Donde Plowman’s plane had just touched down on the runway in Charlotte, NC, when she turned her phone on to check her voicemail. Plowman, who’d recently accepted the job as dean of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Business Administration, found her phone buzzing with dozens of texts and e-mails.
It took her a few minutes of sifting through the congratulatory notes to figure out that big news had broken while on the plane back from a vacation to the Bahamas. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln had just been accepted into the Big 10 Conference, a group which includes some of the most prestigious public business schools in the country. It was a game changer for Plowman, the university and the business school.
“My friends said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve gotten a promotion before you even got here,’” said Plowman, who started her job as UNL dean a month later, in July of 2010. “It was a great thing for this campus academically and for me, it was a great opportunity as a new dean to use that event as a lever for making changes that the college needed to make anyway. It let us take our game to the next level.”
SWEEPING CHANGES AFTER TAKING CHARGE
Since Plowman took the helm at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s business school in 2010, she has made sweeping changes that have helped invigorate the once-tired business program and turn it into a cutting-edge school that is making people in Nebraska and outside the state take notice. Plowman, a go-getter who’s made the school’s motto “Start Something” has done just that in her role as dean over the last few years.
“The pitch I’ve been selling with alum is that the state deserves a world-class college of business,” said Plowman, who served as head of the management department at the University of Tennessee before taking on the deanship at UNL’s business school. That’s what we’ve been trying to do, and that’s a message that has resonated.”
Over the last six years, she’s hired dozens of new faculty members, helped the school secure millions in gifts from alums and introduced new majors and programs that have helped the school attract accomplished students from out-of-state with high GPAs and test scores. Her biggest accomplishment yet will take place next year, when the school unveils a $84 million College of Business Administration building, a sleek modern space that will replace the school’s cramped nearly 100-year-old building.
A PROGRAM WITH NEARLY 4,000 UNDERGRADUATE BUSINESS STUDENTS
Plowman oversees nearly 4,000 undergraduates at the business school, and makes makes an effort to be visible and accessible to the large student body She holds open office hours for students once a week, and teaches a management class to students in the school’s honor program every spring. She has an active Twitter presence, and at the start of the school year tweeted to students, asking them to come into her office to get a “selfie” with the dean, many of whom took her up on the offer.
In a wide-ranging interview with Poet&Quants’ Alison Damast, Plowman spoke about how she’s started a new Career Services office at the College of Business Administration, used the school’s new “Big 10” stature to attract over $150 million in private funds for the school and launched a new Business Honors academy for students.
How did becoming a Big 10 Conference school impact your vision as dean and what you wanted to accomplish?
They hired me to take the school to the next level, but when we went to the Big 10, that really catapulted the expectation. I joined in 2010 a place with a building that honestly felt old and tired. They hadn’t had a lot of new faculty hires in a while, so it felt like a place that had gotten kind of comfortable. It was a great opportunity to really push the restart button and set new expectations.
One of the things I was able to do right away was start charging differential tuition for business students. That mean right away we were able to start hiring some new faculty, and one thing just led to another. In the six years I’ve been there, we’ve hired 70 new faculty members. We have about 108 faculty now, and next year that number will be at 120. It has transformed the school, and we’ve changed the way we hire people. Nebraska had never really paid that much attention to market salaries, and we immediately changed that. One of the great things about becoming a Big 10 school is that it gave us a great opportunity to benchmark ourselves.
Since I’ve been here, we’ve raised $150 million. We have funded a new $84 million building with completely private funding and raised additional money for academic support, scholarships and faculty. I think I arrived here and it was the perfect storm. Getting into the Big 10 created this need and a sense of urgency for change. We have a long way to go, but we are working very hard.