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New Dean Has Big Plans For St. John’s

Norean Sharpe began her deanship at the St. John’s Tobin College of Business last August. Courtesy photo

Norean Sharpe wants everyone to know St. John’s is more than a New York City-based basketball school.

“I think when people hear St. John’s, they think two things. They think basketball, and they think New York,” says Sharpe, who became the school’s dean last August after stints in the administration of Babson College and, more recently, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. But what most people don’t know, Sharpe adds, is that St. John’s Tobin College of Business has four underrated academic “pillars” in accounting, tax, risk management, and actuarial science.

“My goal is through faculty hiring, curriculum development, fundraising, and scholarships to really enhance those four pillars of St. John’s,” Sharpe tells Poets&Quants. “And so, in addition to basketball, when people hear St. John’s they think accounting, tax, risk management, and actuarial sciences.”

LIFTING A SCHOOL FROM A 550 AVERAGE GMAT

It’s an uphill battle. The Tobin College has never participated in a national ranking. Applications to its full-time MBA program have fallen. Enrolling about 200 a year, the unique 36-credit-hour, full-time program is on the smaller side — and has decreased in enrollment in recent years. The average GMAT for entering classes is around 550. And the most recent “career outcomes” information listed on the school’s MBA page is a listing of the “top 100 graduate employers.” This, Sharpe says, its because the school has not separated department-specific career outcomes data — something she plans to change, starting this year. “I think as a Catholic institution, St. John’s has been incredibly humble and has not stressed marketing and promotions,” she adds.

Tobin faculty voted last spring to move the 54-credit full-time MBA program to 36 credit hours, in order, Sharpe says, “to save the students time and save the students money.” She notes that a sizable portion of Tobin students come from lower-income backgrounds. “We see this as an advantage, because students don’t have the time to spend on the MBA anymore and they don’t have the resources.”

As for how employers might view the abbreviated MBA, Sharpe says recruiters are looking for graduates who are analytically and technically skilled. “As long as we can produce graduates with the skills employers need, I think they’ll be fine with the 36 credits,” she says. These days, she adds, recruiters are looking for globally minded team players — something she says Tobin produces.

FACULTY, NEW YORK CITY LOCATION ARE STRENGTHS TO BUILD ON

Some 40% of Tobin’s population would be categorized as coming from a “under-represented group,” and that’s a plus, Sharpe says. “As other schools across the U.S. are striving for diversity, we’re already there. We’ve already accomplished it.” She notes the diversity of both graduate and undergraduate programs “also makes for a strong pipeline for full-time positions and internships. Because, as we know, today employers are looking to hire a diverse workforce. And we can provide that for them.”

Sharpe plans to play to the school’s current strengths — among them, the faculty and the New York City location. “St. John’s has an extremely qualified and talented faculty,” Sharpe says, and what’s more, the school has unique faculty strengths like top researchers in service marketing, including Joan Ball and Tim Keiningham. Tobin also boasts a dozen full-time faculty in its School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science — more than any other similar program in the country, Sharpe says.

To be sure, she has quickly made moves to bolster this particular strength. Since August, Tobin has brought in a new risk management faculty member from the University of Connecticut, a finance faculty member from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and a management professor from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Sharpe is also in the process of hiring a new tenure-track economics professor.

Not only does New York draw top academics and researchers, it also provides ample job opportunities for Tobin’s students and alums, Sharpe says. “It’s easier to have large corporations on campus,” she says of St. John’s location in Queens. “It’s easier to send our students into the city for workshops, presentations, talks, and interviews. And most of our alumni stay here.”

TWO NEW SPECIALIZED MASTER’S PROGRAMS AND ONLINE MBA DUE WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR

On the horizon, Sharpe says, Tobin will roll out more specialized master’s programs, which she sees as a big piece to the school’s success moving forward. “The number of GMAT takers is shrinking and the number of applicants to the full-time MBA has been dropping,” she says. “And that’s the same at St. John’s. As the overall landscape is shifting from full-time MBA programs to these intense, discipline-specific master’s programs, we need to respond accordingly.” To curb decreasing interest in the full-time MBA, the school plans to continue to develop its six current specialized master’s programs and unveil two more in the near future.

“My challenge is to ask students and employers, ‘Where are the demands?'” Sharpe says. “Where are the demands in the workforce, and what are students looking for?”

Within the next year, she says Tobin will introduce two more master’s programs: entrepreneurship and innovation, and global management. In addition to these, Sharpe and team were granted New York State approval in January to begin an online MBA program. The school will begin accepting applications this spring, and the first cohort will begin in August.

SHARPE BRINGING PREVIOUS FUNDRAISING AND CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT EXPERIENCE

Still, the development of the school and its potential competitiveness in a saturated B-school market won’t come easily.

“In a time of shrinking resources, of very focused student demand, of increased need on the part of employers of a diverse workforce, it’s a challenging time for all business programs,” Sharpe admits.

But if her stint at Georgetown’s McDonough School is any indicator, she’ll quickly make improvements. During her seven years as the director of undergraduate programs at McDonough, the school saw a 35% leap in applications to its undergraduate program. At the same time, it significantly decreased its acceptance rate while increasing average SAT scores. Gains in admissions and employment stats during Sharpe’s stint at McDonough is largely what led to the school’s fourth-place ranking in the first Poets&Quants’ Ranking of Undergraduate Business Programs.

One more important thing happened during Sharpe’s time at McDonough. She established the Undergraduate Dean’s and Global Scholarship Funds, which granted $100,000 in support for undergraduate students wanting to intern and study abroad during the summer. Her vast fundraising experience and overhaul of that school’s undergraduate curriculum will likely paint a picture for the future of the Tobin College.

DON’T MISS: THE INCREASINGLY GLOBAL GEORGETOWN McDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS or FORMER KATZ DEAN JUMPS TO KOGOD SCHOOL