Dean’s Annual Report AY 2020: Innovation, Agility, Resiliency

The recent disruptions driven by the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged our ability to adapt and accelerated the ongoing revolution driven by technology. The need to adapt to be successful reminds us of the quote by Charles Darwin: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

Adaptation requires innovation, agility, and resilience, all of which have been a significant part of our DNA in the NIU College of Business. As you peruse our FY20 accomplishments report, you can be proud of how we exhibited our collective ability to innovate, respond to the changing environment, and learn from moves that didn’t work as we planned.

Innovation

About four years back, we embarked on efforts to focus on “mission and market driven program transformation.” Initiatives under this umbrella particularly focused on using the power of digital technologies to enhance learning in courses and deliver new programs to reach new markets. By the time the pandemic hit, we had already increased the number of courses offered online from eight in 2016 to 142 classes offered in the recent past academic year. A significant part of this increase resulted from two new fully online graduate programs in cutting edge areas of “Digital Marketing” and “Data Analytics.” The combined enrollment in just these two programs is expected to reach almost 200 by fall 2020. To put this in perspective, the “Data Analytics” program crossed the 100 student enrollment mark in its second year, a goal we had set to be achieved in five years. Building on this momentum, two programs — MBA and Master of Accounting — will be offered in the online format in fall 2020.

Another dimension to remain agile is creating a culture of innovation to experiment with ideas. We are excited that our vision for creating a physical space and associated programming that will serve as a platform for students, faculty and staff to build a mindset of innovation is taking shape. We launched a program “Dean’s Instructional Innovation Fellow” that encourages faculty to re-imagine their courses for the new age of learning. Two of our faculty — Mark Groza and Federico Bassetti — redesigned their courses to enhance learning experiences for students.

Agility

As the pandemic put a pause to activities in the normal mode, our team quickly pivoted to using digital technologies to deliver all our courses. Within a span of two weeks, our faculty moved to delivering their classes using synchronous, asynchronous or a combination of both. Exemplifying the outstanding commitment of our faculty to our students, one them wrote this in praise of a professor, “I just wanted to send a big thank you for a great semester! I know that the second half of the term threw everyone off guard, and I really appreciate you adapting the course so we could still learn and succeed in our studies… I also wanted to say thank you for creating a lighthearted environment during this pandemic. It has been a stressful time, but your jokes and class interaction lifted the mood. Thank you for preparing us for this change and for adapting your teaching to truly help us learn.”

We also embraced technology for our co-curricular activities and events as well. Most of the events we planned for after mid-March were delivered virtually. Interestingly, the attendance at these events far exceeded the numbers we typically get when the event is held face to face. We also took the opportunity to launch new events like the “Wednesday Night Wisdom” series that has been a roaring success with average enrollment exceeding 75 participants. When the university canceled the commencement ceremony, our college hosted a virtual graduation celebration for students, family and faculty on YouTube.

Resiliency

An exemplar of resiliency was exhibited by our students and faculty coach Dan Morgan, who accompanied them on the trip to Sweden. As the pandemic intensified, this group was stuck in Sweden with great uncertainty to their return. They made us proud by staying calm and didn’t let this dampen their enthusiasm for the trip or erase the learning from their trip. They even made news in the local newspaper! Students described their experience as one that tested their resiliency and was life-altering. This is best reflected in the words of a student who went on the trip: “My heart was warmed by the kindness of the people of Lidköping. When it looked like we might be stranded, multiple residents reached out and offered us a place to stay if needed. Between our business and campus visits, the students learned a great deal about the culture, educational system, and how marketing is done in Sweden. Also, there is a great deal to learn when we are under stress and I learned that this was a great team of students that handled whatever was thrown at them. In the end all went well and the students indeed did have the trip of a lifetime.”

As you reflect on the phenomenal progress we have made in the past year, please take a moment to congratulate yourself and our outstanding talent in the college that makes us innovative, agile and resilient. Indeed, inside of every Huskie is the grit and resilience to overcome the toughest of challenges, limitless compassion to help others and soaring optimism for the future. It’s an honor to lead this outstanding team. Thank you.

Go Huskies!

Balaji Rajagopalan, Dean

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