Tag: Desk of the Dean



In the two-plus years since I became dean, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of emceeing quite a number of WashU Olin commencement ceremonies. It is my joy to stand at the podium and gaze at faces glowing with a combination of pride, relief and anticipation. I make a point of being the first to welcome them into the community of Olin alumni—a global network approaching nearly 30,000.

The challenge, of course, is where we go from that day forward?

For the alum, Olin can be a source of professional development through webinars, symposia and research. We can be a source of opportunity and career development through ongoing services and engagement with the Weston Career Center (WCC). And, importantly, I’m proud that we’ve launched new opportunities for our alumni and we continue to grow professional connections through networking events.

For Olin, each alum has the potential to provide career coaching and mentoring to the students who follow them. They can provide professional insights to our students in the classroom and through hosted career treks. Or invite students to work on practicum projects that solve real-world problems. Or recruit students for jobs in their organizations. And because of our alumni, who are generous with their treasure—as well as their time and talent—we are able to maintain and build our scholarships, programs and facilities.

Over the past two years, as we have strived to take the school even higher, I’ve become resolved to be more intentional about how we engage with our alumni. We intend to do more to maintain the strong connections between Olin and our former students, to provide a service to our alumni, particularly in the early years of their career, when they most need our support.

We’ve been clear at Olin that our mission and vision statements call for us to provide a return for our students over their entire career. Our students have had the Olin experience—the community, the coursework, the global projects, the collaboration, the faculty—and they’ll continue to have the benefit of Olin after they leave.

Once Olin, always Olin.

In that spirit, watch for more details about the ways we intend to enhance our outreach to and collaboration with our former students.

These initiatives fall in broad categories such as alumni engagement, lifelong learning, alumni communications and personal career resources—a joint effort, taking in the feedback we’ve received from our alumni and the work of colleagues in Alumni and Development, Marketing and Communications, the Graduate Programs Office and the WCC.

In some cases, our work is really focused on better communicating about existing services and opportunities—including career coaching and other career services through the WCC. These services are there and we know our alumni want to make use of them.

In other ways, it’s about taking what we already do to the next level. To enhance communication, for example, we’ve launched a quarterly alumni newsletter (watch for the next edition on April 23). We’re creating listening tours and a schedule of happy hours.

We’re working on symposia, luncheons and panels in various cities around the country, as well as strategies for more communication through phone calls, alumni profiles and more. We’re looking at additional conferences, special events and recorded resources for professional development and sharing WashU Olin thought leadership.

We’re focused on these initiatives so we may live up to our mission and vision. We’re focused on them to make the special relationship between Olin and our alumni more evident to everyone. We’re focused on them because we believe in that perfect world.

I want you to hold me to it.


Copy of Robert S. Brookings portrait that hangs in the lobby of the Alumni House.

The Robert S. Brookings portrait hangs
in the lobby of the Alumni House.

For more than a century, the histories of WashU business education and the Brookings Institution in Washington DC have been intertwined. Robert S. Brookings, the St. Louis businessman, philanthropist, and WashU board president who built the Danforth campus and elevated the university to the world stage, was also passionate about the intersection of business and government policy education.

That passion, in fact, led to the establishment in 1916 of the precursor to today’s Brookings Institution, which was for a time a part of Washington University.

President John F. Kennedy recognized the need to bridge policy and business when, in 1962, he greeted Brookings attendees to the White House: “My experience has been that those businessmen who have worked in Washington, who have held positions of responsibility, who know something about the public responsibilities of those who hold executive office, are a good deal more understanding and a good deal more successful in their business work later on.”

Today, we begin the process of taking the Brookings-WashU partnership to another level. Construction begins this month to expand Olin’s space at Brookings from 2,000 to 12,000 square feet—a significant undertaking with implications for what we can offer. The new space bears the iconic street address of 1776 Massachusetts Avenue NW, overlooking the main Brookings building across the street.

Space is tough to come by in Washington and a larger footprint means we can serve more students who are waitlisted for our master of science in leadership, our certificate programmes in public leadership and policy strategy, and our executive education courses.

In fact, if this space had been available last year, every waitlisted student would have been able to participate in a Brookings programme, according to Ian Dubin, assistant dean and director for Brookings Executive Education. And while that will help us expand our offerings to DC-based students, it will also bring us closer to another goal of mine: making sure every Olin student has a Brookings experience.

“This space is going to allow us to really grow what is the real advantage we have, which is this opportunity for immersion,” Ian said recently. “The global MBA program will soon begin, Olin’s Mumbai students will be coming, BSBA students will be coming.”

In addition to the construction work, I’ve also recently elevated the role that Lamar Pierce, Olin professor of organization and strategy, plays at Brookings. He now adds Associate Dean for the Brookings-WashU partnership.

“We believe this new space better reflects the important and lasting partnership between Brookings and Washington University,” Lamar said recently. “The new classrooms, which look out over Brookings and Dupont Circle, will provide state of the art instructional spaces for both our executive education and for the many Olin programs with Washington residencies.”

Optimistically, we expect to complete the expansion around late April or early May, but definitely in time for the arrival of more than 115 full-time MBA students in July, when they begin their round-the-world global immersion in Olin’s revamped two-year programme.

As we approach Robert S. Brookings’ 169th birthday on January 22, it’s fitting that we take note of this important milestone in the partnership between Olin and his namesake institution, the world’s premier think tank in arguably the world’s most important global capital.




Staci Thomas is one of the Olin faculty members who has grown accustomed to "flipping the classroom" — assigning "knowledge transfer" to the homework and spending classroom time on interactive projects and engagement.

We live in a world of change and disruption in all spheres of life. In particular, technology has had a largely positive effect on all aspects of our lives—personal and professional. Education is no exception.

While the pace of technological innovation appears to be accelerating, innovation itself is not altogether new. Over the centuries we’ve moved from scrolls to codex books and more recently toward digital reading technology such as the Kindle and the iPad, and most classroom instructors have replaced dusty chalkboards with more modern alternatives.

Yet the standard process of knowledge transfer in universities—the lecture—hasn’t changed much in around the last 1,000 years, since the rise of the university in the early European Renaissance. This is beginning to change around the world—and at Olin, in classrooms run by professors such as Andrew Knight and Staci Thomas, who adapted classes that used to rely on classroom lectures and projects that students worked on outside of class.

“I thought I needed to flip the classroom so the lectures become the homework,” said Staci, a lecturer in communication. “Class becomes more like a workshop. We do presentations or create communications plans collaboratively. I can see it. I can hear it. I can offer suggestions to improve.”

Now, basic knowledge transfer happens outside of class, through short video clips, video conferences and other technological tools. It’s important to note however, that this method of knowledge transfer is a complement to rather than a substitute for face-to-face interaction. First, we use behavioural science to fine tune knowledge transfer outside of class, based on known attention spans and the creative use of mental stimuli through technology.

Then we use the face-to-face classroom experience to assimilate that knowledge, taking it in more deeply and fully understanding its implications and uses in a range of contexts and collaborative situations, using real-time case studies, seminars and group discussions.

Creating tools to encourage change

At Olin Business School we are building a custom-made e-learning platform tailored to the school’s needs. Equipped to give instructors and classmates the tools to collaborate from around the world, it will seamlessly integrate course materials, online learning experiences, recorded materials and innovative assessment, in an online environment which is uniquely Olin.

Two months ago, three new colleagues joined the Olin team and have already spent time engaging business school stakeholders—students, faculty, staff and alumni—about how a new digital learning platform can best serve everyone. Our goal is to launch a world-leading platform by the time the next full-time MBA students begin their new global immersion just seven months from now (check out my earlier blog post for more about the new MBA programme).

“Our eyes lit up when we saw the focus on teamwork in the MBA redesign,” Simon Harper told me. He’s director of platform operations and service for Olin, part of the three-person team of developers, e-learning experts and information design specialists leading the work. “We see that the tools can easily support collaboration across geography.”

Andrew Knight, associate professor of organizational behaviour, is eager to have additional tools to carry on the transition he’s begun to make in his classroom, where he uses 60 to 80 percent of his classroom time with first- and second-year MBAs on interactive teamwork and leadership exercises.

“I try to use the classroom time to practice teamwork and leadership through experiential exercises to get experience and feedback from their peers,” Andrew said. “I’d like to use class time and technology to shift the one-way flow of information from me to multimedia content and use our time in the classroom in a 100 percent interactive fashion.”

Integrating students, alumni, staff, faculty

What we’re doing at Olin is exciting, but I want to be candid as well: It’s not the first time I’ve been involved with such an effort. It wouldn’t take much sleuthing to know I led a similar effort during my time as dean of Warwick Business School. And I will build on that experience.

The digital platform we will build at Olin will knit together all aspects of the school, tracking students through the whole programme from operations to registration, from class scheduling to faculty scheduling, from the classroom experience to our connections with Olin alumni. We will also build and equip state-of-the-art studios to capture online content.

“We are experienced in this,” Harper said. “It’s our expertise, but it goes beyond that. We’re keen to create new things once we learn the needs, unlocking the further potential of the faculty here.”

Might Olin eventually offer an online degree? Perhaps. Stay tuned. Right now, the plan is to build from the ground up a next generation virtual learning environment to support the new MBA, our professional MBA and, eventually, all our programmes, as well as a platform through which our alumni can better engage with one another.

It’s the right thing to do as we continue to enhance Olin’s global standing. And our students expect nothing less.

Pictured above: Staci Thomas is one of the Olin faculty members who has grown accustomed to “flipping the classroom” — assigning “knowledge transfer” to the homework and spending classroom time on interactive projects and engagement.




It sounds like the setup for a bad joke: An artist, an engineer and an economist walk up to a bridge. Instead of delivering a punch line, however, I’ll take this scenario a different direction: Let’s talk about the non-traditional ways Olin has structured business education—some of them in direct response to students.

Consider the artist, whose eye focuses on the bridge’s aesthetic appeal. The engineer admires the integrity of a design that supports hundreds of tons of concrete, steel and people. The economist sees an investment that should yield returns by accelerating the transport of goods, services and labor.

Each has a unique perspective but each considers the other. All three want a sound, attractive, purposeful structure. In that vein, we recognize at Olin that every business student isn’t necessarily interested in a traditional business career. Even further still, every student seeking better business savvy is not destined for a business degree.

For example, we’ve reduced barriers for students approaching business courses from other disciplines, such as students from the Fox School who want to understand marketing better. These are typically rigorous, quantitative courses requiring advanced calculus as a prerequisite. While fully respecting the quantitative nature of our marketing curriculum, we’ve designed a “principles of marketing” course—without the deep quantitative background—for those who don’t need it.

Students themselves drove the introduction of our “business of social impact” minor, which only launched last year, combining faculty expertise from the Brown School and Olin. As BSBA curriculum director Bill Bottom told Student Life last year, “This is an initiative that began from student interest and student research—a group of students…really were quite enthusiastic about their business studies.”

That minor joins the minor in the business of sports, underway for several years, and the newly announced minor in the business of the arts, due to launch next year—along with a course in the economics of entertainment taught by Glenn MacDonald.

We’re even going deeper in the next year—beyond a few courses or a minor—with the introduction of WashU’s first truly joint degree within the university. In 2019, in collaboration with the School of Engineering and Applied Science, we’ll welcome our first students working toward a bachelor’s degree in business and computer science.

“We’ve worked for a year to put this together, and we’ve validated our thinking off of other alumni and corporate partners,” said Steve Malter, Olin’s senior associate dean of undergraduate programs. “This is what the workforce is looking for. This is the future.”

Steve made those comments in the new edition of Olin Business magazine, out now, which dives more deeply into cross-disciplinary business programs than I can here.

As an economist and scholar of renaissance literature myself, you must imagine that I’m a firm believer in interdisciplinary work, combining a broad general curriculum with business education. Real-world problems don’t come neatly packaged. We must look across academic siloes to solve the toughest problems. As leaders, we must be comfortable moving from the highly qualitative to the highly quantitative, using our skills of persuasion, backing our viewpoints with hard-core analysis.

It’s in this context that we speak at Olin about a values-based, data-driven education. That’s why I’m excited by the work Olin has done to reach across disciplines and attract non-traditional business students.




Dean Taylor with Dean Colangelo and a selection of his works that will appear in various parts of Olin Business School.

Few figures in science have pierced the popular imagination or made more fundamental scientific contributions like renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. He wrangled with complex data about the construction of the universe and yielded mathematical models depicting its function. Yet he was also a musician, an artist and a lover of dance.

“The true sign of intelligence,” he once said, “is not knowledge, but imagination.”

At the business school, as part of a great university, we are in the knowledge business. We create it, we transmit it, we leverage it with our community partners. And I’d like to think we’re continuing to create a workplace that sparks the imagination of our colleagues.

Complementing the inspiring architecture of Olin Business School, we’ve begun to introduce new images to adorn its walls. I wanted to share a little about these works and the people behind them.

Thames and Bens II 2018 by Ann Wimsatt

They include the works of Ann Wimsatt, a St. Louis-based artist whose work I encountered at an exhibition soon after arriving at Olin. Her work now lines parts of the fourth and fifth floors of Knight Hall and Bauer Hall, as well as parts of the second floor in Simon Hall.

In Ann Wimsatt’s work, I was struck by three things. First, her images are extremely international, depicting significant architectural landmarks in locations such as Mumbai, Barcelona, London, Siena, Hong Kong and more—as well as St. Louis. Second, they are subjective interpretations of the buildings and landmarks they depict. And third, they are vibrant splashes of color that turn a corridor into an artist’s palette as we walk along, before stopping to look at the details of any particular one.

“Sometimes the most glorious endeavors of a civilization are what they create in their cities,” said Wimsatt, who is also an architect. “I’m quite interested not only in what meaning and importance they might have to me as I paint them, but also, as I manipulate them digitally, what kind of meaning I can draw out of them.”

G.R. (GRE.EK) 2011 by Carmon Colangelo

Olin visitors will also notice a new series of works by my friend and colleague Carmon Colangelo, the Ralph J. Nagel Dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Carmon graciously showed me around and introduced me to the art scene in St. Louis soon after my arrival and we spent a lot of time discussing art in his studio and in galleries around the area.

Several of Dean Colangelo’s works hang in and immediately outside my office—and there will soon be several new ones displayed prominently in the Kiefer Foyer in Simon Hall. Those closer to my office tend toward the symmetrical and orderly, but the farther from my office they get, the more the works take on their own character and depart in subtle but significant ways from the central works. I view it as something of a metaphor for the academic freedom we enjoy on the WashU campus.

“I made a new series that was inspired by the concepts in the first versions of the stretched colorfield images,” Colangelo said. “I like the analogy Dean Taylor has made about innovation and faculty research responding with more radical variations on this theme.”

Our very existence as a highly ranked business school depends on the ways we foster collaboration and imagination in the service of the knowledge we create. How do we infuse creativity into a business school? Perhaps by osmosis? I’m rather hopeful that we’ll see our students, visitors and faculty members take time to pause and appreciate the new works adorning the halls and to become inspired by their environment.

Pictured above: Dean Taylor with Dean Colangelo and a selection of his works that will appear in various parts of Olin Business School.