New Dean of Sy Syms School of Business Offers His Thoughts on His First Few Weeks on the Job
Last week was my first week on campus as dean of the Sy Syms School of Business. What an amazing week!
The tone was set the first night at the annual graduation dinner on Sunday, May 12, 2019. The first student speaker, valedictorian Aliza Lobell-Klein, epitomized the combination for which YU strives: living a Torah-grounded life while making a deep impact through our professional lives. Fortunately, my own speech preceded Aliza’s, or else I would have been intimidated to rise to the heights she had scaled!
In my speech, I drew on a metaphor from our Sages about constructing a house. I used it to thank the students and the prior Sy Syms administration for their dedication to hammering in every day new nails of knowledge and creating new structures of seichel [wit], intuition, and analysis. I then pointed to Psalm 24, from which we learn about the importance of reaching one height—the height of graduation for the students, the height of Sy Syms’ current success for the administration—and then redoubling our efforts to reach even greater heights together.
My focus on students continued throughout the week. On Monday, I started my day meeting with a graduating student, on Tuesday I did my first Meet-With-the-Dean roundtable with students on the Beren campus, and on Wednesday, I did a similar roundtable with Wilf students.
At each roundtable I gained invaluable insights into the program’s strengths and opportunities for improvement and found actionable ways in which we can improve the undergraduate experience. In fact, we have already acted on insights gained at each roundtable!
Wednesday night was a wonderful complement to the beginning of the week, when I attended—actually, experienced—Rav Hershel Schachter’s Mussar Shiur and saw the devotion to learning of the students in the packed beit midrash [study hall] as they hung on every word.
Working with the faculty was another highlight. Fifteen faculty came to a discussion about how to ramp up the entrepreneurship research within Sy Syms and how they might be able to tap my own dataset, which includes thousands of founders and startups collected over the last two decades. More than two dozen faculty from across the Sy Syms’ departments then came to an all-day Teaching Workshop aimed at increasing our focus on practice and on experiential skill building.
The faculty first experienced being students in a case discussion about the post-graduation career decision faced by a potential founder. In the middle of the discussion, they engaged in a pointed role play between that founder and his fiancée, who wants him to take a more stable path, and then grappled with a wide range of personal and career dilemmas. We spent the rest of the day debriefing about how to prepare for an experiential class, how to conduct it while maximizing student takeaways about new and important knowledge and skills, and how to use post-class activities to set the table both for the next class session and for the same class session taught the next semester.
Other wonderful memories include exploring collaborations with other deans and engaging with supporters of the school, both of which will be ongoing efforts to build the strongest YU and Sy Syms possible.
During the coming year, within Sy Syms the focus is on strengthening the undergraduate classroom experience, on helping faculty excel at research while translating it into the classroom for the benefit of both the students and the faculty, and on exploring whether and how to accelerate the growth of our graduate programs, with the benefits that will accrue to the undergraduate experience.