#StillDean

My reappointment as dean for another five years was announced last week.  The review process was very gratifying.  A lot of people said a lot of nice things.  I’m pleased that my team has done so much to nourish the soul of the College and improve the experience for our students, staff and faculty.  It’s also fun to work with so many smart, accomplished and dedicated people willing to take risks.

While the formal review process brought a lot of affirmation, the best sign of our success in my mind comes through exchanges like the one I had Saturday at the movie theater in Waterford Lakes.  As I approached the snack bar, the young man behind the counter looked up hesitantly and said: “You’re the dean of the College of Business aren’t you?”  I confirmed who I was and asked him about his major and whether he was taking classes this summer.  Turns out I was meeting  a management major enrolled in six credit hours during summer B.  As he returned with my drink he said:  “I want you to know I really enjoy The Exchange.  Thanks for creating it.”  I smiled and wished him luck with the rest of the semester.

I often joke that I’m the North Korean leader because my picture is everywhere in the College.  But I want students to recognize their dean and know what he thinks by reading my blog. I challenge students to not be invisible, so I can’t be invisible either. And, while my schedule doesn’t permit extended conversations with students,  it pleases me to no end to have helped build a culture where people are willing to approach me and chat for a minute in the hall, on campus, or at the movie theater.

Really happy to still be dean of the College of Business at UCF.  Now, back to work everyone.  There is a lot we still need to do.

 

Why We Push

For the last several years I have hosted pizza lunches with students.  The students are typically winners of drawings at events like “Welcome to the Majors.”  The reason I do this is that I want to understand students’ aspirations, expectations and experiences.  It helps me get a clear picture of what is going on in the College and how we can create a culture that is going to help our students succeed while at UCF and in their careers.

I start each of these lunches with the same question: “Tell me what surprises you the most at the College?”  The most common answers to my question is that the place is very large and that the academic expectations are much greater than they were at the student’s last institution.  At a lunch a couple of weeks ago, a student gave me a different answer.  Choosing her words carefully and in very respectful tone she said: “Well, I don’t want to use the term push, but the college really encourages you to engage and get involved in things.”  I laughed and said: “Oh no, you’re right, we push.”

Why do we push?  The answer lies in the video we use during “Welcome to the Majors” where I say: “The purpose of education isn’t knowledge, it’s action.”  That’s a quote from Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher.  His point is that knowledge isn’t very useful if you don’t do anything with it.  This is especially true in business.  You are going to get paid for what you do.  What you do is influenced by what you know. But, if you are too afraid to act on what you know, you fail.  So we push.  We want you to get experience being outside of your comfort zone while you are here, so you won’t be paralyzed by fear and discomfort when you leave.   We want you to learn to take risks, experiment with things you haven’t tried before, expand your horizons, get some swagger and know that you can compete with anyone, anywhere.  If we do our job well, the day will come when we won’t have to push, you’ll  just jump.

 

Diverse

A few weeks ago I asked my blog readers to participate in a survey about how they would describe us.  The survey had 40 adjectives and asked people to tell us how much they agreed or disagreed that the descriptor fit their image of us.  The goal of this exercise was to understand how people perceive us. Thirty-eight readers completed the exercise.

They were not the only group we asked to do this task.  We also have responses from our faculty, staff, undergraduate students and dean’s advisory board members.  All together 609 people have completed the exercise and while there are some differences across groups (a point I will return to in a minute), there is one thing every group agreed on: We are “Diverse”.  Every single group picked this adjective as one of the top three things that most come to mind when thinking about the College.  When combining the data, it was the top choice.  “Accessible” was number 2.  This combination makes a lot of sense, in many ways we are “Diverse” because we are “Accessible.”

We are also diverse because we are “big”.  We didn’t give our survey participants the chance to tell us they think we are big. We already know.  We often talk at UCF about the need to do things at scale and the challenges associated with “scaling intimacy.”  But in my mind, our diversity is a much bigger challenge than our size.  Our diversity extends well beyond racial, gender and ethic differences to include differences in needs, aspirations, and expectations.  Diversity in gender, race, ethnicity is a strength. Satisfying diverse needs, expectations and aspirations is more challenging. It requires different program offerings and experiences, making it even more difficult to scale solutions and manage the portfolio of our offerings effectively.

Why do I think the survey respondents are telling me about more than just demographic diversity? One hint comes from the differences in responses across groups.  For example, undergraduates saw us as far less “affordable” than our ambassadors, faculty, staff, or advisory board members.  Students also see us as more “prestigious” “sophisticated” and “global” than the other groups we surveyed.  Another hint comes from the hundreds of conversations I have had with students over the last five years about why they are here, what they are trying to achieve and what they aspire to in life.  Some promised their family they would get a degree.  Others hope to be the first person in their family to graduate college. Many experience a surprising jump in academic expectations relative to their last institution, while others see us a place they can effectively manage their home, work and academic life.  Some look for opportunities to engage.  Others want to be anonymous. A few hope to start their own business.  Others want to study abroad and then go to a prestigious graduate school. Some students want to rule the world. Others just want the weekend their parents have never had. The best descriptor for all of this: Diverse.

There are a number of other interesting findings from the survey, but I’m not going to touch on those until we collect a little more data, especially from graduate students.  They are the one group we have yet to survey.  In the meantime, we, like the great country we live in, will continue to strive to find ways to turn all this diversity into a strength while still being true to our values.  Happy 4th of July everyone.