The integrative concentration in business is available to students majoring in all disciplines across the college and conservatory, not just those who are interested in business careers. The concentration will provide experiential learning and coursework that provides access to key business concepts, networks of mentors, and intensive work-related and project-based experiences.
The business concentration kicks off in the summer term with a core course, Foundations of Sustainable Business Management, taught by Jesse Gerstin ’07, a business leader in the field of renewable energy. Gerstin, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, is director of sustainable business development for SimpliPhi Power, a maker of batteries for renewable energy projects. He will relocate to Oberlin for the summer to teach on campus.
The core course is an introduction to social, environmental, and governance issues facing businesses and managers today. Students will engage with management theory, case studies, and critical discussion while building the tools they will need to harness the potential of business to to act as a force for good.
“The business world is facing an existential crisis, and it’s adapting—although not quickly enough,” says Gerstin, who previously worked as director of the Clinton Climate Initiative before moving to the private sector. “The thinking in business for a long time has been focused on short-term results. The shift that’s happening now is for companies to think in longer periods, what actions a company needs to stay relevant in 20 or 30 years. That includes taking better accountability for the environment and society. Companies are looking at sustainability in a much deeper way than ever before, and they need critical thinkers who are willing to push the envelope and rethink what the entire system means and how it operates.”
To that end, Gerstin will base the course on what’s driving change in the business world today: accountability and transparency, new models for businesses, and different organizational structures, while defining the role of sustainability in business.
Gerstin’s path to business is rooted in his liberal arts experience at Oberlin. A Bonner Scholar and member of the track and cross country team, he double majored in French and the former Third World Studies program. Upon graduation, he had to choose between an opportunity to work for a Wall Street firm or embark on an Oberlin Shansi fellowship in Indonesia.
“I chose the latter because it seemed like a much bigger adventure. I had never been to Asia, and I fell in love with everything there.”
It was in Indonesia where Gerstin became involved in environmental issues, particularly deforestation. Following his Shansi fellowship, he stayed in Indonesia to work as a consultant, which led to a position with the Clinton Foundation’s forest conservation program. He held several roles with the foundation, managing climate change and clean energy programs in the Caribbean and East Africa. On transitioning to the private sector, Gerstin says he wanted to continue clean energy work on a larger scale and through the lens of making it a profitable enterprise.
“My focus with [SimpliPhi Power] is on how renewable energy projects can be impactful to communities that don’t have access to electricity. We ask how we can do it at a cheaper cost using the latest in renewable energy technology, and in a way that’s better for the environment and for the people who are actually using it.”
The integrative concentration in business was a recommendation of the One Oberlin report, the college’s blueprint for a thriving future. The concentration joins new integrative programs launched in arts administration, journalism, international affairs, and global health.
Professor of Economics and Chair of the Business Curricular Committee Ron Cheung says the core course illustrates Oberlin’s distinctive approach to teaching the fundamentals of business management.
“We are very excited to welcome Jesse back to Oberlin to teach this summer course on business and sustainability. Jesse will provide students with some fundamentals of business management, and we think that focusing on the intersection between business and sustainability is an approach that puts liberal arts in the center of this core course.”
Gerstin says he wants students to understand how the system works, which will give them the ability to find the levers to create bigger, lasting change. That change is going to happen both internally and externally, and the business community will benefit from people who come from different disciplines.
“I’m not trying to convince every student to go into business. It’s more about trying to shift the narrative about what we think of as a business—or where students can see themselves in shaping an equitable society using the tools of business.”
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