Dean’s Q&A: Lynn Wooten, Cornell’s Dyson

Warren Hall, home of Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Courtesy photo.

P&Q: What are the top jobs, companies, and industries your students are pursuing?

Wooten: Consulting, finance, and marketing. Although, we have a whole host of concentrations. For instance, we have food management as a concentration and a lot of economic development economists come out of Dyson.

As far as companies, definitely investment banking, consulting firms, and accounting firms that are merging into more consulting. We’re starting to see more interest in tech such as financial tech. Also, the Facebooks and Googles of the world are a big interest.

P&Q: Other than what you spoke about here, what is the Dyson distinction for students when they leave Cornell and get out into the workforce?

Wooten: The Dyson distinction is some of what we do well. Students have a very strong quantitative foundation, economics, and leadership skills. The second thing is Dyson students are just very nice, kind people; not your stab-in-the-back type workers. They have a good work ethic and they know how to work in a team. This is important because, in this knowledge economy, not just one person can get things done.

The third thing is they are broad-based thinkers who understand the intersection of business and society. We encourage a lot of that comprehensive understanding of business within society and that it’s not just sitting on an island of its own. When they’re going to Goldman Sachs or McKinsey, they bring all of these skills with them.

P&Q: How has business education changed or evolved during your time in academia? What are some of the major changes that stand out to you?

Wooten: I’ve been involved in business education since 1984 as a PhD student, a faculty member, and an administrator. This is my seventh year in the dean’s suite. When I started, business was not the most popular major. Now it’s the most popular major in the country. What does that say about shaping the role of not only the economy, but our society? I think we have an opportunity to shape so many young minds and businesses. Not just corporate, but nonprofits and others. So, what’s changed is the interest for the major.

Another big change is how we deliver the product of business education. When I first started, it was very much a lecture format. Now it’s engaged learning and action-based learning. Also, ensuring that liberal arts is integrated. Those are the big trends.

P&Q: How have students changed?

Wooten: The student body has become more savvy consumers of what they want. From day one, they’re so focused on their careers and they’re less explorer-oriented than my generation. Getting them to explore or think outside the box is one of my missions. I look at applications that come in and they’ve already developed and started businesses or interned in private equity on Wall Street. There’s this pressure to be prepared for business. What I want to see from emerging adults is spending more time learning about what it takes to be our best selves and using college not just to take business school classes.

P&Q: What are the key trends in undergraduate business education you’re paying attention to?

Wooten: The things that have my attention are assuring our students have the hard skills, the analytical skills to be successful and what that looks like in 2018. Students think the ability to code and run analytics is something new. I had to do it too. The language was just COBOL. So, making sense of data that goes along with finance and consulting, for instance, is something I’m paying attention to. Soft skills, executive presence, communication skills, working in a team designing a project to executing are also very big skills for me.

For kids to launch a successful career, top business schools are also looking ahead to students’ lifelong careers — as opposed to just their first jobs — as well as pathways to graduate school.

P&Q: What is always top of mind for you as an undergraduate dean?

Wooten: I mentioned my daughter exploring colleges and my son who is an alum of Cornell’s hotel school. In some ways, I’ve always been a consumer. The same way I want people to care for my children and ensure everyone has a level playing field to be successful is what’s top of mind. I want to make sure students have a thriving experience; that it’s truly transformational. I think that’s a challenge because not everyone is starting at the same level playing field. We have students coming from all different backgrounds; first generation students, those from under-resourced backgrounds, and more.

P&Q: How do you ensure the playing field is equal?

Wooten: I think of it as a pipeline initiative from the high school system through to graduation. For students who come from under-resourced backgrounds, ensuring they have classes and summer programs they can go to before the formal semester starts, making sure they have tutorial resources, mentors, and that they’re entering a community feeling welcomed.

I try to go to dinner with our students of diverse backgrounds, helping them navigate the game of classes and their careers. We have an interview clothing boutique because it may be that not everyone has or can afford the clothing that’s needed for job interviews. Making sure every student has a laptop is something else that came across my desk recently. It’s one student at a time and that’s what I love. We’re small and can focus on students’ personal and academic well-being.

P&Q: What do you enjoy most about your role?

Wooten: As a faculty member for the first 15 or 16 years, I got to make change on the individual level. What I enjoy most about this role is being able to have system-wide change.


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