I know your first official day was August 1, so what was the first thing on your list for starting this new chapter?
No. 1 one is really getting to know the people and the culture here, and just to start to develop and test ideas. That is, I think, essential for when you’re making one of these transitions. I’m meeting with everybody one-on-one, and that’s pretty much been what I’ve been doing the last six weeks. That’s where you really start to get to know the people and what’s going on at the street fighting level.
Beyond that, talking about early priorities, there’s a couple of interesting things going on here. One, the university is transitioning to a new budget model, so we’re getting our arms around what the implications are for us.
How does this extend to the student body?
Obviously going through orientation, hanging out in the student areas, setting aside a couple hours in the afternoons with a table with a “The Dean Is In” sign. It takes a page out of Lucy’s doctor’s booth in the Peanuts cartoons.
Have students been receptive?
Yeah. I mean the undergrads are a little more reticent to come up and start talking. I try not to show up wearing a tie and a suit jacket, but it’s one way of really trying to jumpstart being accessible to the students. Like many schools that were built several decades ago, they had kind of the CEO model in mind where they stuck the dean’s office on the top floor in the corner. My guess is most of the students don’t know where it is. You’ve got to find ways to make it easy for the students to come, highlight their experience at the school, and tell us something we can do better.
Have you started the process for your five year plan? Do you have some ideas on the initiatives that will be most important?
We’re just starting the conversation in the school. I think it’s important in these situations to take time to learn about the place and about the people. You certainly want to have a sense of urgency as well because time moves fast.
I wouldn’t call what I’m doing right now so much a listening tour as a kind of developing and testing ideas approach. We’re going to kick off more deliberate conversations about strategy in the future. This week, I’ve got a town hall with faculty and the staff and then we’ll do the same with students and alumni. We’ll have conversations about what their aspirations are for the next few years, what our priorities should be pursuing those, and then start to go from there. My hope would be to advance the conversation and have a pretty solid set of priorities in place by January or February.
From your previous experience as dean, do you have a sense of what some of those priorities or vision will be?
It’s probably more in approach than it is in specifics. I think you have to be careful about thinking that things will just adapt to a new environment. Actually, one of the big reasons I decided to sit down and meet with everybody is, no matter how aware you are that you’re in a different place now, you have to really try to put aside your assumptions, beliefs, and the lenses through which you naturally see things.
I think if anything transfers well, it may be more of the process of developing strategy, thinking about our purpose and shared orientation that most of us can get behind. A lesson that applies to any of those schools that I have been in previously is to really ask, “What are the distinctive aspects of the Pittsburgh economy, Pitt Business, and the University of Pittsburgh itself that can be brought together in ways that are going to create great career outcomes for the students. Start with the career outcomes and the businesses and organizations that you want to partner with and work back from there. How do we better align our educational programs? How do we incentivize research and new ideas around those business partners?
Especially at the graduate level, it’s an incredibly competitive world out there. There’s a real danger for schools that aren’t among the 20 that claim to be in the top 10, that are offering degrees at value prices. If you’re not doing something that’s distinctive, that really makes you an essential part of the business ecology of where you are, you’re going to have a tough time.
Considering the undergraduate program, what are some of the challenges and opportunities you see coming?
At the undergraduate level, I think it’s really how do we keep up? I think we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 applications for 350 spots.
That’s a wonderful position to be in, to have such a long line out the door. We do have some challenges around how we accommodate that much demand out there. I think there’s some questions for the school to think about around growth and how we can do that with quality, not only in terms of the students that we that we bring in, but in the services that we provide to them, the support that we provide, and the job placement opportunities that we provide, and so on.
When I talk to the students, some of the things that they’re really interested in is keeping up with growth in demand for our new business analytics major. A lot of students are suddenly very interested in it, so trying to build up the course and instructor capacity for that is certainly a challenge.
And then, I guess in a lot of ways, we’re probably facing a lot of the same challenges that many schools are: Making sure that we’ve got the right mix of students, a culture that’s welcoming to everyone, and preparing students for a world where not only not only are the technical skills in ever higher ever higher demand, but so is the ability to work well in diverse teams. We have to help them all to recognize that we’re not just preparing them for their first job, but with the way the world is changing so fast, we’re preparing them for their fourth job, seventh job, 10th job. The world in which you graduated, got a job, and then were set for life is behind us.
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