It may seem unusual for an engineer to be leading a business school. And while this may have seemed true 20 years ago, today’s fast-moving technologies and economy have fostered a kinship between these two academic disciplines—both of which focus on problem solving, making decisions and putting theory into practice.
When I was a student at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering, I wasn’t daunted by the fact that I was a woman in a STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, math) field. To me, it spelled opportunity, where I would be able to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation.
Being a student-athlete and part of RIT’s women’s soccer team allowed me to transfer my passion and competitiveness in sports to the academic arena and also helped me understand how leadership skills, building the right team and empowering people to be the best they can be can produce extraordinary results.
This is the message I’ve passed on to students during my years of teaching and in my previous position as senior associate dean of engineering. Leading Saunders College of Business at RIT, I’ve come to realize how students’ lives have changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We have witnessed business and technology become more interconnected. It is impossible to imagine a business running effectively without the technology we have today—and this is one of the diversified skill sets managers need to understand and manage to build future solutions.
In academia, we are witnessing student populations in which there are stark differences between students’ cited areas of interest and degree programs they choose. Students now seek a robust mosaic of choices that allow them to branch out beyond their primary field of study to explore their passions in disciplines that traditionally had not fit together.
It’s uplifting to see our classrooms filled with students from engineering, computer science, fine arts, gaming design and others. (Yes, even design. Think of how Apple Inc. took existing technology to market by designing products to meet customer needs.) This leads to dynamic teams working together to enter business plan competitions and finding opportunities to bring their ideas to market. A characteristic typically found among these teams is that they include one or more students with a major or minor in business.
These emerging disciplines show how social media are more than just a hobby or addiction. Often to their parents’ surprise, business students are finding their online social activities to be sought-after skills. Not so surprisingly, businesses are finding a need to catch up and seek these very skills to stay connected throughout their supply chain including suppliers, employees and customers.
And it is not just pushing out marketing messages. Sophisticated listening tools are needed to monitor swelling volumes of online chatter, as well as systems to track and measure performance. Skills sets that meet these needs are on the rise.
Cyber security is becoming more critical. Often misunderstood, business disciplines such as management information systems are reemerging to address how business needs, technologies, software, algorithms and the explosion of big data come together. Employers cannot get enough of students with these skills—to help them develop new systems, streamline processes and stay ahead of the competition.
These are just a few of the topics I’d like to explore in future columns, as well as discussions on leadership, professional skills development, financial management and entrepreneurial thinking. I look forward to sharing my perspectives and welcome open engagement with the Rochester community.
Jacqueline R. Mozrall is dean of Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.
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