Interview With Dr. Jess Boronico – Dean of the School of Management at New York Institute of Technology

Dr Jess Boronico, Dean of the School of Management at New York Institute of Technology

Dr. Jess Boronico serves as the Dean of the School of Management at New York Institute of Technology, and holds the rank of Professor. Previous appointments include serving as the Dean of the Christos M. Cotsakos College of Business at William Paterson University, where he successfully led the College to its attainment of AACSB accreditation (2004).

Dr. Boronico is an active member of INFORMS and the Decisions Sciences Institute. He serves on the editorial board and is an ad hoc reviewer for numerous academic journals, and has published over thirty five manuscripts in peer-reviewed academic journals, including Production and Operations Management, Omega, and the European Journal of Operations Research. He is a co-author of Computer Simulation in Operations Management and the editor of Studies in the Strategy and Tactics of Competitive Advantage: Management in the New Millennium. He has also consulted for the United States Postal Service and State Highway Authorities. During his spare time Dr. Boronico enjoys listening to music, collecting board games, and spending time with his family.

Dr. Boronico holds the Ph.D. in Operations Research from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He previously attained the Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and the Master of Science Degree in Mathematics, Operations Research specialization, at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

How did you get started in your career as a business dean?

My career aspiration has always been to be an educator, and following the attainment of the Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business I secured a position as a faculty member at Monmouth University. For a number of years I contributed to the institution’s effort to secure AACSB accreditation through my teaching, scholarship, and service. However, my first priority was always in helping others, including our students, my faculty colleagues, and the dean. I was invited to step into administration, as Associate Dean, as we moved forward with the AACSB accreditation process, by Dean William Dempsey, who felt that this would form a natural progression for me, given my leadership inclination and capacity to diversify my responsibilities from those that a faculty member typically assumes. d

Following a number of years as Associate Dean, I was asked by the university if I wanted step up and assume a broader responsibility as the Dean, which I accepted.

I made a personal commitment, after one year of being the Dean, to pursue administration as a longer term career goal and a permanent element of my career arc. As I believed that achieving AACSB accreditation was a valuable credential to have as a dean, I chose to seek opportunities to assist schools that were interested in pursuing this accreditation. Hence, having achieved AACSB at Monmouth, while I was the Associate Dean, I transitioned to William Paterson University, as the Dean of the Cotsakos College of Business, where I led them through the successful attainment of initial accreditation from the AACSB. I secured the same outcome, most recently, at NYIT.

What do you think are some of the leadership qualities an effective business dean should have?

There isn’t one particular set of qualities that defines successful leadership as a dean. I think the prevailing qualities vary depending on the type of institution you’re at and the requirements of the position. Some schools require transformation. Some schools require maintenance. Other schools require community-building and inclusion. Depending on what the situation is, a dean needs to be adaptable in understanding and implementing the various leadership modalities that apply in a given instance. As to my own experience, the prevailing modality that I have found to work effectively has been one of servant-leadership — working on behalf of the stakeholder groups you serve and placing yourself in the role of leading by serving others. But I do understand that this is my approach, and that other approaches may be equally effective. For example, if a school is adrift, sometimes a more autocratic or authoritative approach might be called for. However, my experiences typically entail building and growth, where I find that it is quite important to ensure the engagement and investment of all your stakeholder constituencies through affiliative and democratic approaches.

New york Institute of Technology

I also believe that confidence is very important. Having an ego can be destructive. It’s important to recognize that the dean is not necessarily the expert of all things, and that is essential to appreciate the contributions of everyone and not to feel threatened by those things. It is also important to provide attribution and acknowledgement for everyone’s good work – individually or as a team – and to also step back from the “Dean as Boss” mentality and consider an approach as facilitator, guide, and friend to all.

A major part of the challenge in being a Dean is being able to synthesize multiple approaches and perspectives in ways to ensure that everyone is heard from and finds their place. That’s hard to do. It’s quite easy to thread a tapestry unilaterally but including everyone’s inputs and threads so that you secure a personal investment from all stakeholders is not. Being confident, setting your ego aside, and trying to understand how to merge everyone’s perspective into the emerging tapestry is an important element of being an effective dean. Everyone must see where their thread contributes to the end result, and the dean must figure out what threads are represented by what people and how they fit in. There’s a certain artistry involved.

It’s also important for stakeholders to be engaged and communicate with each other. Hence I have an open door policy, and I meet with all faculty, staff, students, and external stakeholder groups regularly. I also encourage sincerity in dialog by separating myself out of various group discussions. That is, I try to remove that element of supervisory oversight. For example, while I do hold full faculty and staff meetings and also meet individually with our faculty members to discuss their individual aspirations and goals, we also hold “Faculty Forums” that I do not attend, where a fellow school officer, as a faculty colleague, chairs the meeting. In this way the faculty do not feel that “the Dean is here, I need to be strategic about what I say, I need the Dean’s support.” They can be more sincere in their conversations. In the same spirit the school’s officers have a Quality Assurance Committee – where they meet without me, talk about issues, and either bring recommendations to me or make decisions on behalf of the school. And I would be remiss not to mention the importance of empowerment – we do empower each constituent stakeholder group to make certain decisions without my approval. In addition to the faculty and officers of the school, the same applies to our Student Advisory Board, Adjunct Faculty Council, and Business Advisory Board/Executive Council. Trust is a significant component of leadership – and I trust that the consensus of a group of smart people is going to be a good one. In summary I think you have to trust your people to come up with good decisions and then mobilize action.

Business is constantly changing – what types of things is your school doing to make sure students are learning the most updated business information?

Business is getting younger. We’re seeing the emergence of a lot of young leadership. Entrepreneurs in society are emerging more rapidly and they’re more dominant than they used to be. That has been facilitated through globalization and technology. We’re addressing that changing dynamic by creating opportunities through an unconventional leadership strategy that encourages students to accept an empowered role in developing and transforming the School. The whole idea of engagement leverages our experiential education initiative by constantly challenging our students and asking them to engage in unique ways across multi-dimensional situations that leverage their entrepreneurial spirit and intellectual capital towards advancing the School’s mission.

Our students, for example, secured the licenses for and successfully delivered TEDx talks at the School of Management at NYIT. It was a matter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization approaching me and presenting this as a challenge and my empowering them to be innovative, build a team, and accepting the challenge. This is our way of ensuring that students continually survey best practice approaches in business, implement innovative ideas, and demonstrate their leadership ability – which can be transitioned to the employment market upon graduation.

Curriculum-wise, we use a blend of both academic theorists and professional practitioners in the classroom. We also engage faculty collaboratively by way of our Adjunct Faculty Council which ensures a meaningful interaction between the predominantly full time academic faculty and the adjunct professional faculty. That creates a healthy tension that ensures that practitioner-based emphases are considered by the academics but that that academic theory is appreciated by the professionals. The dialogue ensures relevancy in our teaching approaches and content.

We also ensure that the learning goals in the programs have been externally referenced for being contemporary and relevant. The external business community has helped create, review, and support these goals, including their review of student work and interactive discussion with students and faculty concerning their findings, as a regular part of our assessment methodologies. For example, one of the learning goals of the program is evidence of business innovation. That wouldn’t have been a goal ten or fifteen years ago. However, it was considered to be important by business practitioners, and it was adopted as a formal goal in the undergraduate academic business program. In the graduate business program, one goal is to evidence cultural competency by adopting and recommending management policies in a global setting. So, for example, students will need to consider how various alternative choices might affect management policy not only locally (if in you’re in New York), but also in China or other global markets, and further consider relevant adaptations or revisions.

Finally, let me also mention our innovative approach as it concerns the concept of contextualization. All of our courses have a contextualized element where the courses not only include common or uniform content but also link that content to context, either for a global campus location or for a particular industry sector. For example, when we teach finance in Abu Dhabi, we include contextualized elements that link to Islamic finance. This unique approach ensures that our curriculum responds to the localized priorities.

Faculty play a critical role in the development of your student’s learning and in helping build their business competencies. What type of things are your faculty involved in or doing that makes their classroom unique to their learning experience?

What makes our learning environment unique is that we go beyond the physical confines of the classroom. Our faculty are involved in finding ways to strengthen the out-of-classroom experiences through experiential education that fosters a more holistic approach. For example, we engage our students annually into the College Fed Challenge so that they can apply economic and financial theories towards preparing a forecast for the U.S. economy that gets presented to the Federal Reserve Board. It’s an out-of-classroom, dynamic experience that makes the learning experience more meaningful. We also run an annual Corporate Challenge case study with a partner organization. Student teams compete, following site visits and data acquisition, to resolve open-ended questions facing the partner organization. In this way we also service the industry sector, increasing the quality of learning by mobilizing the transition from theory to practice. Our faculty are engaged by sponsoring a team of their own.

We also recognize the importance of interdisciplinary education. For example, we consider how to train practitioners in a technical field, like engineering, who might want to move into the management space but don’t have the management or marketing expertise. Hence we have developed a course in Technical Sales. On the other hand you might have managers working for engineering firms who don’t understand the concepts of engineering. We’ll have faculty from both disciplines team-teaching our students. We are bringing to NYIT a best-practices approach to interdisciplinary education. Finally, our faculty integrate industry-specific software into their teaching. Students are offered hand-on experience using the same platforms and tools that they will be expected to utilize when they engage in workforce activities.

What type of qualifications do your faculty members bring to the class? How do you make sure they stay updated in their area of expertise and field of study?

All faculty members are expected to maintain their academic qualifications in support of a classification scheme that ranges from purely scholarly theoretical endeavors resulting in high quality academic journals publications, to practitioner-oriented classifications driven by industry-specific projects. We do encourage and support transitioning academic theory into practice and ask that all members faculty demonstrated impact on various stakeholder groups. That is a part of our social responsibility initiative and ensures that we all maintain our relevancy and currency.

Industry-based projects also link to the academic curriculum and student experience. For example, our academic service learning program, where faculty are involved in servicing not-for-profit or community organizations, might require the development of a marketing plan or a multifaceted management project, involving student teams. In this way we are making an impact or contribution to industry by participating in a real project, adding to the outcomes achieved by the School’s faculty, and simultaneously impacting positively on the student learning experience.

And, of course, our faculty members also have the appropriate initial qualifications such as a terminal degree in the discipline of expertise or relevant professional experience of significant responsibility and duration. When combined with some of the elements described earlier, our faculty members have both appropriate initial qualifications as well as relevant ongoing experiences to maintain their credentials.

Do your students have input on faculty promotion, award and recognition program? If so, can you expand on this and provide examples?

We do get students involved in the evaluation of teaching, typically through student surveys, and these results are reviewed and have an indirect contribution towards promotion, awards and recognitions. The most recent example was our nomination of Dr. Diamando Afxentiou, who is our Executive Director of Experiential Education, for the NYIT Presidential Engagement Award, which she received. It was an honor for us to recognize her hard work, and our students’ inputs contributed to my decision to submit the nomination. Our Student Advisory Board has continually reinforced the value of Experiential Education on their development as human beings and emerging professionals. They certainly had an influence in my nomination of her for the award.

We also recognize the faculty members overseeing the various activities students excel or succeed at. For example, when students successfully complete a small group consulting experience with a firm, we recognize both the students, and the faculty member who oversees the project. In general, we leverage our student success stories to recognize both students and faculty.

MBA degrees are still in high demand, but the competition is larger than ever. How does your MBA program differ from other schools and employers?

Our MBA degree recognizes, as I mentioned earlier, that today’s business environment is more youthful. Companies are seeking potential or emerging business leaders who are younger, leveraging their enthusiasm and excitement. Hence there is an emphasis on students segueing their undergraduate and graduate experience without the traditionally cherished “experience” window.

Our response has been to design the MBA to be more seamless in terms of transitioning between the undergraduate and graduate programs. This permits for no overlap in the content between the undergraduate and graduate experience – which further allows us to not only take the academic elements of the graduate programs deeper into the learning taxonomy – increasing the scale of coverage – but also increase the scope of coverage in the core to include more advanced concepts outside the traditional portfolio, including personal branding, behavioral decision making, and international dimensions of organizational behavior. And our program is intradisciplinary in that each of our MBA courses includes elements that touch on alternative business domains. For example, in finance, teams might need to demonstrate how a financial plan evolves from a proposed management strategy, or discuss financial planning in the context of marketing and media selection.

The second differential is that we blend both traditional 3 credit hour courses and 1.5 credit hour courses. This obviously facilitates the increase in scope that we require. In summary, greater depth, more diversified learning experiences, more targeted learning outcomes, and younger graduates that are ready to enter the professional workspace are the differentiators of our MBA program.

Almost every university is going online or trying to offer online degree programs. Your university had a rich history in thinking outside the box for offering online options. Can you please tell me more about what makes your online program unique to the student experience?

The School of Management has no fully online programs, but we do offer some selected online courses. We also have some blended courses. However, our current emphasis is towards leveraging advanced distributed learning technologies to bring together students from across the globe – at our global campus locations – creating a highly diversified synchronous learning experience. What’s unique about this approach relates to the multi-cultural exchange elements. You hear from a different group of students from varying parts of the world in real time. And we continue to explore and pilot these distance learning technologies to increase overall cultural immersion in the classroom setting. This has been an ongoing challenge in higher education.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that business schools are facing now and what his your school doing to confront them?

One challenge, especially for schools in the private sector, is enrollment. There continue to be more schools and educational alternatives serving a limited supply of students. You have to identify what are your distinctive competencies. How are you different and what is your value proposition? You can’t necessarily survive by doing same things everyone else has been doing for years. You have to find unique elements. That is one challenge we are facing head on.

Related to this is the challenge of servicing new and/or expanded markets of students from non-traditional demographics. The era of the traditional 18-23 dominated learning market is gone. In its place we have an increase in students interested in non-traditional delivery modes, coupled with more adult and other non-traditional learners. The learning environment, polices, and approaches needs to address this market shift.

Finally, competency-based education is an emerging challenge. Businesses want to know what skills students have, exactly what competencies they bring into the market, and related outcomes that can be evidenced as potential contributions to their core mission. While many schools have made significant inroads in this area, it is still a challenging question that has, in my opinion, not yet been met.

We learned a great deal about you and your school. If I was a potential student or employer that was stuck between choosing two different MBA programs, what other things would you want me to know about your degree and school to help with my their selection?

As I mentioned earlier, our innovative and non-traditional MBA program allows students to advance both their scale and scope of knowledge relative to more traditional programs, including intradisciplinary elements, and progress deeper into the learning taxonomies of their area of study. Taken together with our emphasis on experiential education, our contextualized approach in adding local context to the core learning elements, and our effort to promote innovation and empower students through leadership opportunities, ensures that we are preparing our graduates for immediate workforce entry and/or advancement in the 21st century business domain.