Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
You probably know Scott Beaulier’s credentials by now: the youngest business dean in the country, an economics PhD, and the former chair of not one but two different college economics departments (and all of this before the age of 40!).
The dean of North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) College of Business has already accomplished a lot in his career, no doubt, but he’s not here to talk about that. Our cover-story guest writer this month, Beaulier takes a look back at the past year since he took over as dean in June 2016.
He talks about what his expectations were coming into the job, what he and his team have accomplished in his first 12 months and where he sees the college going in the foreseeable future.
NDSU College of Business Dean Scott Beaulier
Part I: what we planned
I’ve spent my entire career in academia and am well aware of the reputation it has for being disconnected and out of touch with the “real world,” particularly when it comes to business.
As someone who has headed academic departments and grown entire academic centers within universities, I’ve had to crunch numbers, work with budgets and create a product people want because attracting tuition-paying students is critical to survival.
I’ve basically worn two hats:
- Pragmatic entrepreneur
The latter role has brought me into contact with successful businesspeople who have been invaluable in offering guidance, tips, and mentorship with regard to the strategy and nitty-gritty financials of running a university department. And while these relationships have been invaluable in helping me advance programs to a point where they’re thriving, they also influence how I view and design education programs.
This interesting position of having one foot in the classroom and the other in the boardroom has helped shape my views of what a valuable, modern business education should look like.
When I learned of the opportunity to lead NDSU’s College of Business, I saw it as a chance to put into practice ideas I had been developing for several years and open up the doors of the proverbial ivory tower right here in Fargo.
First, I wanted to create academic-entrepreneurial fusion. The College of Business, FM-area businesses, charities, hospitals, and public-service departments such as police and fire should all be part of one ecosystem. They should constantly be sharing knowledge, ideas, and resources to make Fargo-Moorhead and the state of North Dakota better. Everything is better when injected with entrepreneurial energy.
“We’ve had nearly as many events and entrepreneurs engaged with our students this past year than we had in the previous 10 years combined.”
During my time as a candidate for the position of dean and in my early days on the job, one of the most noticeable problems for the College of Business was its lack of a clear brand or identity, both locally and among academic audiences.
Brand development is something I’ve learned a lot about from my experiences with trying to “sell” centers and academic departments as being the best thing since sliced bread. The first step I wanted to take, then, was to start building relationships and to build them with everyone: current students and faculty, local businesses and entrepreneurs, elected officials, alums near and far, and the other community members who make Fargo such a great place.
By breaking down the walls that separate the university from area businesses and organizations, we want to create a culture of collaboration, listening and information-sharing. My own experience with building relationships in two spheres—business and academia—instilled in me the value of avoiding knowledge silos, and this professional fusion is paying off. We’ve had nearly as many events and entrepreneurs engaged with our students this past year than we had in the previous 10 years combined.
“Listening to major employers about what they need and where they see education failing is critical to meeting our goals.”
And while getting out and building networks throughout the community has been a priority, the ultimate purpose is to design a business program that leverages our strengths, delivers relevant and current content, and prepares graduates to hit the ground running when they leave campus.
Listening to major employers about what they need and where they see education failing is critical to meeting our goals. From the start, I made it a priority to have conversations with key industry stakeholders. I listened to people such as James Burgum at Arthur Ventures, Kim Meyer at Gate City Bank and Kristi Huber at United Way about what we could be doing better.
The atrium of Barry Hall, the Downtown Fargo home to NDSU’s College of Business
It’s when we approach business education as a collaboration of studying and doing business that we can best prepare the next generation to lead. Students and employers deserve academic programs that do just that.
In summary, my vision before I arrived at NDSU and in my first year has been to redesign business education to include both book AND experiential learning. There is no reason to separate the two and delay putting economic and business principles into action. As an economist, I know that human behavior does not always conform to a formula, and learning certainly isn’t limited to the classroom.
“I can’t think of a better place to develop an entrepreneurial approach to business education.”
My vision for the College of Business is grounded in reality, and I continue to be amazed by the quality of students we attract to NDSU and the quality of the Fargo-Moorhead community. I can’t think of a better place to develop an entrepreneurial approach to business education.
With startup accelerators such as Emerging Prairie connecting the numerous stakeholders in our community and faculty and staff who dare to be different, I’m kept motivated each and every day because I’m working in an ecosystem with a great mix of young and experienced business leaders.
How Business Schools Should Interact With Real-world Economies
Business underpins the practices and principles that guide progress and innovation in society. Business schools should, therefore, see themselves as key players working for good in their communities. Just as our police officers and firefighters keep us safe, our doctors and nurses keep us healthy, our restaurants keep us fed, and our mechanics keep our cars going, business schools prepare leaders and innovators to solve problems and drive progress through business channels.
Communities are only as good as the people who live in them. We need professionals educated and ready to meet today’s challenges, which are different than they were 10, 20 and 30-plus years ago.
Business schools must understand and adapt to a changing economy and changing societal needs. This requires getting out and talking to the community: businesses, government officials, nonprofit leaders and families. Adapting to change and responding by reworking curriculum to better serve our communities is obligatory if we are to take our role as community partners seriously.
We can also interact by opening our campuses to speakers, events, and programs that keep our students connected to the live economy and give the broader community a test site for entrepreneurial ideas that may have tremendous benefit to society.
Part II: what we’ ve done
Hitting the Ground Running
When my wife and I first came to town in 2011 for the Fargo Marathon, we both noted the genuine community vibe in the city.
That weekend alone made the job opportunity at NDSU appealing and Fargo a bit less of an unknown for us, but even a year into living here, we are still blown away by the people. I can’t go on to list any first-year accomplishments without first acknowledging the striking work ethic, energy, generosity, and kindness of the Fargo-Moorhead community.
I mention this because while I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished at the College of Business in the past year, I’m also proud to be a member of the Fargo community and couldn’t be happier to raise my family here.
It’s important to know a good thing when you have it, and that’s exactly what we want to do in crafting our new mission and vision statements to guide the College of Business for years to come.
The reworked language reflects our commitment to leveraging our location. Fargo-Moorhead has garnered national recognition recently as an entrepreneurial hotbed, and the College of Business would be foolish not to take advantage of the talent, ambition and generous spirit surrounding us.
We are committed to being part of the ecosystem, not isolated from it, because we know collaboration will only make us better. We intentionally chose the words “educate, engage and inspire” as all three encompass the fluid exchange between the NDSU College of Business’ faculty and staff and the Fargo-Moorhead community.
“While I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished at the College of Business in the past year, I’m also proud to be a member of the Fargo community and couldn’t be happier to raise my family here.”
We educate each other, we engage with each other and we inspire each other. We do this by both getting out into the community and inviting the community onto campus for programs, as well as events.
In terms of bringing the outside in, this year, we opened up our campus to the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), an FMWF Chamber of Commerce program for area high school students interested in learning about entrepreneurship; 1 Million Cups Fargo, a platform for budding startups; and Startup Weekend Fargo, a three-day showcase of bright ideas.
It’s been great to see so many faces from the community on campus for these events. We’re Fargo’s campus, and we want all members of the community to know they’re welcome here.
Getting out, though, is just as important as bringing people in. That’s why the College of Business has been taking steps to get plugged in to events in the community. In May 2016, I served as a judge at Drone Focus Conference, and in July, many of our faculty, staff and students will be showing our support for TEDxFargo by taking time off work to attend.
I’m also privileged to give back to the entrepreneurial community by writing a monthly column for Emerging Prairie. In the “Entrepreneurial Academic,” I share tips and insight from the textbook side of business. Heart, ambition, and energy are essential qualities in business, but so is a solid foundation in knowledge, stats and facts. I’ll be publishing my sixth column this June so don’t forget to check that out!
With regard to the academics of NDSU’s graduate and undergraduate degrees, we’ve made a lot of changes this year to enhance the quality of the student experience. The total number of hours to complete programs is being reduced across the board because we think it’s smart to remove obstacles and time to students mastering their subjects and getting out into the real business world.
I’ve long pushed for inclusion of ethics in the study of business and have continued that here at NDSU. The College of Business hosted five speakers as part of our Wold Lecture Series in Business Ethics this past spring.
This coming fall, we will host another four or five speakers, one of the highlights being when Dick Beardsley of Boston Marathon fame visits us on October 20 for a keynote. Mr. Beardsley’s story about perseverance and overcoming major life obstacles is one that every student should hear.
Our MBA program is enjoying a rapid turnaround, with enrollments up 25 percent in my first year and with the quality of our student—in terms of years of work experience and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores—also trending higher. As we look ahead to 2018, we will be rolling out new, open-access certificates available to our MBAs and anyone else interested in improving their work skills.
These will be in the areas of digital marketing, data analytics, leadership, and finance, areas of focus chosen specifically to equip graduates to go out and make real, positive changes that our community needs.
I’d also like to point out the expansion of our mentorship program, Business Connections, here on campus. This year, the program matched 25 of our undergraduate students with 25 local executives for hands-on mentorship.
It’s a program we’d really like to see grow, especially in terms of alumni engagement. If you’re interested in being a mentor, reach out to me directly. Success here would underscore the long-term network we’re trying to cultivate.
“We’re Fargo’s campus, and we want all members of the community to know they’re welcome here.”
There are also less flashy successes this year that will certainly go a long way in positioning us to build on success.
We’ve resurrected our Industry Advisory Board after a six-year hiatus, we’re engaged in strategic planning to help guide our decisions for the next five years, and we’re collaborating with students in fine arts and photography to make Barry Hall a more beautiful space for visitors, students and those of us who work here each day.
The crown jewel of my first year as dean came in April when the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) notified us that we had been re-accredited.
Our status as an AACSB-accredited business school is prestigious, as we are one of just two North Dakota universities to enjoy AACSB-accredited status and are among just five percent of all business schools worldwide.
This accreditation is a seal of approval on the quality of our program, and the payoffs for students from attending AACSB schools has been consistent in terms of higher marketability and higher starting salaries.
The recognition from AACSB is the icing on the cake that we’ve been baking over here for the past year, and it’s external confirmation that we are going in the right direction as a college. What a great way to launch into my second year!
Part III: where we’re going
What We Want to Accomplish Going Forward
What we’re trying to build here at the College of Business is life-long community—an entrepreneurial, professional network anchored in life-long learning and interpersonal support. Because business isn’t just about profits, after all. It’s about making the world a better place.
New technologies and improved services make life better for every member of the community. We hope to see the fruits of that collaboration right here in Fargo-Moorhead.
An NDSU business degree is not a line item on a résumé. When our grads accept their diplomas, we won’t shake their hands, send them off into the real world and think our job is done. An NDSU degree is just the beginning of membership into a vibrant, supportive business community.
At the heart of this is our alumni, and building alumni engagement is a top priority. Our aforementioned Industry Advisory Board and mentorship program, Business Connections, are a great start, but when it comes to having engaged and active alumni, the more the merrier.
We want our alumni to hire our grads, to give us constant feedback about where we need to improve in preparing the next generation of business leaders to hit the ground running (as well as share with us what we are doing right) and to offer in-person or over-the-phone guidance to current NDSU students and graduates.
Accomplishment is, of course, also measured in hard numbers, and we have those in mind, too. Undergraduate enrollment has hovered around 1,400 for the past seven years. Our five-year goal is to grow it toward 2,000.
Our MBA program, meanwhile, has not been the distinctive regional program that it should be for a university of our size and stature. That, too, will change, and we have aggressive enrollment and quality-improvement goals for our MBA.
“An NDSU business degree is not a line item on a résumé. When our grads accept their diplomas, we won’t shake their hands, send them off into the real world and think our job is done.”
We’d also like to increase the diversity of our student body by attracting more international students to our MBA program, by drawing more first-generation college students (like I myself was some 20 years ago) to our college and by maintaining a strong gender balance in our degree programs.
We will aim for greater diversity while simultaneously burnishing the reputation of the College of Business as the academic hub of one of America’s most vibrant, rising cities. We’re well on our way to meeting these goals, and I can’t think of a more promising place to be an entrepreneurial academic than Fargo-Moorhead.
What’s the role of a business school, anyway?
Simply put, the role of business schools is to shape and prepare the next generation of leaders.
Business principles are at the heart of nearly every aspect of society: healthcare, food and hospitality, public and private services, travel and entertainment, education and many other staples of our daily lives. The way these necessities and novelties play out enhances or detracts from our quality of life—from effective medical treatment to safe transportation to technology that makes life easier.
Guiding the next generation and equipping them with the tools they need to continue to innovate and improve our communities is what an education in business should be all about. As dean, my focus is on how business schools can serve our communities, both locally and globally.
To that point, business schools also have an obligation to instill in students an appreciation for using business for good—to improve lives and communities. Successful business schools graduate students with a solid foundation in ethics.
Students of business are tomorrow’s employers, product- and service- providers, and innovators. These leaders must understand that respect for human dignity and progress must underpin their decisions.
NDSU College of Business