End Of An Era: Fordham Gabelli’s Dean Steps Down After 15 Momentous Years

Donna Rapaccioli is leaving as dean of Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business.

In March, Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business announced its membership in the foremost association for gay, lesbian, and transgender MBA students. “Today’s business landscape requires business schools to prepare students for the workplaces that they will encounter, lead, and advance,” Gabelli Dean Donna Rapaccioli said at the time. “At the Gabelli School, we pride ourselves in fostering inclusive environments that reiterate the importance of diverse spaces and amplify the voices of those who have often been marginalized.”

In announcing today (June 22) that she is stepping down after 15 years as dean, Rapaccioli includes the school’s membership in Reaching Out MBA among her most cherished accomplishments — significant because of how many others there are. Rapaccioli led the unification of Fordham’s undergraduate and graduate business schools in 2015 to form the Gabelli School of Business, leading to significant enrollment growth at both levels; that same year she presided over the launch of the school’s first doctoral programs. More recently, the Gabelli School has undergone a major transformation of core business programs amid a long-term commitment to a “business as a force for good” ethos — all while raising tens of millions through an active and growing alumni network.

“It has been an honor to share in the accomplishments of the Gabelli School’s faculty and students,” says Rapaccioli, whose departure is effective June 30, after which she will return to the school’s faculty as an accounting professor. “I’ll look back on their successes — and impacts on society — as the most rewarding part of my tenure as dean.”

AN ERA OF ‘COMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP’

Gabelli’s membership in Reaching Out MBA, the LGBTQ+ organization that supports fellowships for MBA students through partnerships with dozens of leading B-schools,  symbolizes the Rapaccioli era well. It was announced in conjunction with changes to the B-school’s Dean’s Premier Scholarship, which includes full tuition, a housing stipend, and executive mentor and global immersion stipends, as a way to center students from traditionally under-represented populations — a move the outgoing dean portrays as part of an ongoing, long-term effort to “foster a culture of community and care for students,” fueled by a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion that also led to the establishment of the B-school’s first DEI team.

“We are so proud to make updates to our Dean’s Premier Scholarship criteria and work with organizations like Reaching Out MBA,” Rapaccioli said in March, “to ensure that we can continue to champion meaningful discussions in our classrooms, and compassionate leadership in the field.”

The meaningful discussions extend to academic initiatives overseen by Rapaccioli as well, including the Responsible Business Coalition, an incubator for modern business leaders to collaborate on actionable change, and the Fordham Social Innovation Collaboratory, a network of students, faculty, and alumni promoting social innovation. Fordham was also named an AshokaU Changemaker Campus and the Gabelli School earned distinction as a UN PRME champion institution. Rapaccioli has established more than 85 corporate collaborations in support of student learning, co-curricular activities, and faculty research, and according to the school has raised $100 million for business education.

RISING IN THE RANKS

Under Rapaccioli’s leadership, the Gabelli School launched three online master’s programs, redesigned the Professional MBA curriculum, and expanded the school’s STEM programs. The school credits these and other initiatives with a 20% increase in student enrollment in the past decade.

Gabelli’s moves have not gone unnoticed. Last November, when Bloomberg released its annual ranking of the top MBA programs, it announced the results of a massive survey gauging student, alumni, and employer views of B-schools’ efforts in three areas: fostering teamwork, incorporating ethics, and emphasizing CSR, or corporate, social, and environmental responsibility. In two of those three areas, Fordham’s B-school excelled, ranking second in adherence to ethical principles and first in CSR. In the latter, Gabelli — part of a network of Jesuit schools that propound service to the needy and action to address social dilemmas — scored a perfect 7.0 average from survey respondents.

Named after Mario Gabelli, a 1965 Fordham business graduate, the Gabelli School has reached the cusp of the top 50 in the United States in Poets&Quants‘ latest ranking and gone from unranked to No. 64 in U.S. News‘ list. The school holds seven top-25 academic area rankings in U.S. News, and the undergraduate program is currently ranked No. 22 by Poets&Quants. On the research side, Gabelli faculty have published more than 400 refereed journal articles in the last five years, with nearly 75 appearing in The Financial Times top 50.

‘HUMBLING & INSPIRING’

Outcomes reflect Rapaccioli’s efforts. Of special note for potential applicants, the school highlights greater career opportunities for students through a stronger alumni network, with undergrad Class of 2021 placement rates at 96% and internship placement rates at 98%. In the MBA Class of 2020, the most recent for which data has been published, 72% of students seeking employment accepted an offer within three months of graduation and 77% accepted an offer within 6 months, averaging a starting salary over $100K — decent numbers for the depth of the coronavirus pandemic.

In May, Fordham University President Rev. Joseph P. McShane named Rapaccioli dean emerita. Following her departure, Lerzan Aksoy, current professor and associate dean in the Gabelli School, will serve as interim dean beginning July 1. Aksoy has served in the dean’s office for the past seven years, leading undergraduate studies and strategic initiatives.

“It’s been humbling and inspiring to be immersed in the culture of compassion and teamwork that defines the Gabelli School,” Rapaccioli says in a news release. “When the time comes, I’m looking forward to returning to my roots as a faculty member within the Gabelli School alongside the compassionate global business leaders of tomorrow.”

A national search for the next dean of the Gabelli School of Business will commence in the fall, the school announced. A candidate is expected to be appointed by July 1, 2023.

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