The Unintentional Trailblazer At Villanova’s Business School

Villanova Business School Dean Joyce Russell

What’s your approach to engaging students on campus?

I have a passion for students. I’ve been teaching my whole life. I try to go into all the level classes, and I’ve gone in and taught seniors. I meet with the freshman regularly, which is really fun. I meet with prospective students. I love meetings with high school students because I let them know that business is valuable no matter what they end up doing after business school.

I try to go out and meet with different student groups and officers. I hold a Donuts With the Deans meeting for current students. I think you have to stay connected to students, and that’s why I like to go to the classrooms. I think if you don’t stay connected to the students, then you lose sight of what you want to do and are not approachable. My assistant knows if any student wants to come and visit to set them up. I try to meet with as many as I can.

Next year, I’d like to set up a leadership seminar either with freshman or seniors, and make that a regular thing.

We have more than 20 Division 1 sports teams, but we’re really known for basketball. I’m partnering with our basketball coach because he just wrote a book about attitude, leadership and teamwork that is a bestseller. I’m going to do a fireside chat with him, and have players there, and it will just be another opportunity to interact with our students in that type of forum.

How do you view your role as the first female dean of the business school? 

I think it makes you say to yourself that I have to remember this is important to other people. Business school deans are leaders on campus and that is important because when we make a stand on diversity and inclusion that sends a message out to the rest of the campus that is really important. I think having a woman business school dean is important to alums, important to future generations and important to parents with their students.

For example, we just got a large gift to found the new Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership on campus. We’re getting ready to kick that off in the fall. That’s an example on campus of how women’s leadership issues are very important.

How competitive is it now to get into Villanova?

It is getting more competitive to get into than ever before. Our applications for the undergraduate program were up close to 38% this year. We’re not going to increase our size as a university or business school. At the undergraduate level, we take in about 400 to 430 freshman a year, and take in about another 100 internal and external transfers. It is really difficult get into. This year was unbelievable in terms of the credentials of these students, but that’s a good thing. We’re just going to continue to be more selective

What do you think are some of the distinctive features of Villanova’s curriculum?

Our curriculum is fantastic, and we are constantly tweaking it. With any curriculum now, you need to ensure that you bring in as much technology and analytics as possible, and continue to weave in ethics and global thinking. There also need to be continued opportunities for communication skills because when you talk to employers, they always bring up the same kind of things. We’ve just brought in a lot of new material in technology and analytics, so all of our students are getting exposure to this and are so much more savvy at these skills as a result.

I think we are going to continue to build in more experiential learning, and I think all business schools should be doing that and really trying to make more live cases in classes. I like the fact we’re doing more of that now, and I want to continue to do that. I think the business school is thinking about the opportunities with technology, data and the whole communication side of things. Those are big things for the future.

What differentiates Villanova’s undergraduate program from other schools, and what are some of its strengths?

I think we have incredible outcomes. More than 95 percent of our students have done at least one internship, and more than 72 percent have more than two. Many students start their internships freshman year. There are a couple of things we have that most business schools don’t have. We have a Center for Real Estate. I think that’s fantastic because most business schools don’t have that because they don’t have faculty doing research in those areas. What’s cool about that is those students who major in real estate and finance get unbelievable jobs and also can be doing work in interdisciplinary areas.

We have some other strong centers. We were in business analytics before people were into business analytics. We have a major and master’s degree program in business analytics. We have a lot of students coming in and say I’m going into finance and analytics. We also have a really excellent Center of Global Leadership, which is really involved with global leaders. For example, we had the former president of Mexico here on campus recently.

Another differentiator is that we have a strong business minor. There’s a ten-week Summer Business Institute that admits students from engineering and other disciplines into the business school for the summer. It’s a very intense experience and very experiential and integrated. They’re not taking functional silo classes, rather they are working with a company and doing a project for them.

Another thing that set us apart are our students. They’re just happy, well-adjusted, pleasant, positive, hard-working people. They walk around campus and are unbelievable brand ambassadors. After we moved here, my daughter, who is 16, said, ‘Do they wear any other clothes than Villanova ones?’ And she was right. The students love blue and white, Villanova’s school colors. They are really strong academically, they work hard and they have incredible energy. I must say, every day the students impress me, and I think you could put them up against any other student from any other school. We get a lot of employers who come to us and say, ‘We don’t want to go to the Ivy schools. We want to come to you because you’re a hidden Ivy school.’

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