Introducing Excel into Zicklin School of Business Curriculum

SAM Help Desk: 

Students with questions about SAM can access the help desk in two ways:

The help desk is supported by PhD students familiar with SAM and the SAM projects.  Emails will be answered daily, Monday-Friday. If many inquiries arise about a common issue, then responses will be posted on Blackboard.

What is the Excel project?

Professor Theodore Joyce along with the Online Learning and Education team are working on introducing Excel-based projects in business classes. The goal is to help Zicklin students develop Excel skills crucial in their academic and professional career. In Spring 2014, Excel self-learning assignments will become a part of Business 1000 and Finance 3000 classes. The students will be assigned a set of projects to be completed during the semester via the Cengage SAM learning platform (you can read more about SAM here).

Once purchased, the Cengage SAM account will serve students throughout their studies at Baruch College. The completion of all projects, as verified by the SAM grading software, will count towards the student’s final grade. The support for students and the gradebook management will be provided by the IT fellows.

Why is it important?

Ability to analyze and structure data by using Excel software is one of the key basic skills required by employers offering internships and post-graduation jobs for college students. Most of the internship postings mention:

  • Strong proficiency in Microsoft Office with an emphasis in Excel & PowerPoint
  • Strong analytical and computer skills
  • Excel required, PC proficiency, including proficiency in spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software applications.

Consulting companies, a strategy advisors, auditors, investment banks, asset managers, FMCG companies offering marketing and management internships all expect the candidates not only to be good students but also to be able to quickly and professionally collect, process and present the relevant data.

According to Fred Burke, Director of the Graduate Career Management Center at Baruch College, Excel skill set is critical to be successful and competitive in the workplace.

Computer Information Systems department of Baruch College offers a couple of practice-oriented courses to senior students, however there is currently no requirement for students to take any of these classes. Many students do not realize the importance of PC skills and are surprised by questions during job interviews regarding knowledge base of excel and ways of utilizing it.

The basic Excel skill set should be acquired by all business students. It will help them perform better in higher-level courses that often include Excel-based tasks (statistics, accounting, finance, marketing, management) and, most importantly, allow them to fulfill one of the basic requirements for any business-related job. As the New York Times Dealbook article reported recently, many Wall Street firms invest in Excel Boot camps to teach entry-level workers spreadsheet skills. Business school graduates often do not possess basic skills required by the employers. Now some undergraduate universities begin to outsource teaching Excel skills by using the expensive services of the training companies. Full article ‘Wall Street turns to Boot Camps to train new workers’

But learning Excel is more than a credible item on a student’s resume.   The more Excel the students know, the more advanced material they can tackle in higher level classes.

The faculty’s support and expectations

Phyllis Zadra, Associate Dean of the Zicklin School of Business is a strong supporter of the Excel project:

I am really excited that Professor Joyce has taken over the responsibility for the Excel project. We have known for many years that employers who are looking at the Zicklin students are very interested in them having excellent Excel skills and we had no vehicle to make sure that all our students are proficient in Excel. Many of them have tried to create a way to learn Excel on their own. We have done some things in the curriculum that supported those attempts (…), however this has not been universally applied to all the students. I think that introducing Excel projects using the SAM vehicle to business courses could be a tremendous step up for our students, especially as they look for a job on their way out. So I am more than enthusiastic.

Bill Ferns, Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems at the Zicklin School of Business:

The general level of Excel skills of Baruch students is not high enough, and most of them can really benefit from learning more about Excel. Spreadsheets are what made computers business tools because they facilitated all sorts of analysis. Students in any field can’t really survive without using spreadsheets. Zicklin students get hired because they know how to do things. They really need to know how to use spreadsheets to further their professional goals. I cannot think of any discipline in Zicklin that would not benefit from using Excel projects in the classroom. Students need to learn how to address problems in classes using the spreadsheet tools. It’s a practical skill that relates very directly to conceptual material. We are in a business school and it is a very practical discipline. We certainly want to facilitate students getting jobs, but the main idea is to improve student’s skillset that can be applied both in school and then later in the business. Because of that solid skillset of data analysis and data manipulation tools, they will become attractive to employers.

Raquel Benbunan-Fich, Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems at the Zicklin School of Business:

I have been working on increasing the level of Excel skills in Baruch for the past 5 years; we created an Excel course 3367, which is an elective, and I have encouraged students in all my classes to participate in that course or other workshops I have run for different students organizations. But I always had a feeling that the task of teaching Excel skills needs a more global, school-wide perspective and more wide implementation. I think it is great that Professor Joyce undertook this initiative because the best approach is to embed the Excel into school curriculum and make it a continuous effort throughout a business program. Students will not only learn it but also practice it with applications in different classes and from different perspectives. The students are getting the message that Excel is a make or break especially for the Internships. When you’re used to Excel, during your internship you can help your organization doing concrete tasks.

The students’ perspective

Baruch students recognize the need for Excel-learning support.

Alejandro Vasquez, a senior student majoring in Economics shares what he had to struggle with when interning at the UBS bank:

I was expected to maneuver around Excel easily and I didn’t know how to do it as fast as I should have. I had to learn Excel on my own and I feel that if I knew more coming in, I would be able to get more out of my internship. It would be good if the school curriculum could incorporate more Excel components and hands-on practice. It’s a given that such skills will be required in any job or internship.

Alice Cogan, a student at Macaulay Honors College who participated in a number of internships, including ff Venture Capital, Park Avenue Asset Management and GFS Forex feels that the school did not prepare her for the assignments at her jobs:

All my internships expected the Excel skills which I never learnt at Baruch. There is no focus on it. Having an Excel component built into my classes would be very useful because it would allow us to practically apply the models learnt in class.

How does it work?

    1. Once the student has a SAM Cengage account, he logs in and accesses the assigned project(s). Each project consists of the Word instruction file and Excel spreadsheet base file. Both should be downloaded to student’s computer.


    1. The instruction file
      • Lists types of skills to be learned from the task
      • Provides project background – a business-like task
      • Gives step-by-step instructions stating which tools should be utilized to attain the goal
      • Contains a screenshot of the expected final result
    2. The base file contains raw data and should be used by a student to complete the task.


    1. Having completed the project, the student uploads his Excel spreadsheet to SAM website. After 5 minutes the feedback file is generated.


    1. The feedback file consists of two parts:
      • List of graded tasks with comments.
      • A copy of student’s submitted spreadsheet with comments attached to cells where mistakes were made, specifying which task was incorrectly done.
    2. After having analyzed the feedback file, the student may correct and resubmit the spreadsheet again, up to a total of 3 submissions.


  1. The students are given access to tutorials related to the tools used by the project.

What about cheating?

The spreadsheet file is individualized by the program – the platform will not accept any other file to be uploaded as a finished project. SAM also detects files shared with another students and generates a report for the instructors with the names of the cheating students.

The benefits of using the SAM learning platform:

  • Self-paced completion of projects
  • Students may work on projects any time, both at home and at school
  • The ability to resubmit a given project 3 times allows to learn from mistakes
  • Automated grading eliminates the need for faculty involvement and provides students with instant feedback

Going Forward

We welcome faculty input as to how best integrate Excel into the curriculum. Should we add a 1-credit course in January that would be purely online using SAM? Should the undergraduate curriculum committee require key courses to require Excel knowledge as a pre-requisite by using the completion of SAM projects as evidence? Please share you thought by emailing Professor Joyce (

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One thought on “Introducing Excel into Zicklin School of Business Curriculum

  1. When I purchased SAM 2010 for BUS 1000 a year ago, I was told I would only have to buy it once for my career at Baruch. Now this semester for FIN 3000, I am apparently required to buy SAM 2013 in order to do my excel projects. Why are students who are taking courses on my timeframe being forced to pay for the product twice when we were told the one original purchase would last for our whole career at Baruch?

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