Illinois Gies Takes Stackability To The Next Level

Gies College of Business has become known around the world as an innovator — a school that takes big risks with its creative academic programming. In the last five years, Gies has masterfully designed a suite of stackable educational degrees, where students can take a course and then apply that credit to the B-school’s highly regarded iMBA or other certificate programs.  

Now Gies is hoping to take its expertise in stackability and apply it to other graduate programs at the university, announcing new cross-campus collaborations with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s agricultural and medical schools. It is a big step forward for the business school, enabling it to reach a whole new population of students on campus, says Amanda Brantner, Gies’ director of content and educational portfolio strategy. 

“As a university, we have tremendous expertise in areas outside of business that are business adjacent,” Brantner says, “and we want to be able to serve our graduate degree learners with content from other colleges across campus. We see a large opportunity to support the goals of learners in areas like healthcare and agriculture through our certificate programs.” 


Amanda Brantner, director of content and educational portfolio strategy at Illinois Gies: “We are a go-to-institution for individuals in the agricultural industry”

Gies’ first foray into cross-campus collaboration is a partnership that will launch this August with the university’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). This new program, the Agribusiness & Sustainable Food Production Economics graduate certificate, will allow students to take four courses focused on agribusiness and sustainable food, or 12 credit hours in total. Students who take these courses – which have been developed and delivered by the ACES faculty – can also choose to use them to replace one of the focus area requirements in Gies’ iMBA. As an added benefit, they are also stackable into Gies’ portfolio on online graduate degrees.

This graduate certificate will provide learners an overview of global production and distribution of agricultural commodities and food products. Learners will examine the financial and risk-management decisions associated with agricultural production and analyze modern issues facing the food industry in light of global challenges to sustainably feed a growing world population, Brantner notes.

The MOOCs for these classes will serve as the “digital textbook” and foundational content for the for-credit courses, Brantner says. The collaboration with the agricultural school made sense for Gies’ first cross-campus collaboration to expand its online stackability model given that the University of Illinois is a land-grant institution in the heart of central Illinois, Brantner notes. The courses being offered as part of the program include:  Supply Chain of Agriculture, Issues in Supply Chain Management, Risks to Crop Production in Agriculture, Strategies and Tools to Mitigate Agricultural Risk.

“We are a go-to-institution for individuals in the agricultural industry, and we believe that by partnering with ACES we can support learners who want to pursue graduate education in a combination of agriculture and business to further their careers and provide upward mobility,” Brantner said.

Indeed, there is much potential for Gies to expand its reach at the university, and as a result attract more students who may eventually want to do the iMBA or other degree programs the college offers, Brantner says. The university as a whole has a robust graduate school population that Gies can tap into: Just this past fall the university welcomed 6,305 new graduate students, one of the largest cohorts in its history


Gies also has plans in the works to create another new graduate certificate with the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. This degree program will be called the Healthcare Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Graduate Certificate, and will be stackable to all iDegrees. The collaboration has support from the Mayo Clinic and the Siebel Center for Design, and will focus on innovation in healthcare, giving learners insight into product development and the entrepreneurship skills needed to bring new healthcare products to market, Brantner said. The Gies faculty who have developed the courses are experts in operations management, new product design and development and entrepreneurship and many of them have joint appointment between Gies and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Gies expects to have the MOOCs for the program ready for launch in the spring of 2025, followed by credit-bearing courses  and eventually the stackable graduate certificate.

“We’re expecting more demand, at least initially, for the health care certificate because we expect to have a longer timeline marketing and promoting it to our students,” Brantner says. “It will leverage Gies faculty and their expertise in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship.”


The program builds upon an already established partnership Gies has with iMBA students from the Carle College and the Grainger College of Engineering.  Ravi Mehta, a professor jointly appointed with Gies and Carle, heads up Capstone Innovations, the year-long, hands-on project that students collaborate on together. The cross-disciplinary team of students who participate come up with new prototypes and ways of doing things that have the potential to change  the practice of medicine in some fields as well as improve medical outcomes, Mehta says.

For example, one of the 2024 capstone projects is called Spinal Vision, and defines a new image-guided system that allows clinicians to perform challenging lumbar puncture procedures in a safer manner, and with less pain for the patient. Another project students developed is called BRACA, which improves the function and usability of the post-surgical compression bra for those who have had a mastectomy for breast cancer. 

“Innovation is not complete unless it serves a need and people adopt the product,” Mehta says in an e-mail. “Business finds that need, finds the niche, helps bring it to people who need that technology the most. And that is what innovation is. Without business, it’s just an invention. Business is what makes it innovation.”


Indeed, innovative work like what Mehta does with his students is key to Gies’ mission, and part of why Gies wants to expand its footprint on campus, Brantner says. She is eager to see how these cross-campus collaborations play out in the next few years, and believes they will be popular options for graduate students across campus. It has taken several years to develop each of these graduate certificate programs, to ensure that the new courses meet leaners’ expectations and are delivered in a consistent way, not an easy feat by any means, Brantner says.

“Interdisciplinary collaboration on a campus of our size is of great interest and is a strategic priority for the campus, but it is very difficult to actually get done,” she says. “This is about creating access, and as we embark on collaborations with others across campus, we will continue to stay true to that mission-driven focus.”


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