A Q&A with Pamplin’s new dean
After 31 years under Richard Sorensen’s leadership, on July 1 Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business will get a new dean, who considers Sorensen a mentor.
Incoming dean Robert Sumichrast spent nearly 20 years of his career as a professor in Pamplin, where Sorensen “was a wonderful mentor to me,” he said.
Sumichrast left Tech in 2003 to go to Louisiana State University, and is currently serving as dean of the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.
When he heard Sorensen was stepping down at Tech, Sumichrast said he “had to check into the opportunity.”
Sorensen’s retirement was announced last March.
Sumichrast said the opening for a new Pamplin dean was for him and wife Carol Ann – whom he met in Blacksburg – “a chance to go home.”
On Friday, Sumichrast answered questions about himself and his new job by e-mail. An edited version appears below.
You began your career at Virginia Tech in the 1980s and have called retiring Pamplin Dean Richard Sorensen a mentor. What did you learn from him that you have used as a dean in your own right?
Dean Sorensen … showed me how valuable it is to create and use a strategic plan for the improvement of the college. I have found that it is worth putting a substantial effort into developing a plan that has a compelling and clear vision and referring to it regularly. … Rich also showed me the value of communicating with alumni and the business community. Research universities play a vital role in economic development as well as in developing the potential of our youth. I have made connecting with these overlapping groups a priority.
I think a lot of people outside of higher education don’t understand exactly what a dean is or does. What does a dean actually do day to day?
Every day is different. One key role is to provide leadership for the development of our educational programs…. So I will sometimes meet with curriculum committees or business leaders to discuss how we need to adapt. The dean is also ultimately responsible for the financial health of the business school. This involves managing funds as well as looking for opportunities to enhance revenue from new programs and encouraging alumni and others to invest in the future of the college with their private funds. The dean also works with the faculty and staff on hiring and other personnel issues….One of the most fun components of the job is ceremonial – the dean gets to lead celebrations that honor student leaders for accomplishments, including graduation.
What is the biggest challenge on the horizon that you see for Pamplin and the businesses and industries graduates will be going into, and what is your plan to meet that challenge?
The biggest challenge for Pamplin, our graduates, and the business community at large, is to adapt quickly enough to lead. The majority of students who are entering college this year will spend most of their careers working in companies and even industries that don’t currently exist. We need to be sure that the educational experience we provide enhances our students’ critical thinking ability so they can adapt….We need to be efficient and accountable. …we must be entrepreneurial at finding other sources and resources.
You left Blacksburg in 2003. Did you find any surprising changes when you returned to interview for the Tech job?
Many new buildings and other structures have been constructed and others have been renovated. The roads and highways in the area are also considerably improved.
What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?
If I had to limit my answer to one thing, I would say that I like to cook elaborate meals to enjoy with our friends and family. Of course, related to this is my love of travel and enjoying the restaurants and cultures that come with travel. …I have found that the variety of experiences from these trips improves my cooking.
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