To undergraduate business students at the W. P. Carey School of Business, Dean Amy Hillman is far from a remote figure ensconced behind a desk in the dean’s office. She’ll gladly meet with students who asks for appointments, conducts focus lunches with undergraduates once a month and teaches business ethics to freshman during orientation.
This past fall, she instituted “Meet the Dean’s Dog Day” after reading an article that spending time with pets makes homesick freshman feel better. She and her Bernese mountain dog trotted down to the freshman business dormitories, where students got a chance to hug Walter and take pictures with him. One incredulous student approached Hillman, asking her if this was the “actual dean’s” dog,’“
“I said to him, ‘I am the actual dean and this dog is not an actor,’” said Hillman, who joined the Arizona State University faculty in 2001. “He’s a real dog named Walter.”‘MAKING A BIG PLACE FEEL SMALL BY CREATING PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS’
It’s this type of personal approach to her job that has defined Hillman since she assumed the deanship three years ago, taking over the role after serving for several years as the school’s executive dean. Hillman, the school’s first female dean, admits that making the undergraduate experience feel intimate at a school with more than 10,000 business students is no easy task, but an essential one.
“The biggest challenge when you have a school this big is making a big place feel small and creating personal relationships,” she said. “Our informal motto here is ‘Where Business is Personal’ and that’s what the staff and the faculty try to stay focused on every single day.’”
Hillman never imagined she’d become dean of a business school back in her undergraduate days as a political science major at Trinity University in San Antonio. She was offered a job running a small retail and manufacturing business shortly after graduation, but was soon frustrated by her dearth of business knowledge. She realized she needed to up her game, and started reading business books at night. “It was a small business and was trial by fire,” she said.
‘STUDENTS CAN BENEFIT FROM KNOWING THE BASICS OF BUSINESS’
She eventually went on to obtain an MBA through a nights-and-weekends program, but always regretted that she hadn’t taken a single business class while in college. With that in mind, she’s been behind a push at the university to expand the number of inter-disciplinary majors at the school that allow students to pursue business while still taking courses in other schools on campus.
“A lot of students were like I was, and have an interest in another topic outside business,” she said. “They may not want to go straight into traditional business majors like accounting or marketing, but there’s a recognition here at ASU that students can benefit from knowing the basics of business.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants’ Alison Damast, Hillman spoke about how she’s working to help the school’s large population of first-generation college students succeed, improve the school’s relationships with corporations and recruiters and boost female representation in the classroom and certain majors.