Mental Health, Diversity Key Priorities At Carlson

Dean Singh offers hi-fives to members of Carlson’s class of 2019. Photo courtesy of the Carlson School of Management.

P&Q: How do you add that value?

Singh: The way I think about it, there are three things we offer that you can’t get from a textbook or online from a website. First is the ability to engage really deeply with faculty members. Why you do what you do is so important, it’s not just how you do it. That’s where interaction with faculty is really helpful. To use an analogy, it’s not how you make the cake, but it’s all about why you put the eggs before the oil.

The second thing is half the time you learn by teaching other people and working with other people. It’s the peer interaction that we can provide which you can’t get just by reading a book or a website. That’s what we can work really hard on exploiting more and more.

The third thing is this motivation you get from working with other people that you never get working by yourself. When working in a team, it’s not just learning how to do something, but you learn from others and you can build on that. Learning from collaboration is important because in the world out there, you have to collaborate.

P&Q: As dean of the undergraduate program, what keeps you awake at night?

Singh: I think of this two ways: on the academic front and on the student front. On the academic front, I keep asking how do you keep the students curious? Our students get into this habit of asking, ‘How? How do I become an investment banker? How do I do this marketing thing?’ I make them keep asking the ‘why’ questions. These are the students who have the ability to do things even when the world changes. If we as business schools cannot succeed in making our students curious, what we teach them in class today is not going to help them 10 years from now. That’s what I’m grappling with.

On the student front, I’m very concerned about the student body mental health. It’s a big issue. We just did a student survey and more than 40% of our students responded. It was concerning to see they feel a lot of stress, they don’t sleep well, they don’t think they have control of their lives. We’re taking this very seriously and putting a lot of resources into it. We had a mental health counselor come to be in our space and we’re having that person do a lot of programming. They spend time talking to students and parents about balance. Work is important but balance is also important.

The atrium inside the Carlson School of Management. Carlson photo

There’s another thing I want to put in a plug for. My students once came to me and said the most effective way for a faculty to be impactful is to personalize things. I went to professors who teach core classes in our school and requested that they personalize things such as mental health issues, depression, and stress. One professor talked about her daughter, how she went through stress and was treated by a mental health specialist, but has gone on to excel in her education. Just by personalizing things, it opened the floodgates. Students were coming up and asking, ‘How can I get help?’

I just asked them to give it a try as a personal favor. A few professors did then shared their stories. This one professor who talks about her daughter, spoke about how effective it is and how emotional it is when she gets emails from her students. I wish other faculty members in our schools would do this because I just didn’t realize how effective that would be.

About five years ago, we had a Carlson student take their own life. That’s partly what sparked these initiatives. There are small things we can do to help. At the McCombs School of Business in Texas, we’d learned about the school putting a counselor in place. We heard about them and said let’s help our students where we are.

P&Q: What are some of the other initiatives at Carlson you’re currently excited about?

Singh: There are a few initiatives that we are taking that I feel very, very energized by and feel they are important to our future. The work we’re doing of increasing diversity of the school’s student body, that’s something I’m very excited about. The person we hired last year as director of students in the undergrad program is extremely passionate and it’s infectious. We realized that our women population was only 41% in the business school for many, many years. We made an intentional effort to increase it using holistic admissions practices. This year we have 45%. That’s in just one year.

Getting women is not good enough, right? So we’re doing a first-year retreat for women so they feel more inclusive. Our finance employers are telling us they don’t have enough women coming into their profession so we’re bringing in really high-powered C-level execs to talk with 25 sophomore women before they select their major. It all seems like small things, but four of those talks with 25 women, that’s 100 women. If we can impact 10% of them, that’s 10 more women we have going into finance.

On another front, our LGBTQ community recently brought back alumni from 20 years who are LGBTQ and it was such an emotional event. Many thought they were the only person in that group. One alum from 16 years back was so impacted, that he gave us $6 million dollars to increase LGBTQ initiatives at the school.

It’s all about increasing diversity and making more people comfortable with it. I’m one who wears a Sikh turban everyday, so I get very energized by this. I identify with these things on a very personal level.

On the more traditional side of things, we have extremely close relationships with companies in our backyard and everyday it gets me excited when we’re able to move one step forward and make better relationships. I started in-action classes. These are experiential classes with 40-50 people. We go to a company to get a project and student teams work on the project. Corporate execs invite students into their boardroom to present their analysis. Each time we make the relationships stronger is a step forward. At Carlson, we have 500 students mentored by execs every year.

On the curriculum side, I’m working very hard with faculty here to infuse analytics all through the curriculum so that it becomes a way of thinking. If I have my vision, in five to seven years we’re able to say we’re one of the few schools in which every student is comfortable in analytics.