dr. Helms: With an open enrollment policy, we look for students with a desire to grow and learn and to obtain the education necessary to succeed in their chosen field. We change lives by taking first-generation students and offering them the theory, as well as the soft skills (etiquette training, networking, mock interviewing, job shadowing, volunteering), needed to reach their business career goals.

College Consensus: How do you support your students to leverage them into a career after graduation? 

Dr. Helms: We have strong job shadowing and internship programs. Most students work in their field while a junior or senior, and most remain and move up in their companies upon graduation. We have a strong placement center at DSC in the Dean of Students Office. Most area employers are also involved in mock interviews, networking practice, and many hands-on events with our students. Most email the Assistant Dean with job openings, which she “blasts” out to students. We encourage students to return and complete the last 130 hours of the 150 hours needed to sit for the CPA exam, and we offer a host of graduate school and career fairs to support students after graduation. We have a highly engaged Business Advisory Council and over 20 years of alumni who also support our students and help them find jobs.

College Consensus: Is there anything going on within your business education community you are incredibly excited about? 

Dr. Helms: We are excited about our new downtown Dalton WSOB class within the Dalton Innovation Accelerator workspace. We offer a practicum class for business students interested in working with nascent entrepreneurs and start-ups in this creative space. Students learn all the facets of business, and many are interested in self-employment after completing the entrepreneurship course and the practicum course. In Dalton, local pitch competitions also support this initiative for entrepreneurship, with our first pitch competition winner winning start-up funding on the popular national television show, Shark Tank.

College Consensus: Tell us about your online offerings.  

Dr. Helms: With the COVID-19 pandemic, many courses moved online, and we continue to add online offerings and hybrid courses with flipped classrooms for student learning. However, we are also learning that our students do best face-to-face when possible. We have currently found a happy medium during COVID, with offering synchronous online classes using TEAMS and Collaborate platforms.

College Consensus: Anything else you’d like to say about the Wright School of Business and its programs?  

Dr. Helms: While higher education has undergone a rapid change in a short time in 2020, there is still a need for strong students with skills in accounting, finance and economics, logistics and supply chain management, management, MIS, and marketing. We’ve added a new online minor in FinTech that is proving popular with students as well. We continue to be agile in our curriculum and offerings to ensure our students are prepared to meet and solve global business problems. We continue to “Lead Boldly” in DSC’s WSOB.

College Consensus logoCrucial Characteristics 

First-Generation Students: What a significant honor and accomplishment it is to be the first in your family to obtain a degree of higher education. There are hardworking adults in the Dalton area who did not have the opportunity of attending college. Many of them work in the floor-covering industry, as many of the nation’s manufacturers, especially rugs, carpet, and vinyl flooring, are located in Dalton. Dalton State College prides itself in accepting and educating these students and assisting them in preparing for an incredible career. These first-generation students receive an excellent, accredited business education through the Wright School of Business, which offers affordable tuition, the modernized Gignilliat Hall and all of its resources, an incredible amount of business knowledge and skills, and professional development opportunities. Dr. Helms mentions the majority of business students receive job offers from local and regional companies. The WSOB and Dalton State College truly changes the lives of first-generation students and their families.   

Entrepreneurship: Students are supported, challenged, and allowed to develop creative and innovative skills and ways of thinking through the Wright School of Business’ focus on entrepreneurship. Every company, organization, business, and nonprofit, no matter how big or small, had to begin with an idea. The Dalton Innovation Accelerator workspace allows business students to freely think, create, collaborate, and build upon their ideas. Through courses and local pitch competitions, students learn from other entrepreneurs, enhance the overall entrepreneurship experience, and ultimately are prepared to give back to Dalton’s economy by starting successful businesses in the area.   

Online Transition: The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many things off course. With all of the quarantine mandates, colleges have had to navigate new waters and quickly provide ways for students to still achieve all they need to learn and experience while not meeting in person. At least we are in a modern technological age, where courses can be offered online, and we even have ways to see people’s faces and talk to them through the computer, or even our phones when necessary. Dalton has done a great job of transitioning their classes online and offering online platforms that allow students and professors to see and interact with one another.