Interview With Dr. Jo-Ann Rolle, Dean for the School of Business at Medgar Evers College – City University of New York

Medgar Evers College

Dr. Jo-Ann Rolle is the Dean for the School of Business at Medgar Evers College, a division of The City University of New York (CUNY) system. Dr. Rolle has over three decades of experience in higher education, corporate and government operations. She has over ten years of higher education administration experience, seven years of which are at the Chief Officer level. She has served in senior level positions in a broad spectrum of public and private colleges and universities. Dr. Rolle holds the Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Miami; she earned a Masters of Arts in Economics from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville; and completed the Ph.D. in Economics at Howard University. She is a former Administrative Fellow of Harvard University and former fellow in the Price–Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurial Educators. Dr. Rolle is also a former George Washington University Rehabilitation fellow and also served as an IBM visiting professor to Hampton University.

1. How did you get started in your career as a Business Dean?

I was the IBM visiting professor to Hampton University and it changed my life. After an administrative fellowship position at Harvard University, I returned to Hampton as the Chair of Economics, Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. I enjoy teaching in the classroom but I found I could impact a greater number of students and programs as an administrator. I left Hampton and became an Associate Dean of Administration at the University College division of the University of Maryland but found that I naturally enjoyed academic administration. My first assignment as dean was as the Dean of Business & Technology at Excelsior College. Excelsior was a non-traditional college with non-traditional students and faculty. We did some amazing work in curriculum and program development. We launched new delivery mechanisms, and inspired changes throughout the College. I found the Excelsior faculty to be outstanding as scholars, colleagues, and many became lifetime friends.

Dr. Jo-Ann Rolle

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

Economic pressures and stakeholder demands have steadily increased in the year I have been at the helm of the business school. To meet the challenge, I’ve had to apply the lesson of a 2012 Korn/Ferry Institute study. In essence, the study asserts that today’s business school leaders need strategic skills and innovative ideas to stay competitive. A dean must be prepared to refocus and restructure – or risk falling behind academic competitors. My role at the business school is analogous to that of an entrepreneur who must respond creatively to the vicissitudes of the marketplace. Yes, I must get along with faculty and make sure they get things done. But I must also manage relationships with multiple types of stakeholders, boost enrollment and graduation rates, and act effectively as the public voice and image of the school. Echoing the view of a Korn/Ferry source, I’ve had to resist the inclination to go deep and narrow in my thinking and become more of a broad, integrative problem-solver. Thinking more like a CEO is now a core competency for today’s dean.

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

The School of Business introduced a bachelor’s degree in financial economics. In adding the degree program, the Economics and Finance Department acknowledges the expanding role of finance in the American economy and the importance of securities and real estate markets to New York City. According to Commerce Department figures, the financial sector now accounts for 8.4% of the economy, eclipsing the peak hit in 2006. Meanwhile, financial profits are more than 30 percent of total corporate profits. The degree will equip students with the skills required to operate in a sector that was at the epicenter of the financial and economic crisis in 2009. Graduates will be grounded in the fundamentals of modern financial theory and skilled at applying the tools of theoretical and applied research. They will have a strong understanding of how financial instruments are priced and how individuals and firms manage financial risk.

4. 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 and doing that makes their classroom unique to the student’s learning experience?

Faculty at the School of Business engage students in experiential learning in both curricular and co-curricular activities. Professor Veronica Udeogalanya coached a group of students in her Money & Banking class in a college competition sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The competition reinforced the students classroom learning experience. Professor Zelima Blair co-taught an introduction to Public Administration course with a trustee of the City University of New York. Professor Wallace Ford launched a series of guest lectures titled, “Conversations With Success.”
To address the challenges women face in business and public administration, professors Evelyn Maggio, Veronica Udeogalanya, Aelima Blair, Kim Moorning and Sambhavi Lakshhminarayana sat on a panel to discuss the topic with their classes. Approximately 70 percent of Medgar Evers students are women. Business Law Professor Tobias Pinckney presided over a mock trial intended to help participants understand the law, practice critical thinking, and gain greater confidence at public speaking. Several faculty and staff coached MEC law school hopefuls across the campus in the “Law Pathways” program. The School of Business partnered with the Fullbridge consulting firm to develop a one-week program designed as an entrepreneurship boot camp to support students in business plan pitch competitions. Several donors funded the program.

5. What type of qualifications and experiences do your faculty bring to the class? How do you make sure they stay updated in their area of expertise and field of study?
Most of the academically qualified faculty have terminal degrees in their field of study. Most of the practitioner faculty had many years of service in their field before teaching at the College. All faculty are encouraged to stay current in their field of study through research, conferences and publications.

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

The Student Government president is a member of the governing body that presides over faculty appointments.

7. Business and entrepreneurship education are still in high demand, but the competition is larger than ever. How does your degree program differ from other schools?

It is our plan to offer a broad range of curricular and co-curricular programs to meet the needs of a dynamic and changing business environment. Given the importance of entrepreneurship in reviving urban areas, the School of Business sees its mission as preparing students to be players in dynamic circumstances that require entrepreneurial skills. The faculty and administration view our graduates as vital stakeholders in the communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, where Medgar Evers College is located. More than 90% of Medgar Evers students are Brooklyn natives. Most remain in Brooklyn after graduation. Those with an entrepreneurial bent can avail themselves to 10 entrepreneurship-related courses in the curriculum. We also plan to immerse selected students in a Medgar Evers College incubator and accelerator that would expose students to the birthing pains of local startups. Ideally, the training would align students with the real demands of local employers. Our program fosters the next generation of local entrepreneurs who actively seek a renaissance of neighborhoods where they grew up and went to college. Our incubator/accelator program will also prepare intrapreneurs – that is, students with entrepreneurship skills who operate businesses within businesses and students capable of bringing entrepreneurial energy and imagination to existing organizations.

8. Almost every university is going online or trying to offer online degree programs. What is your business school doing in the online space and how do you set yourself apart?

Currently, courses are offered in multiple delivery formats to meet the needs and schedules of the students we serve. Courses are offered face-to-face, on-line and in hybrid form. The School of Business plans to offer its recently approved BS in Financial Economics on-line, which we believe will attract students outside our current Brooklyn, New York base. We are partnering with a learning development firm to ensure that the on-line program will be engaging and will meet the learning outcomes of the program.

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

The rising cost of tuition has an obvious impact on enrollment. The escalation also weighs heavily on family budgets, especially families living in economically disadvantaged areas. College expenses are particularly burdensome for parents of students enrolled in our School of Business. The school is located in one of the poorest sections of New York City. Some of our students begin college at an educational deficit. Our challenge is to move these students along so that upon graduation they can compete for jobs with graduates of other business schools; it’s tough but our students are differentiated by their passion and determination to succeed at all costs. Thanks to the capabilities of faculty members our school has produced a cost-effective program – one that delivers a competitive education to students and gives parents a satisfactory return on investment. Our school makes the most of the AACSB’s expansion of the level of flexibility that schools have with respect to their faculty staffing. Our objective is to promote fresh perspectives, from a faculty with diverse backgrounds, including practitioners, who can bring the reality of the marketplace into the classroom.

Medgar Evers College, CUNY

10. 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 business programs, what other things would you want me to know about your degree and school to help with my selection?

What makes the School of Business distinctive is its level of community involvement. The SoB provides a program of study geared to economic revitalization. To understand the school’s role in Central Brooklyn, it’s first necessary to know how Medgar Evers College came into existence. In the early 1960s, the Central Brooklyn community recognized the need and expressed a desire for a local public college. The tireless efforts of local groups led to the creation in 1969 of Medgar Evers College, named for the slain Civil Rights pioneer. Community leaders served on the first presidential search committee. The community was then and continues to be an important force in the life of the College. And the School of Business has been an active agent in the economic life of the community.

The school acts as counselor and adviser many small businesses and organizations in the community. For faculty and students alike, Central Brooklyn has been a living laboratory to bridge the chasm between theory and practice. The mission of the School of Business is to emphasize excellence in undergraduate business education, in the context of the liberal arts. Put another way, the mission is to provide students with the hard and soft skills to fulfill their namesake’s legacy through a commitment to educational empowerment.