Dean’s Q&A: Steven Malter of Washington University

Steven Malter of Washington University's Olin School

Steven Malter of Washington University’s Olin School

Steven Malter, associate dean and director of undergraduate programs at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin School of Business, is not one to shy away from challenges. When a group of students a few years ago asked him for advice on help organizing a trip to Israel to visit some promising startups, he agreed to help out.

Intrigued by their idea, he decided to take it a step further. He developed and taught what has since become a popular course focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship in Israel, which culminates in a trip to the country over spring break.

His can-do attitude and global outlook was one of the reasons the Olin School tapped Malter, a ten-year veteran of the Olin School, to serve as associate dean of undergraduate business program in January of 2013, a brief stint as interim dean in 2012.

Malter comes to the role with a unique insiders’ and outsiders’ perspective on undergraduate business education. He worked as a recruiter for Ernst & Young before joining Olin’s undergraduate administration in 2004 as an academic and career advisor. Since then, he’s risen through the ranks taking on roles such as director of student development and assistant dean for student development and strategic initiatives. His latest role serving as director of the undergraduate business program is the perfect role for him, Malter said.

“I have a really great understanding of virtually every aspect of the undergraduate program, and the fact that I worked as a recruiter helps me understand the important of the curricular experience and placement effort,” he said. “That is all a huge help for me.”

Over the last two years, Malter has been a driving force behind popular curricular innovations at Olin that have expanded global study and entrepreneurship opportunities for students, including an effort to expose them to entrepreneurship during their freshman year.

His efforts appear to be paying off. Under his leadership, the school jumped from the eighth spot to the fourth in Bloomberg Businessweek’s most recent ranking of undergraduate business school programs. Students at the school have strong career prospects, as well. The median base salary for Olin undergraduate business majors  was $62,500 last year, with 98 percent of students seeking jobs securing one within three months of graduating, according to a recent report from Olin’s career services office.

Malter recently spoke with Poets & Quants in a wide-ranging interview, sharing his thoughts on how his first year as dean has gone, his future goals and why he thinks it is important for entrepreneurship to be woven into the curriculum.

What have been some of your priorities in your first year as dean?

My priorities are working very collaboratively with the faculty and the curriculum committee. We always do an ongoing reexamination of the curriculum and there are always ways to continue to improve. I spend a lot of time and energy working with our current students alums and corporate partners to figure out what we can do to improve our majors and the overall experience. Right now we’re doing an update of the curriculum, not a full rehaul. We are really examining it in depth and looking at multiple data points. We have fantastic faculty on the curriculum committee in areas dedicated to undergraduate education, and we are partnering with them to figure out what we can do together to improve  the overall experience at Olin.

We are continuing to work with academic advisors to ensure that we are student-centered and student-focused, and being the best advocates for them. We’re also continuing to work on expanding our international program offerings. We have been looking at bringing on new programs in new locations, and giving our students more options either to study abroad or do what we call an international internship program. That is where they have academic work, do an internship for a company and then do a significant piece of applied business research. We are working on expanding that and bringing on a lot more short-term immersive programs. There is a lot embedded in courses that gives students who don’t have the opportunity to go abroad for the full semester the opportunity to still participate in these experiences. There also are some new partnerships for summer programs that we are launching.  We have 50 percent of our students participating in some form of study abroad experience. That is good, but we want to increase the numbers. I would love to see every student have that opportunity or some immersive choice.

What is your school doing that distinguishes your program from other undergraduate business programs? 

We are working very closely with our senior faculty to team-teach our freshman experience programs, using the lens of entrepreneurship.

There is a strong push for entrepreneurship at Olin because it is a really good way for students to understand how all the disciplines in business intersect.  They need to understand how operations and marketing play into the business process when creating a product.

In the class students are instructed to create a consumer product that needs to be sold in a retail establishment, and senior faculty team up and teach the course.  Experts come in from various areas, go through a strategy case and help students understand what strategy is during the very first week of school. Students then learn how to apply those strategic principals to their startup.

We give students twelve strategies and twelve marketing approaches they can use for their projects. At the end of the semester, after the senior faculty has gone through the class, students can go back and make a decision based on what they’ve learned.  The way we set up the course and the way the assignments are structured pushes students to understand how the disciplines intersect and how it is applicable to their final deliverable, regardless of what they want to do.

The program been in existence for six years, but the iteration with senior faculty teaching it, and looking at the material through the lens of entrepreneurship has been around for at least two years now. It is been very successful and I’m very pleased. Freshman can honestly say senior faculty who are the most accomplished teachers and researchers at the school are teaching a freshman seminar. It gets them exposed early, and gives them a chance to engage with faculty beyond the classroom and understand what opportunities are available to them at a younger age. They can start to be more intentional as we work with them in their course selection because they have a better understanding of business concepts.

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