It was a homecoming of sorts for Rachel Reiser when she stepped back on the business school campus at Boston University in July of 2013. Reiser, who had just been tapped as the school’s assistant dean for the undergraduate program at the Questrom School of Business, had a long history with the school. She had spent seven years holding several administrative roles in BU’s undergraduate business program in the late 1990s before moving on in 2001 to Babson College, the Boston-area business school known for its entrepreneurship focus, where she was most recently the assistant dean of the undergraduate program.
Reiser, whose field of research is intergeneration studies, has always been drawn to the undergraduate experience, and started her career advising college students. “I’m intrigued by how today’s college students experience the academic, social and community aspect of college,” she says.
She was drawn back to the Boston University campus more than a decade after she left primarily because of the vision of Questrom Dean Kenneth Freeman. Freeman has spent the last few years spearheading a number of innovations at the undergraduate level, including rolling out a new undergraduate curriculum and placing a renewed emphasis on ethics throughout the program. The school, she says, has an energy and buzz that felt quite different from when she’d worked there in the late 1990s.
MORE THAN 8,000 APPLICATIONS LAST YEAR FOR PROGRAM
“It was a wonderful place the first time, but I felt it really evolved and progressed in the years since my absence,” Reiser adds. “There was a lot of change and innovation happening, and I’d gotten to the point in my career where I’m quite drawn by having new and dynamic things going on in my role and in my environment.”
Reiser couldn’t have come back at a better time. The business school was celebrating its centennial anniversary when she took on her new role, and two years after she arrived, the school, formerly known as the Boston University School of Management, was renamed the Questrom School of Business following a $50 million dollar gift from Allen Questrom, an alumnus of the business school, and his wife Kelli.
Under Reiser’s leadership, the undergraduate program has continued its upward trajectory, becoming well-known for its innovative curriculum and strong career prospects for students. For this year’s current freshman crop, the class of 2019, the business school had 8,132 applications, up 5.5% from the previous year. The school admitted just 22% of those applicants, making Questrom one of the more highly selective undergo programs.
WEAR IT WEDNESDAY
At a business school with more than 2,000 undergraduate students, one of the challenges can be fostering a strong sense of community, Reiser concedes. It’s a task she’s taken on with gusto. She can often be seen on campus promoting a program she’s started called “Wear it Wednesday,” or #wearitwednesday, where she hands out gifts to students who wear Questrom-school or Boston University regalia, whether it be t-shirts, sweatshirts or a hat.
“The sense of community is now stronger and the school has became an even greater destination of choice, which is evident in our rankings,” she says. “We have a great problem of being the place that people want to be.” BU currently ranks 39th in U.S. News’ ranking of the best undergraduate business programs, and 25th in Bloomberg Businessweek‘s last ranking in 2014.
In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants’ Alison Damast, Reiser spoke about how she has helped oversee the rollout of the new curriculum, which emphasizes teamwork and ethics, three new concentrations that the school announced this fall, and how she’s working hard to make sure that the undergraduate program continues to move to the next level.
How did your time at Babson influence how you approach your current role as assistant dean at the Questrom School?
Babson is a very different kind of school, with a heavy focus on entrepreneurship. Certainly it can’t help but get into the bloodstream because in my time there I became much more innovative in my thinking and really a much more agile risk-taker. I got comfortable experimenting with things to do for the student experience academically, and it was easy to do because Babson is a smaller and contained business school. I learned a lot about ways to foster a sense of community within the business student population that I felt I could bring back to Boston University. The Questrom School here at BU is part of a larger university, which obviously presents tremendous opportunities and a tremendous value proposition.
What are some of the things that have changed most in the undergraduate experience for business students since your first stint at Boston University?
I think there is now a focus on the curriculum and a greater examination of things like ethics, embracing the global economy and what business in a global landscape means. Our engagement of students on thought leadership and the high caliber of student intellect are some of the real standouts for our school. We have started to examine some of the rising sectors in the business world. There is a growing emphasis on growing economies, healthcare management and sustainability that is infused more deeply into the curriculum and the student experience. There’s also a greater interest among our faculty and staff in getting students involved in health and life sciences and social impact, and there are now more opportunities and learning experiences in this area. We have many more employers interested in hiring students for positions like that.
Our students are not cookie cutter. We certainly have a dominance of students in more traditional areas like finance, accounting and marketing, but at the same time there is diversity among our student population that is growing. That’s a real change, and we’re a little less traditional as a school than we used to be.