When Norean Sharpe stepped foot onto Georgetown University’s Washington D.C. campus in 2009, it wouldn’t be unfair to say the McDonough School of Business was in a turbulent spot. The school had dropped from 10th in the 2007 Bloomberg Businessweek rankings to 19th in 2008 and to 24th in 2009. The roll of senior associate dean and director of the undergraduate program had been sitting vacant for half a year.
Besides a year-long stint as the Director of Institutional Assessment at Babson College from 2005 to 2006 and three years as a Department Chair, Sharpe had never really held an administrative leadership position at a business school. But she was a seasoned faculty member at one of the leading schools for entrepreneurship and innovation. After a three-year rankings free-fall, McDonough could use a little innovative disruption.
When Sharpe was hired, McDonough’s previous dean asked her to “bring some of that spirit and innovation” from Babson to McDonough’s undergraduate program.”No new global programs had been created in quite a while,” Sharpe tells Poets&Quants during a meeting in San Francisco, also noting her excitement to work with faculty to begin implementing changes. Six years in, Sharpe has delivered on that innovation.
RIGHTING THE McDONOUGH SHIP
She’s raised funds, implemented a new curriculum, and created a new, more ambitious global program. One result: After coming in at 23rd in 2010, McDonough catapulted in the Bloomberg Businessweek 2011 rankings to 10th, though the school has settled back down to 18th last year. More importantly, however, Sharpe can point to a steady increase in the quality of the students coming into the undergraduate program. The school’s acceptance rate fell from 22% during the 2009-2010 application cycle to 15.7% for the most recent cycle. Yield–the percentage of admits who enroll–has increased from a little more than 50% to nearly 60% during the same time. And with a 75th percentile SAT math score of 770, Sharpe says the quant SAT scores are higher, on average, than they’ve ever been.
“My approach is be entrepreneurial, be innovative, be willing to experiment and take risks,” Sharpe insists, sounding very much like the product of 15 years on the faculty at Babson, which hangs its hat on its entrepreneurial prowess. “Be willing to try something,” she continues. “Pilot programs and then you can always take input. You can take feedback. You can take critique. And then you can tweak the program and figure out how to reinforce and sustain what’s working. And how to perhaps revise what needs to be improved.”
And so far, Sharpe’s been able to navigate the bureaucracy that can come within large institutions and initial faculty push-back to pilot programs and incrementally implement change and new programs.
WANTS STUDENTS TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GLOBAL
“My two areas of emphasis have been, what can we do that’s innovative, what can we do that differentiates Georgetown McDonough School of Business from other programs,” Sharpe explains. “And secondly, how can we ramp up the global opportunities for our students so that when they graduate, they understand what it means to be part of a global economy.”
By all accounts, the school is graduating more globally-minded students. In 2009, McDonough had one custom summer study abroad program. And it was at Oxford. This past summer, the school sent students all over the world–to Hong Kong, Oxford, and Barcelona for either four or six weeks at a time.
Tapping into Georgetown’s Jesuit roots, Sharpe has also been able to implement and grow the Global Social Internship Program, which matches students with the Fabretto Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit in Nicaragua. When it started a few years ago, Sharpe says, they sent four students to Nicaragua. This past summer, a dozen students went to Nicaragua and the school sponsored two students doing similar work in Peru, Costa Rica, India, and Shanghai.