This story was written by Will Shoemaker and originally published in the Gunnison Country Times on August 21, 2014. It is shared here with permission.
As a practical matter, it would make sense that a goal of growing an institution’s enrollment would start by raising the visibility of the most popular major nationwide.
That was the logic behind a decision last year on the part of Western State Colorado University leaders. Beginning in 2014-15, the previous Business, Accounting and Economics Department at Western is no more. It’s now the School of Business.
While administrators admit that the most recognizable change at first will be merely that of name, they say the establishment of a school devoted to business should pave the way for giving, partnerships and career placement not previously afforded.
As part of the initiative, a dean has been hired.
Peter Sherman has been on board since Aug. 1. He previously served as dean of the Schroeder School of Business at the University of Evansville — a private liberal arts college that he views, in many ways, as similar to Western.
Sherman said his new role will primarily be as the “external face” of the school — and growing enrollment is a top priority. He noted that students within the former business department account for the largest block on campus, with approximately 430. Preliminarily, he hopes to see that grow by about 80 students over the next five years.
William Niemi, interim vice president for Academic Affairs, said that establishing a School of Business at Western is not a new concept. It was actually contained in the university’s 2004 strategic plan.
Niemi said when he became vice president in mid-2012, administrators identified enrollment growth as a top priority and recognized the greatest opportunity to make that happen within the realm of business. That analysis led to discussions last year among the Board of Trustees and department leaders, at which time the decision was made to pull the trigger on establishing the school, Niemi said.
“It’s the most popular major nationwide and we believe there’s the capacity in the marketplace and at Western to increase enrollment in business,” he said.
Other majors within the previous business department — such as accounting, economics and marketing — now fall under the banner of the School of Business.
While he’s only been on the job a few weeks, Sherman said he already has ideas for ways to raise the visibility of the new school — and Western as a whole. He recognizes that there’s been ample innovation surrounding the former department — exemplified by such initiatives as ICE and the Public Lands Resource Management program.
“I want to look across campus to see if there are ways we can partner,” Sherman said, offering examples of art students who could benefit from business skills, or business classes for exercise and sport science majors.
Boosting scholarships, internships, international programs and possible tweaks to curriculum are also on Sherman’s radar. Concerning the latter, he recognizes that changes will be largely dependent upon direction from faculty. Still, he noted one area of study that may beg for a fresh look — marketing.
“It changes so quickly. Students need creativity, innovation, graphic design and social media,” he said. “Employers expect that when they come out. Maybe an examination of whether the curriculum we currently have is what the industry wants.”
Sherman noted that at the University of Evansville, two faculty members were brought on board to work in career services within business school, resulting in a higher placement rate and salaries for graduates. He said such an addition at Western would likely require raising money.
Sherman noted that the majority of students at Western are from the Front Range area — where he believes, for example, summer internships could be bolstered.
“Your chances of getting a job go up dramatically,” he said, adding that he plans to work with the local hospitality and tourism industry as well. “The direction I’d want to go there is making sure that the internships they’re doing are leading to upper management positions and not the front-end things.”
Much of Sherman’s time will be spent “in” the business community, he said.
Former department Chair Kevin Nelson will now serve as associate dean with a focus on internal matters while continuing to teach. He said this also will allow time for Sherman to focus on fundraising, which department chairs have little time to do.
“Through fundraising we hope to have more scholarships for students. We’ll examine different majors and look at the possibility of a master’s program,” Nelson explained. “Hopefully, we’ll see a few more students around Borick, which will mean more stability for the business school and Western in general.”
Sherman taught within and led the Schroeder School of Business for 11 years. Previously, he’s worked in the securities and investment industries before seeking a doctorate degree from the University of Nebraska.
The draw to academia was instilled, in part, by his father, who was a finance professor at Creighton University in Nebraska.
“I had seen the enjoyment that he got out of it,” Sherman explained. “Honestly, probably the biggest thing was wanting to give back more of my life. We did a great job of making wealthy people wealthier, but I wanted to do more than that.”
Departments converting to schools of business is a trend throughout the country, he said.
“One of the biggest things from having this school is that it increases the ability to increase resources to the university,” he observed. “That transfers directly to the students.”
Sherman said his wife and three children, ages of 11 to 14, are settling into their new home in the valley. His kids will be starting school next week in Crested Butte.
While the School of Business technically has been launched, a more formal celebration is planned in conjunction with homecoming.