Business Foundations Area

The business foundations area is unique to the Costello College of Business.

The area is devoted to guiding undergraduate students to an understanding of business in various contemporary contexts, merging liberal education with the study of business, and providing students with the intellectual and practical tools to chart their own path to success.

As such, foundations faculty promote the integration of learning across disciplines and between academic and experiential to develop learning outcomes that are essential for work (professional context), citizenship (social/global/legal context) and life (high impact practices and authentic assessments that promote student interest and exploration). This broad mandate requires a faculty team with an equally broad array of academic backgrounds, skills, and professional experiences, combined with a sincere commitment to teaching excellence. Some of our faculty have advanced degrees, including PhDs in history, writing and rhetoric, higher education, political science, and business, while others are seasoned business professionals holding JDs and/or MBAs.  

Working in a highly collaborative professional environment the foundations faculty use a team-teaching approach to ensure a high degree of excellence and consistency throughout the core curriculum, while also encouraging innovative programs that reflect new and leading-edge trends and frontiers. As an area, foundations faculty often act as a bridge between the Costello College of Business and other Mason departments through curriculum and extra-curricular initiatives. This approach facilitates the sharing of teaching best practices gained from participation in academic and professional associations and conferences, deep study of the academic literature, and of course direct experience gained teaching multiple classes every semester. The rich and ongoing interactions of such a diverse faculty community have allowed foundations to pioneer original approaches to business education while making a smooth transition to providing instruction across the full range of modalities.

The foundations faculty are committed to anti-racism and inclusive excellence in higher education, playing an integral role in building an inclusive educational environment within the Costello College of Business. 

Primary subject areas of Foundations Faculty are:

Personal and Professional Skills 

Success in college and in business requires a wide range of competencies beyond a particular specialization in one of the core business functions. Foundations faculty have created a set of courses that provide Mason business students with skills ranging from critical thinking and self-reflection to time management, working in teams, and effective oral and written communication for business. Students come out of this program with increased self-confidence, and the ability to be up-and-running at a company from day one.

Business in the Societal and Global Contexts  

Business has never operated in a vacuum, but in today’s increasingly complex and interconnected global society, leaders must understand how businesses of all types fit into various social, political, and economic contexts. The Foundations faculty leverage their diverse academic and professional backgrounds to provide our students with an understanding of the important roles business can play locally, nationally, and globally. They also ensure that Mason business graduates understand the moral and ethical imperatives that should inform corporate behavior to drive both sustainability and long-term profitability.

Business in the Legal Context  

Foundations faculty maintain their connection to the law by participating in conferences and professional associations, and maintaining appropriate licensure. They provide our students with a survey of the legal environment of business, emphasizing legal concepts and legal reasoning to prepare students to recognize legal problems and to formulate appropriate responses. They also provide our students with knowledge on the federal and state court systems, constitutional and administrative law, business torts and crimes, contracts and business ethics.

Business Foundations Area Faculty

See the Costello College of Business Faculty Directory for all faculty members, including adjunct faculty.


Pedagogy at a Glance

“Trustdefined by Hoy and Tschannen-Moran as 'an individual’s or group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest, and open'is an essential, if not central, element in my approach to classroom engagement and management. It is fundamental to learning, and yet, the teacher-student relationship in higher education has shown a need for improvement. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) 2020 Annual Report, which included a special set of questions related to the notion of trust, found that only 30 percent of students completely trusted their teachers, with students of color being more inclined to distrust their faculty. Clearly more work can be done here. My aim is to foster an environment that both highlights and supports trust and relationship building within each classroom.”

Jackie Brown, Area Chair and Instructor

“Social justice issues like immigration, human trafficking, food security, income equality, environmental sustainability, education access, and universal health care dominate news headlines. In this dynamic global society, how can we address social and environmental problems in our local, national, and global communities? How can we engage others in ways that are effective, ethical, and informed by sound evidence? How can we create persuasive messages that inform audiences and inspire them to address the world’s most intractable problems? How can we best prepare our students to turn their passion into action and make an impact on their communities, region and world? For me, with a background in rhetoric, policy, and impact, words are central to my response. Words have the power to shape who we are, what we believe, and how we act. As one writer eloquently observed: 'A choice of words is also a choice of worlds.' Getting students to discover the power of language, craft their vision for the future and transform that vision into meaningful action motivates every step I take as an educator.”

Lisa Gring-Pemble, Associate Professor

“For me, a major consideration when teaching, or preparing to teach, is effective communication. As teachers we must be highly skilled communicators due to multiple challenges in getting our message across, and getting our students engaged in the content. For example, our classes are incredibly diverse with students from a wide range of educational backgrounds, as well as cultural and linguistic traditions. We cannot assume that communicating effectively with one group will work for all. Further, students today are highly distracted, and we as educators are competing with sophisticated algorithms that seek to engage our students via Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. To overcome these and other challenges I seek to communicate with my students using multiple online and offline channels, repeating key concepts in different ways, incorporating humor into my classes, and always seeking their feedback and reactions. If we can break through the noise and get them talking, we can get them learning.”

Jeremy Plotnick, Assistant Professor

“When I first arrived at Mason after a 20+-year career in the private sector, my initial goal was to teach professional skills using the existing course content and weaving in my own experience. I wanted to convey the important concepts and skills that would help our students succeed once they reach the workplace. However, I’ve had a dramatic shift in my teaching philosophy since enrolling in Mason’s E-learning Graduate Certificate program in fall 2021 and taking an instructional design course. My teaching philosophy has changed from it is “my job to teach” and “the students’ job to learn” to a belief that it’s my job to facilitate learning. What may sound like a minor, semantic difference is, for me, a powerful shift. I now try to first think about what needs to happen for students to learn the key content and then reorient my lessons accordingly. Sometimes the restructuring involves changes in sequencing of information, adding or deleting learning activities, or adjustments to formative assessments. While I’m far from perfect in always meeting this goal, I strive to have the learners’ needs serve as the initial touchpoint for my instruction.”

Elaine Viccora, Instructor

“A main focus needs to be keeping the students engaged, not only with the material and the professor but also with other students. Simple techniques such as think-pair-share, hand surveys, and co-authorship of definitions or explanations of concepts are simple ways to have class be more than listening to a professor or talking in a whole group. Through these techniques, students learn a great deal but also often learn what they do not know, which makes them more receptive to correction without embarrassment and to further learning.”

Robert Pierce, Associate Professor

“Over the years, I have been fortunate to make and sustain wonderful relationships with my students and see them succeed in pursuing graduate degrees or professional endeavors. I enjoy teaching primarily because of the community mindset that is shared between the professors and students, which stimulates collaborative learning in a setting defined by mutual respect. The students at Mason, with their diverse backgrounds, continue to fuel my passion for teaching as I discover their unique learning styles and motivations guiding their education. It is my goal that every time I step into the classroom, I contribute to fostering students' confidence in themselves, and promote the acquisition of lifelong learning skills.”

Wambui Mungai, Assistant Professor

“My classroom style focuses on confidence-building via scaffolded critical analysis. To understand, sometimes complex, business legal disputes, students start by learning a legal rule. Students then apply that rule in situations beginning with simple scenarios and continue to analyze increasingly more complex legal problems. The goal of this scaffolding approach is to build students’ confidence in their ability to analyze authentic business issues and arrive at sound decisions.”

Alexandria Zylstra, Associate Professor

“As an educator, I have always leaned heavily on Carl Roger’s Humanistic school of thought. I buy into the notion that every person can achieve their goals and reach a point, or points, of self-actualization, meaning their own true potential. Student-centered learning is purposefully the backbone to my teaching as it allows for focus on the individual as a unique person. I am drawn to the practical and active approach to learning that focuses on identifying strengths and areas for improvement, which connects perfectly to the developing your professional skills courses I teach. These courses provide an environment of openness and self-reflection that enable both personal and professional growth in the journey to finding one's ideal self.” 

Gretchen Hendricks, Instructor