Steve Elias, dean of the School of Business Administration at Fort Lewis College, discusses the importance of tuning in to the local context to develop useful programs and relationships.
Related: The Small School Difference: A Dean's Perspective
Steve Elias: [0:15] I think any dean who's going to be successful at a business school has to pay close attention to their local context and has to pay attention to the needs of their local community.
[0:25] For example, Fort Lewis College is located in a two-season tourist destination. We have winter sports and we have summer activities, so when we were looking to develop new programs, we really paid attention to the needs of the community.
[0:39] For example, we reached out to the ski resort center near us to see if we might be able to offer programs that would help them, and it turns out we were able to. We launched a 12-hour certificate program in ski resort management.
[0:54] The business community here is phenomenal, but the vast majority of our businesses are small businesses. We worked with the Chamber of Commerce to find out what the needs of the small businesses were at that time and realized a lot of the small businesses had marketing needs, particularly digital marketing.
[1:12] We were able to address those needs by launching what's become a very successful certificate in digital marketing. Looking at the local context is extremely important when it comes to being able to work with your community, as well as provide offerings for your students that will help them live, work, and thrive in your community upon graduation.
[1:33] Prior to becoming a dean, like a lot of deans, I was an academic. There is an old saying, "As soon as you stop going to conferences, you stop coming up with people to collaborate with." I think that holds true for deans, as well.
[1:49] I think going to conferences, the AACSB conferences, primarily, and frankly, things like the dean's conference, things like ICAM and more specialized conferences and seminars, as well, are extremely important.
[2:03] Networking with other deans to get ideas for new programs, new initiatives, and then also potential collaborators if you want to partner with another school. Maybe there's a program you have that has some gaps and there's a dean that you meet at a conference who has programs that help fill those gaps.
[2:20] Unless you're going to the meetings and interacting and networking, you won't be aware of those opportunities, so they're extremely important. I also think it's extremely important to have an active business advisory council, and a diverse business advisory council, not just in demographics but in terms of industry, as well.
[2:38] Hearing feedback from diverse business leaders in your community and maybe some of them are at a distance you travel in. Hearing that feedback, getting their ideas and their thoughts, are extremely important to your program development, your initiative, and frankly, also your success at being able to raise funds to implement your initiative.
[2:59] Lastly, I would say be very active in your community, whether it's serving on boards, working with the Chamber of Commerce, or other business advocacy groups. Networking with those groups in your local business community will be extraordinarily important.
[3:14] You will learn from those individuals what their needs are. You can bring those tidbits of information back to campus and try to think about ways you can meet those needs. That will help your students. If they want to stay in your community upon graduation, they'll have a skill set that your local employers will want.
[3:33] They'll want to recruit those students. You'll also be doing some good for your community in that you're helping them meet needs that they have.
Recorded virtually in February 2021.