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Dean’s Q&A: Sarah Nutter, Lundquist College of Business

Dean Sarah Nutter. Courtesy photo

In January, Sarah Nutter became the first female dean of the University of Oregon-Eugene’s Lundquist College of Business. It felt, she says, like a homecoming — even though most of her academic experience to that point took place east of the Mississippi River, and none of it in Oregon.

But before traveling the world, rising through the ranks of academia, and being named dean of the George Mason University School of Business in 2014, Nutter grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Michigan. Her chores included burning empty milk cartons, and she began her education in a one-room schoolhouse. So perhaps the University of Oregon reminds her of her childhood in the Midwest — a little less congested, a little greener — or perhaps it’s the community vibe: The school’s strong emphases on sustainability and sports create a collegial, collaborative, and community-minded environment, Nutter says.

“There’s a sense here of being part of something that’s bigger than yourself. Everyone’s success matters,” Nutter says. “I think people come here because they are attracted to those values.”

JOINING LUNDQUIST IN A TIME OF GROWTH

The Lundquist College of Business was 85th on the 2016 Bloomberg Businessweek ranking of full-time MBA programs in the United States. It has also been ranked the No. 1 “green” MBA by the Princeton Review for two consecutive years.

Nutter joins Lundquist at an exciting time. The school is growing, introducing new graduate programs, joint degrees, and undergraduate and graduate 3+1 programs. Nutter says she expects the size of the school and the number of students to grow as well in coming years. And a big part of that growth will come because the school has expanded its reach into Oregon’s biggest city.

In September 2016, Lundquist relocated its executive MBA and sports product management programs to a brand-new facility in Portland. And while the school already had strong ties to the city’s business community, Nutter says the new building will provide a home base for business students across all programs.

“It was a very strategic move on the part of the school,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to leverage programs that we already have in the area, and build them out more strongly. We can bring in speakers and host summits, and we can use it as a place of intersection with our alumni community.”

CHANGING LIVES ONE PERSON AT A TIME

Nutter says she hopes alumni and affiliates of the Lundquist College will largely populate the business community of the Northwest in 10 years. She hopes you won’t be able to walk around business circles in the region without running across someone who is connected to the school.

Her goal for Lundquist is that it will be full of research-intensive scholars who are focused on questions of high importance to the community. In addition, she envisions professionals who become professors of practice, coming back at some point in their careers to partner with the school and share practical knowledge of how business works.

“I want to change lives one person at a time,” she says. “As educators, we have the responsibility to do two things well: Educate our students and bring new knowledge and research back to classrooms. That partnership between practice and theory is something we’re really leaning into, so I would like to see a lively environment in that space. We’re here to put students first.”

In an interview with Poets&Quants, Nutter discussed her decision to leave George Mason, her academic home since 1995, her plans for Lundquist, and her advice for those considering an MBA.

Why did you decide to leave George Mason and come to Oregon?

I loved George Mason and I wasn’t looking for a new job, but when you are in these roles, you get phone calls all the time. I had been saying “no” to all the calls, except when Oregon called. I had been at Mason for 20 years, working at a young, fast-growing organization.

I saw something exciting in the Oregon opportunity. I saw a lot of pent-up energy in the air — around what future possibilities could be for the organization and the school. I came from a Big 10 school (Michigan State, where Nutter earned both her MBA and Ph.D. in accounting), and this was an opportunity to give back and make a difference.

Oregon had just announced a $500 million gift for a new campus, focusing on the applied sciences, and that was a huge opportunity. I believe entrepreneurship and innovation will be a key factor in our nation’s economy, so as we build up that campus we can think about how we translate science to commercialization — having a chance to be part of that, it was just the right time.

Plus, my husband and I are both outdoorsy people. We love hiking, so if you can’t find us, we’re hiking somewhere.

You just joined the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College in January. Tell us about your impression of alumni, students, and faculty so far.

Ducks are passionate. They’re friendly, they’re collaborative, and they’re engaged. And those words characterize our alumni, too. I had the chance to visit with alums, and I found intense loyalty to what they learned here at Oregon.

The faculty are all about how we can build an organization that educates our students well. And for the leadership, I would say I’ve seen an incredible excitement about the opportunity to build something here that’s even greater than it already is.

What are your short-term priorities for the college?

We recently embarked on a launch of some programs in Portland. We had a Master of Sports Product Management launch a few years ago, and it grew very quickly. By the second year we had 51 students, and this year we’re looking at 61. So one of our short-term priorities is to make sure these programs are stable.

We have a new Master of Science in Finance coming out next summer, so students can do the MBA and Master of Science in Finance joint degree, which will just take one extra quarter to complete. And we’re hoping to work across campus to create other specialized master’s programs.

At the undergraduate level, we’re creating 3+1 programs. We have one in accounting, where you get an undergraduate and a graduate degree in four years. That allows students to accelerate their learning, so they’ll be in an advantaged position with great employment prospects.

And our executive MBA is very tuned in and connected to our community in Portland, so we’re going to use the new campus to bring our students there to meet professionals and engage with the business community — we’re looking to leverage the location as much as we can.

These are things we have already in motion, or are bringing into motion now. And of course one of the challenges in higher education is state funding, which has fallen through the basement. So we’re raising funds to support our efforts here at the school. We wouldn’t have been able to launch the Portland program without the support of our alumni, who really made that possible. And it’s true for other things as well, making tuition and education possible, and raising money to support students.