Rising From The Ashes, Thunderbird Breaks New Ground

Tell me about your travels. You have been to 42 countries since becoming dean. I assume part of that’s going to some of the new global hubs? I understand you opened one recently in Jakarta.

The plans that I shared with you last January have really concretized. The goal is to have 20 of these regional Centers of Excellence around the world, as you know. We have Moscow that’s just had its 25th anniversary. We have Geneva that’s more or less 10 years old, and we have Dubai. Since I came on board we have launched Tokyo, Jakarta, Shanghai, Nairobi, and Washington, D.C. So we went from three to nine. So certainly my travel was, in part, because of launching and then reinforcing and transforming these regional centers. Because we have a whole ramp of educational offerings that we do through these centers.

But one of the greatest, if not the greatest, assets of Thunderbird is our 45,000 alumni in 140 countries around the world. One of the great things that’s happened is, we have a complete alumni community. Our alumni have been galvanized. You know what happened — back in the day the alumni split. We had a Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association that went one direction, and we had an internal alumni association connected to the school, and all of that. TIAA had closed down, and now the chair of the board of TIAA is one of the co-chairs of the new unified alumni network. We raised $15 million from alumni this past year, which is pretty significant — certainly for Thunderbirds that’s the highest amount we’ve had perhaps in our history and certainly for decades. And it’s also the highest a dean’s ever had in their first year at ASU. So it was a banner year.

So the travel was mobilizing the alumni across the board. I’m giving you the figure of the $15 million but internships, employment, a lot of the increases we’ve had — not all of it, but a lot of it — has come through alumni engagement, mentoring of our students, helping us recruit.

We had a global reunion, which we have every two years at Thunderbird. We had it in Tokyo. It was organized by the Japanese alums that set up the Tokyo Center of Excellence. We had 500 alumni, plus or minus a few. People were just rocking up from 40 countries around the world. And it was the largest global alumni reunion outside the United States in Thunderbird history.

The degrees that Thunderbird offers, the educational pitch it makes to prospective students, is about being “future ready.” What does that phrase mean to you? 

That’s the whole point, right? These are degrees that help our undergraduates, because we do have undergraduate programs as you know, all the way to our executive programs. And not just the degree programs, because we have our executive education short courses too. All of it has been to prepare future ready leaders and managers. I will say one other thing, in terms of launching new programs, in addition to the two I mentioned, in a year and a half we’ll launch another program in Los Angeles. ASU has bought the Herald Examiner Building, and we’re going to have space in there and so we’re going to launch a master of global management in the creative industries.

That’s the full plan, basically, this curriculum transformation, taking Thunderbird to the world. I haven’t mentioned a lot about executive education, but that’s really completely turned around, and we’re doing great on that front. And this headquarters, it’s kind of that symbol — sort of the touchstone for the next 75 years. This is the next 75 years, right? In fact, we’ll open it in April 2021, when we have our 75th anniversary, and we will welcome the first students in the building in August.

How much does Thunderbird collaborate with ASU’s Carey School? You share a campus, so you must partner a lot, right?

Absolutely. Amy Hillman, the dean there, and I are really close friends and collaborators. So number one, in our undergraduate program, a lot of our undergrad students end up either joint majoring in, or taking certificates in, logistics or supply chain. Their students take certificates and courses with us. And so those undergrad students out there really benefit from both schools being sort of co-located.

Number two is executive education. We effectively run executive education, not just for ourselves, but for all of ASU. So we draw on faculty from all schools including Carey, and we support and create these really great exec programs that include Thunderbird faculty and Carey faculty all the time. I’ll just give you one example. We’re launching a major new customized master of global management in the healthcare industry with Dignity Health Global. It’s a exclusive partnership with Dignity Health, the largest nonprofit healthcare provider in the world. It’s 90-95% online. And then there’s a practicum that’s done through the hospitals and clinics that they run. That program is a joint program between the ASU College of Health Solutions, the College of Nursing, the Carey School, and Thunderbird, but we are basically the ones that have organized that and do the backend for it. But in terms of the content and delivery, it’s a complete collaboration including Carey.

And then a third example is even in our master’s program, the MGM, there are Carey concentrations, so our students can take courses from Carey, can do concentrations in our core MGM. So our connection with the Carey School is very deep, very deep.

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