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Heidi Schultz: English PhD becomes business communication pioneer

Heidi Schultz - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolBefore she got her PhD or founded the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business Communication Center, Heidi Schultz was a music major with a passion for literature. In 1988, you could tune in to 89.9 WDAV FM and listen to her weekly classical music program, “A Little Night Music with Heidi Schultz.”

At the time, neither Schultz nor her listeners had any idea she would go on to be the longest serving communication faculty member at a top-tier business school.

After graduating summa cum laude from Lenoir-Rhyne University, Schultz earned a doctorate in English from UNC-Chapel Hill. She used her expertise to direct the UNC Writing Center. Her success did not go unnoticed. Working at the business school wasn’t at all on her horizon until Jeff Cannon, then director of the Undergraduate Business Program, and Bob Adler, then a business law professor, approached her. The opportunity to develop a business-oriented writing center from scratch was one she couldn’t pass up. “It was 19 years ago that I said yes, and I’ve never looked back,” says Schultz.

The need for the resources provided by a communication center to assist business students with their written work – which requires highly individualized feedback – was evident. “Sometimes there would be lines of 30 students standing outside of the only two undergraduate communication professors’ doors waiting to talk about their assignments,” Schultz laughs. “I knew that wasn’t sustainable.”

Schultz developed a program to meet students’ needs and launched the Business Communication Center in 1997. The center has grown to offer a variety of services – from workshops to writing tips to interview prep – which can be tailored to specific job needs. “It all started with two undergraduate assistants and a folding table in Carroll,” says Schultz. “Now we’re booked solid.”

Schultz has taught in the Undergraduate Business and MBA programs and served as the chair of the management and corporate communication area. Her MBA communication course was among the first to be developed for UNC Kenan-Flagler’s innovative online MBA@UNC program. “Being at the forefront of online education was exciting,” she says. “The experience made me a better teacher, and I improved my ability to collaborate with people online.”

Schultz teaches all of the core communication courses in the Executive MBA (EMBA) program, which focus on rhetorical strategies for business settings. “For undergraduates, business communication is more of a sell,” she says. “EMBA students understand communication is a key differentiator in the professional landscape. They often approach the curriculum with a more curious mindset, which allows the class to be more conversational.”

Schultz is also curious in her approach to teaching. She is an artist at heart, after all. She has developed curriculum around the use of both storytelling and music in the corporate setting. Storytelling in corporate communication is useful to cut through the overload of information employees digest from day-to-day and connect on a more personal level.

Heidi Schultz - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School“There’s a need to motivate people – not just with their heads, but also with their hearts,” Schultz says. It goes back to the importance of learning communication strategies. “You can be correct in what you say and the jargon that you use, but in business you don’t just need to be correct – you need to be clear,” she says.

After years of evaluating students’ papers and working around entrepreneurs, Schultz looked for a business solution to grading more efficiently and effectively. She conceptualized a grading tool for teachers to help their students understand and act on their assessments, and, ultimately, learn how to write better.

With assistance from the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and a partnership with Onix – a Google Premiere Partner – Schultz’s assessment tool is being developed as GradeOn!, a data-driven educational tool. It will help professors grade written work more quickly and more efficiently. They will be able to track students’ progress, provide immediate feedback and give meaningful reports that help tailor the curriculum to what the class needs.

And her contributions to academia don’t end there. Schultz is writing her third book, an undergraduate business communications textbook, with her colleague Patricia Harms.

Schultz values the varied experiences and distinctive community at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “I came out of an English department,” she says. “Your focus doesn’t have to be business for you to gain something wonderful out of being at this School.”

“There is just so much support – from the staff members who keep the program running to our wonderful admin assistants and our smart students and faculty,” she says. “The opportunities that are available here are opportunities unavailable anywhere else.”