This month Patricia Hedberg and Nakeisha Lewis started new roles in Opus College of Business. Hedberg was named associate dean of graduate business programs; Lewis is now associate dean of undergraduate and accelerated master’s programs. The Newsroom recently connected with the two about their new roles.

Patricia Hedberg

Patricia Hedberg, PhD

Pat, as noted in an August 2019 Newsroom story, three trends are shaping Opus’ graduate offeringsthe move to online; specialized education; and compressed, shorter formats. What kind of changes are in store for the graduate program? 

We offer on-campus, fully online and hybrid graduate MBA programs, graduate certificates in multiple areas, and have introduced specialized master’s programs. With this foundation, we now have an extraordinary opportunity to alter significantly the way we deliver graduate learning. Earlier this year, Dean (Stefanie) Lenway announced an Opus internal realignment that positions us to transition our graduate portfolio to a more highly integrated, adaptable platform strategy. We will organize around smaller packages of courses that can be bundled and stacked in different formations. Students can start with a graduate certificate, for example, and then later combine it with additional learning to earn a specialized master’s degree. 

Higher education isn’t known for being nimble and flexible. We need to create space with regulators and academic processes to get the approval necessary to support our strategic initiatives. Most important, it takes effort and imagination to co-create a learning culture, one where faculty, staff and students are willing to experiment and explore together how to best support our students’ learning. With emerging technology, data and collaborative processes, we will develop multiple paths and points of entry for lifelong graduate learning. 

I’m hoping to broaden our outreach, creatively leverage our strengths, and offer innovative and relevant graduate programs that accommodate our students’ ever-changing needs. The pandemic has upended education as well as the way we do business. We cannot go back to the old normal. We will work closely with faculty, current and prospective students, alumni and the Minneapolis business community to design stackable credentials that combine to deliver the vital knowledge and skills necessary to be effective principled leaders in an ambiguous and uncertain world. 

Nakeisha, you’re taking on academic leadership of all undergraduate business programs,

associate dean nakeisha lewis

Nakeisha Lewis, PhD

overseeing the GHR Fellows program and the Schulze Innovation Scholars, and developing accelerated master’s programs. What opportunities do you see for each of these areas?

We have created some outstanding signature cohort programs. Essentially, I hope to leverage our learnings and features from the GHR Fellows program and the Schulze Innovation Scholars and diffuse the information into our entire undergraduate experience. Seeing the growing importance of big data in business, we will be launching our co-concentration in business analytics and will continue to infuse emerging technology into our pedagogy. To support students interested in both health care and business, we will be offering our minor in the business of health care.

Now, more than ever, principled business leaders must be skilled at creating and supporting diverse, equitable and inclusive organizations and dismantling systemic barriers. We are working to include content and experiential learning opportunities spread throughout our business curriculum and cocurricular activities. Our goal is to build our students’ cultural acuity in matters dealing with prejudice, racism and inequity in any form that may prohibit them from truly engaging in ‘business for the common good.’ At the same time, we understand the importance that diversity of thought brings to business. Therefore, I hope to further diversify our student population and create programming to support these students.

On the accelerated master’s front, we are exploring a master’s degree in management for non-business majors in the university. We see this an opportunity for students, who have a passion for some of the other amazing degree programs around campus, to leverage the foundational and applied skill sets that a strong business background can bring to a career. We’ve taken an interdisciplinary and intercollege team approach to ensure we are really meeting the needs of our students and industry. With that said, the program would be an accelerated program that students would start in their senior year and complete in six months after graduation. It would be a heavily applied, project-based program with two student projects in summer and fall. We are hoping to launch this in the fall 2021.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your respective programs? What can people expect in the fall? 

Both: Our plan is to deliver an excellent student learning experience in a way that protects the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. One thing COVID-19 has not changed is our devotion to a quality student learning experience that delivers on our mission.  To meet the unique challenges this fall, our faculty development and instructional design experts are working with faculty to support our ability to create the ‘St. Thomas experience’ – high-touch interaction and engagement – regardless of where the learning occurs. We still will provide multiple opportunities to network, such as gaining perspective from expert guest speakers and working with student peers from a variety of industries and organizations on applied learning projects. Our instructors will be present and connected with students whether you talk with them after class on campus or through Zoom online office hours. 

COVID-19 has reordered our students’ lives and we are there to support them with flexible ways to learn. COVID-19 has changed how our students learn, with the necessity for more socially distanced learning whether in person or remote. It also has shifted what our students learn. We cannot ignore what is going on in our world and we are committed to bringing the resulting social and organizational change implications to our students’ learning. 

What that means for the graduate programs is that we primarily will have a mixed-mode format, combining real-time interaction (in-person or Zoom) and asynchronous online learning. Similarly, our undergraduate programs will offer a variety of modes for students to take their courses including face-to-face, mixed-mode and completely online. Our main goal is to ensure our students have the courses they need to graduate on time in various modes to accommodate learning styles and student needs.

Nakeisha, you were appointed a Faculty DEI Fellow for the 2019-20 academic year. How has work in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion with faculty strengthened in the past year?

Since my arrival in 2009, I have remained active on committees, interdisciplinary dialogue and leadership regarding our DEI initiatives at the college, university and the larger community. However, this particular role provided me an opportunity to engage and challenge my colleagues across the campus in a new way. By working alongside each college, you’re able to see the unique challenges of each unit or department surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. More importantly, I saw how committed many of our faculty are to: dismantling their own bias and systemic racism, learning how to create inclusive classrooms and calling out areas that perpetuate any ‘isms.’ During my time as the Faculty DEI Fellow, I saw more faculty engage in faculty development sessions, one-on-one consultations, and college/departmental dialogue and planning that was focused on DEI than I have in the past 10 years.

Similar to most institutions of higher education, I believe that St. Thomas still has some work to be done. Nevertheless, I am confident that St. Thomas has a unique opportunity to make the world an unapologetically more equitable and inclusive place because it literally flows from the core of our convictions and mission. As the new associate dean of undergraduate and accelerated master’s programs and DEI ambassador for Opus, I hope to take some of my lessons learned from the Fellows appointment and continue to build an inclusive culture and curriculum that will make all faculty, staff and students feel welcomed and appreciated.

What excites you about each of your primary areas of research?

Pat: I am curious about how leaders can make space, in the midst of chaos, urgency and uncertainty, to be a principled leader. My research explores the importance of making time for a reflective practice, what some call a leadership pause. 

Reflection is a tool that can help you understand and reconnect with what is important, what it means for you to be a leader and how you can make a difference. It can take many forms. I have written articles on how reflection can shape student learning and make it more deep-rooted in their values. We take class time to stop and question assumptions or explore ways to reframe our discussion. Many students have even developed a habit of journaling, despite initial skepticism about what seemed an uncomfortable addition to an already busy life. They discovered that a few reflective minutes can result in a whole new perspective and an ability to lead more intentionally. 

Recently, I’ve been reflecting myself on how COVID-19 has been a forced pause for us. Our usual running around has been hindered by stay-at-home orders, at least until recently. Lives have been upturned, anxiety is high, our social world is in flux. Yet it is even more essential to reflect, to find a way to reset and define the way we want to live now and in the future.

Nakeisha: In addition to my research on brand mentions in music, DEI has remained an important part of my research pipeline. I have been recently focusing on exploring factors that impact the success of Black entrepreneurs and the ‘buying Black’ movement. In my most recent research (co-authored with Dr. Janine Sanders Jones, Dr. Yuvay Meyers and Dr. Amber Chenevert), we explore how shared race and ethnic identity impact consumer expectations, purchase intention, retention and complaining behavior. Our hope is to help support Black entrepreneurs successfully manage the expected and preferred experience of their consumers and further increase the potential for success of these businesses. For me, research has become more of a way of serving the community and making an impact.

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