Q&A with Dean Deshpande: A bright, bold future for WMU Haworth

Satish Deshpande outside the WMU Haworth courtyardWhat’s on the horizon for the 2021-22 academic year?

Students, faculty and staff are anticipating a strong return to campus life with lots of engagement opportunities. As we have hosted prospective students and their families over the last year, many of the questions have centered around the ability to have the quintessential college experience—meeting new people, participating in career readiness activities, and having fun. We are excited to be able to provide great programming that will meet and exceed those expectations. I look forward to kicking off the semester with Business Bash, an event that introduces student organizations and departments to first-year, sophomore and transfer students, among others.

WMU will be offering the majority of classes in person in fall. What are you most looking forward to with having students back in person? What aspects of remote instruction and programming will remain in place?

Noisy corridors—that’s what I am looking forward to the most. We have missed the classroom and lab spaces being full and the ability to interact in person to support student needs. The return to primarily in-person instruction allows experiences to be richer for everyone in the building. We have also learned a lot from the COVID era. We have re-launched our MBA program in a HyFlex format, which allows students to take a course in the classroom or a remote setting as part of one contiguous learning space. We have also incorporated more hybrid and online offerings in areas where we can embrace the best of online teaching. Additionally, we have learned much about the need for sophisticated online teaching, as well as the barriers that many students face with technology or access to high-speed internet at home. These are all considerations as we think about how to effectively deliver courses and co-curricular programming in a remote setting. The faculty will be revising the undergraduate curriculum throughout this year, and the lessons from the past 18 months will be especially important as the college undertakes that process.

What can the business community and alumni expect in this upcoming year?

More outreach and engagement! The college is looking forward to being able to engage with alumni through special events, speaker series, visits to campus and more. Additionally, we have welcomed Chief Development Officer DeNel Stoltz, who will be working directly with the alumni and friends  of WMU Haworth on how they can power opportunities for students across the college.

What are the greatest opportunities for the college in the coming year? What are the greatest challenges?

Smart, strategic investment in the future of the college is paramount. Right now, more than one third of our students are in nationally recognized programs. We are looking to grow that to more than 50—both through recruiting students to strong, nationally ranked programs and by seeking national recognition for our programs that are emerging as the next generation of leading programs for the college. A challenge is certainly the changing demographics in the Midwest, with fewer high school graduates, particularly in Michigan. However, the college has been building relationships with international partners for years and is now successfully delivering a full undergraduate program through the Western Michigan Institute in partnership with Guizhou University of Finance and Economics in China. Additionally, the WMU Haworth MBA is being taught at CSKM in Taiwan with a focus on global innovation, and is growing steadily. We look forward to more ways to match what we offer with populations of students who are seeking to accelerate their careers after graduation. We also have a great opportunity to engage more of our alumni in terms of gifts of time, talent and resources to help students achieve their career goals.

As a leader in particularly uncertain times, what do you keep in mind as you are making decisions and communicating with the faculty, staff and students in the college?

When COVID hit, we had to make several high-stakes decisions very quickly—these were large-scale decisions that affected all areas of the college. The approach of the senior leadership team in the college was to stay calm, take stock and prioritize the long-term health of the organization. We had to deal with current realities of COVID yet project forward to a time when the pandemic was behind us, making the best decisions we could, knowing that the consequences would be with us long after the pandemic.

One of the key things that helped us through that time was the expertise of Nancy Owens, the chair of the Haworth College of Business Advisory Council and retired vice president, human resources, General Motors. It was immensely helpful to have industry expertise to help guide us through some pivotal decisions that position us for a healthy future.

One of the things I also believe in very strongly is transparency. It’s important that employees feel that they can trust in what is being shared from leadership, and one of the best ways to do that is to be open to the questions, concerns and ideas that result from being very open about your challenges and what decisions you are facing.

What is one thing you hope every student will do during this upcoming year?

I can’t limit myself to one. There are five things that I think are very beneficial for all students.

  • Develop a relationship with a mentor. There are many University and college resources that can help students do this, and research shows that mentorship is critical in the way a student’s career pathway develops and their eventual success.
  • Participate in service learning. We have several great initiatives through our Center for Sustainable Business Practices, which help students connect with meaningful service projects in the community. What I find most valuable about service learning is that it connects you to people of all backgrounds and often helps open up your perspective through critical thinking so that you can look at tough challenges and also look inward to explore any social or cultural biases you may have.
  • Study abroad if possible—it is a wonderful way to learn from others and gain confidence. The college offers both short immersion courses and semester-long programs, and both undergraduate and graduate students get an automatic scholarship from the college to support their study abroad experience.
  • Become a part of undergraduate research and hands-on projects. There is so much that a WMU Haworth degree can offer in terms of experiential learning. Our faculty and staff are some of the best anywhere at structuring meaningful projects that are relevant to the concerns of today’s companies, and the knowledge and learning that comes from these opportunities is beyond compare.
  • Attend events at the Zhang Career Center and through the Student Professional Readiness Series—these resources help students find a career pathway that is right for them.