Jackie Rees Ulmer Featured

Navigating Academic Leadership – A Conversation with Dean Jackie Rees Ulmer 

Amy Taylor Bianco

Host – Dr. Amy Taylor Bianco
Director of the Online (MSM)

Jackie Rees Ulmer Portrait

Guest – Dean Jackie Rees Ulmer
Ohio University Dean

The Leader Lounge: Master Your Niche, Lead the Way!

A podcast series presented by the Ohio University Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership

Unlock your leadership potential and excel in management with the Online Master of Science in Management through Ohio University. 

In this episode of The Leader Lounge, Dr. Amy Taylor Bianco engages in a thought-provoking discussion with Dean Jackie Rees Ulmer, the esteemed Dean of OHIO’s College of Business. Set against the backdrop of a picturesque morning on campus, the conversation delves into Dean Ulmer’s remarkable journey from her early academic experiences to her current role. Dean Ulmer reflects on her transition from leadership at Iowa State University to becoming the Dean of one of the top colleges of business in the country, sharing valuable insights into the challenges and growth opportunities that come with leadership in the academy. 

Throughout the episode, the importance of mentorship, adaptability, and networking is underscored, offering listeners a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted world of higher education leadership. Join in to explore Dean Ulmer’s unique perspective on education, leadership, and the evolving landscape of higher education.

Episode 7: Navigating Academic Leadership – A Conversation with Dean Jackie Rees Ulmer



Welcome to the next episode of the leader lounge here at the Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership in the College of Business at Ohio University. And I’m here with co-host, Nick Winnenberg, and our Dean of the College of Business, Jackie Rees Ulmer. Welcome.


Good morning.


It’s a beautiful morning in Athens.


It is a perfect morning in Athens. Sunny, blue skies and 70 degrees.


It’s just it’s one of those days I walk by the campus and ask why did I leave, right after undergrad? Like I really should have just stayed here. Money. Money. That’s true. That is why I left, the workforce side of it was why I left. It’s why I keep coming back. It’s home. So just give us a little bit on your background and what got you here. Sure.


So I came here as the Dean of the College of Business in February 2021. Right in the middle of COVID. Dean’s travel a lot meeting with alumni and friends, and donors and there was none of that during the pandemic. So it did allow me to get to know Athens and get to know the college, the university, and most importantly, the people. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Before that, I was an associate dean and previously a department chair at Iowa State University, the Ivey College of Business. I spent the first 17 years of my higher ed career at Purdue University. It was then the Krannert School of Management now it’s the Mitch Daniels School of Business. So props to them for putting up for me as long as I did. And before that, I was in information systems. So my first job was COBOL programming. It may also betray my age, for a major rental car company. And so, to this day, I always worry about something happening to the rental car, because, you know, they, they really love all the profit that comes from all of their insurances that they kind of pressure you to buy. That makes sense. But if you don’t buy it, and something happens, it’s kind of a headache. But


you know, I’ve been I’ve been on both sides of that equation of, I want to risk it and something bad happening. And then I’m not going to risk it and something good happening, right, or something not bad happening.


I’m convinced that I have control over the weather, I have a rental car, and they’re calling for hail and I’m loaded up, I’m going to get every coverage possible, and then nothing happened. So maybe I should make a career out


of that. I feel like that could be a little transition.


That’s such an interesting background, though in information systems and cybersecurity and then in administration. And leadership is just such a great combination kind of covers the breadth of what the college does.


Well, and I think having the system’s background has been really helpful because I tend to be a systems thinker. And I see the college with its department and centers, all the students, I see a system, you’ve got inputs, you’ve got some processing that happens, you’ve got output, and you ideally would have feedback loops that would, hey, where do we need to make some adjustments? Some changes? Do we need to better prepare the inputs being our students? Do we need to, and we’re always changing processes as any organization does. But yeah, it gives me the whole breadth and depth of what’s happening here. I’ve noticed a lot of business school deans are coming from the Information Systems faculty ranks these days, and we don’t think that’s a coincidence. We think it’s a complex system. And we’re good at that. Right.


You like complex systems.


I love Well, I love to hate them sometimes. But


I think what’s interesting about your career path is too, you’ve seen a couple of different cultures then you see the very high technical cybersecurity background. You’ve also seen some Ivy League schools, it sounds like and you see Ohio University. So what makes Ohio University different specifically the College of Business and as a program or the strategic center?


Well, they’re all amazing institutions, and they all have their missions. And I think Ohio’s unique geography we’re here in the southeast corner of the state, which is absolutely beautiful. No shade on Purdue or Iowa State but lots of corn. And when there’s not corn, there’s beans. Take that Purdue. But the scenery here in the Hocking Hills, kind of the foothills of Appalachia, with its hills and just natural beauty, but it’s the people and the experience, the emphasis on experiences that really make OHIO and the College of Business unique, you will get an experience here. I mean, every place has its own experiences, but we built them into the system, you cannot leave here, whether you’re here physically in Athens, or you’re somewhere in one of our online programs, you will have custom-designed and very thoughtfully crafted experiences that are intended to elevate your professional abilities when you’re in your career, whether you are traditional undergraduate, straight from high school, 20 to 23 years old, going out into the big world of work. Or if you are a more seasoned professional looking to add to your toolkit so that you can move up further and faster in your career. We have experiences that are designed to support those moves.


I love that. And I love the systems the way you look at it, because it’s the inputs, the outputs, things like that. A good part of the system taught to me by Dr. Amy Taylor Bianco is the external environment and how the internal environment reacts as well as external trends. So what are you seeing happening in higher education space, both the good and the bad that we’re making those adaptations to? Well,


certainly, it’s really challenging here in the United States, public, private, you name it, public support for higher education is not as high as it had been previously. People see it as they don’t understand what happens. And they pay a lot for it. And then you hear the narratives about people graduating with massive debt, like mortgage-level debt. And they’re struggling to find jobs that are going to not only suit them professionally, and personally but allow them to pay down that debt. And you’re hearing people are not having families, they’re not getting married, they’re not buying houses, they’re not having children because of this. And it’s also important to realize that that is a really attractive soundbite. And, you know, I don’t doubt that has happened to people. And I feel so terrible for those people. But we know here at Ohio University, and in the College of Business, and in other accredited AACSB accredited college is a business that is our premier accreditor for business schools, globally, not just here in the US, but students are coming out with if they have debt, it’s a very small amount. And we know that pretty much every single one of our students is going to go into a career position with a really great average starting salary, and they take off in their careers. So we have absolutely a very positive return on investment here at Ohio. It’s a great investment to make in yourself and your learners in your family members, community members, the return on investment is extremely high.


I think it’s so interesting, you bring that up too, because I was an undergrad, it worked out great for me, right. And even to the point that what I was thinking about doing a master’s program, and I talked to Dr. B about it as well. She outlined the coursework and the custom, the flexibility of it, and the stackable certificates, the experiential learning and the networking, all the benefits you get from it. Even if it’s not on paper, this is the exact career path it’s going to provide you. It’s more competitive, when you get out of it, you have those real-world skills that you bring to the workforce. And earlier in the season, we talked to Albert, and he was a recent graduate from the university and he was promoted, I think four times within the course within the two years of MSN program. So you see that ROI, it’s just kind of difficult to quantify. Absolutely,


we can do things like we know what the cost of attendance is, that is on our website, and we’re happy to it’s required, but we’re happy to provide that information. And that is not just tuition, but if you are in a residential program that is average room and board and spending money, all those things. I’m not sure people buy a lot of books anymore, but you know, supplies and things like that. We know that we track very carefully the average starting salaries for students from our undergrad program and we’re starting now to more carefully track what someone if they’re in one of our master’s programs, what their salary is when they started the program and then what it is at the end of the program. And so, we can quantitatively do some math and calculate a return on investment. But as you said it is these really hard-to-quantify benefits that our students and alumni receive whether it is that does desired promotion, or the ability, or the faith your manager has and giving them that stretch assignment that can again, send your career on a much faster, maybe even a more exciting trajectory than you thought when you first started. It could be I’ve always wanted to live in this place. And now I get to, it could be, I’ve always wanted to make a career switch, I wanted to get into marketing from finance, whatever the case may be, those benefits are probably much more valuable to people than just the money.


I love that. And I think that with the process systems they always have to evolve, they always have to change, it seems like you have a very good handle on what’s happening in the external environment. So outside of that what other strategic pillars that you’re kind of looking at when it comes to college or business, what do you think those strategic objectives would be?


Sure. So we did update our strategic plan last year. But we made it simpler, because we wanted to focus on fewer things, so we could do them better. I love that. And the first pillar or priority is having every student should have a transformational learning experience. And it’s probably easier to make the commercial on some of the undergrad experiences. Every student in our Bachelor of Business Administration and our Bachelor of Sports Management degree programs has to go through an integrated business cluster, where we team teach, that is very transformational, we team teach core courses, students take them together, they have a team that’s persistent. It’s all built around industries and consulting. And so you see some pretty sweaty palms, and anxious students who maybe are in a business suit, they’re making their first ever big presentation. Of course, I think it’s hilarious. I know the students don’t feel the same way. But our faculty, they mentor, they coach, they may have to direct. But students are learning not just what might be expected and the corporate world, but also how to make a really great presentation under pressure. They’re learning teamwork, they’re learning leadership. They’re learning what it means to be a bit in the corporate world in a somewhat simulated way. And then I’ve heard students say, Wow, I didn’t realize once I survive, integrated business cluster, the rest of the curriculum in the College of Business just going to be smaller pieces of that.


It’s just that on repeat. Well, I think I went through cluster. And for me, I’m very competitive. So with all my cluster groups, I’m like, we’re going to win every deliverable. That is what we’re going to do, we’re going to have the highest score in the course. And we won seven out of eight times. And that time that we did not win, I’m like, guys, we need to get together. So it allows high achievers to achieve because it’s a different baseline, it is difficult, but at the same time those skills that you pick up, and for me, it was the ability to ask for help. And I believe for me, it’s Professor Laurie Marquis. Is she still in the program? Okay, great. I didn’t really want to be like hey, all right, now she’s somewhere else. But at the same time, she would sit down with my cluster group two nights a week, and she would dedicate to us time to help us build that mentorship thing. So by that experience, not only were we learning the practical experience, but we’re learning the importance of mentorship and communication and bringing in external partners and having those conversations it is hard, but it’s priceless.


Absolutely. And it sounds like you had an amazing team. And I think most of the teams are pretty amazing. We do have situations because people that sometimes things aren’t as great, but we tell students that this is the most valuable skill. Oh, yeah. You don’t always get to pick your teammates. When you’re in your career, you may get stuck with Why is this person here? You may have to figure out how do you navigate with maybe it’s a family business, and it’s the boss’s daughter or son. And you’re thinking, Oh, the politics of all this. But we want to coach students to handle those difficult situations as well. Sure. And that’s one of the reasons I feel that what we do here at OHIO is so important. And again, that ROI during COVID It became very clear but there’s a lot of maybe ed tech educational pundits who think, you know, higher ed is just watching a bunch of videos. I think anyone who had to help students at home navigate that experience through the pandemic can tell you know, there’s actually a big difference between just trying to watch and you may be taken online little quiz or something. But education is truly experiential. Yep. And here, that’s where we focus. And we think that’s why our students do so well, when they leave our programs when they graduate from our programs, whether it’s our undergrad programs, whether it’s our master’s programs, the experiences may vary, but they’re meant to be what’s appropriate at that person’s level of career development.


Absolutely, you


really brought in one place I see that you’ve really invested is in career and professional development, you know, in that in that time, since you’ve been here, bringing in Dr. Mel Culp and Tracy Corrigan, Elizabeth Greeno, you know, really, really strong people and teams to help our students develop through these processes, whether it’s the worst experience or the you know, or the best experience, it doesn’t almost matter so much as they learn. They have the experience, and they learn how to do it. And I think what’s unique, right with the College of Business is you get that in-person online, like you made sure that that’s happening, regardless of learning modality. And I think it’s hard to do, but the college and the university does really well. Absolutely,


most of us, we go to college, so that we can get the skills needed for a career that you need those skills for. So, you know, I remember a long time ago, being a very confused teenager, I just knew that I couldn’t go into the military, I had asthma, they don’t like that. And where I was, there weren’t factory jobs. And I just knew that unless I wanted to work, you know, as a server at a restaurant, or in some service role that was really limited. I was going to have to go to college. But it’s important that just going to college isn’t enough. You need that support system, that team around you to help you. What do you, what’s this LinkedIn thing? I need a LinkedIn profile? How do I do a resume? How do I? Okay, interviews aren’t natural for some people. So mock interviews, how do I prepare? Cover letters? thank you notes, networking. Do I just collect business cards? Or what is this networking?


Do I handshake, right? There’s


right? They give me food and a beverage? How am I? Yeah, it’s hard.


How much do I drink with? It’s an open bar, right? But I mean, it’s all those unspoken cues that you pick up through it. And one of the things I was most impressed with when I came back into this program, was the fact that there was the grad cat and the different experiential portions of it that helped with that development was that by design when we were looking at the programming for everything,


Absolutely, it was very clear. And I want to give credit to she’s now Vice Provost with the university, but Carrie Layman, who, with the team really conceived our grad cat, our Master online masters students are all over the United States, Career Services still tend to be a little local. So we wanted to serve that student in Alaska just as well as we serve the student in Columbus. So they partnered with a outfit called ride smart, that really helped people who had been laid off, or as part of like a severance package help them, okay, let’s dust up your resume, let’s talk about networking and all these things. And they saw an opportunity, and we saw an opportunity to partner so that they could provide those local career services all over the country. And I thought this is brilliant, because this has been a challenge with online education is serving all your students regardless of where they’re physically located. And this has been an amazing partnership.


100% I think even with the online programming, to the fact that you’re bringing people from across the globe, it’s amazing. I remember with one of my events and courses, there was actually a person from Alaska, so that might be the same person we’re thinking about, right? And his background and his story where he was talking about, he’s like, oh, yeah, because of course, I’m like Alaska, there’s bears there. Right. So like, it’s a small things you pick up on those conversations. It’s not only a value for that person, but it really shows you the diversity of the programming and it teaches you how to engage with individuals that you might have a shared background with.


Well, in something we say regardless if you finish our undergrad program, any of our master’s programs or grad certificate is Bobcats help Bobcats through and everyone lives this mantra. So you could probably send an IM or email to a student colleague or former, you know, alumni colleague now and say, Hey, I you know, I’m lucky In this opportunity, it’s in your neck of the woods or it’s in your industry. Do you have any tips? Do you know anybody? And it doesn’t matter if they were in your cohort or not. You just see that Ohio University. And they’re like, yeah, how can I help? And it’s amazing for sure we see it every day.


And I think even with like LinkedIn with I get the invite, and it’s from someone from OU, you it’s an instant? Yes, right. I’m not going back. Oh, my God. All right, what would you try to sell me like if you’re wanting the same? So it’s a part of it? Do you have other questions you want to get into? Oh,


it’s phenomenal. I just, I am looking forward to I know, you are so good at like, meeting with all the different, you know, faculty, staff, just seeing everyone as important. And I know you’ve been in doing that more. What do you see like coming up? Like, what are you excited with our new president, and just I don’t know, anything we’re looking forward to as we head into fall.


Everyone is so focused on student success. You know, it’s, it’s been great, because sometimes I’ll learn things about people I didn’t know, we oh, I didn’t realize we had a common bond about this. I had, I spent an hour with a faculty on our Chilla coffee campus yesterday. And we talked we, because of it’s about an hour and a half from Athens. So you know, we have teams calls and meetings. And I had no idea he’s, I’m an adoptive mom. He’s trying to adopt a girl from his home country, and talking about some of the commonalities but challenges that adoptive parents and families and kids of course, face. So but at the end of it, it all came back around, he was so excited for the students to come back helping students and the students on our regional campuses, they may, they’re just as smart and they’re just as talented and hardworking as our Athens bobcats. But sometimes they have some different challenges. They may be being a caregiver for a family member. So they need to stay close to home. It could be that they’re in a relationship and jobs and all these so they need to stay close. But these students are amazing, and how committed our faculty and staff wherever they are, are to student success. I mean, it just makes me tear up a little. I mean, it’s just so powerful and moving and just how, you know, people complain, Oh, professors, they, they show up to teach and then they just go whatever they do. They’re spending so much time with our students both inside and outside of class, whether you’re teaching in person online, they are so committed to our students. That to me is the common thread and it is amazing.


To tell you as a student perspective I’ve never experienced thatat Ohio University, even with professors that are like this is a difficult professor, they still genuinely care. Yeah, that’s the difference. Absolutely. Do I say anything else very close out.


I just love this episode with our with our dean, Dr. Jackie Rees Ulmer, and hearing her breath of being you know, an expert in information systems and cybersecurity, and, and hearing her tear up talking about her faculty and how they’re there for her students in the student and faculty experience. I think that’s sort of the breadth of the College of Business and OU. And we’re just very fortunate to have her here leading us. So great episode. I’m Amy Taylor Bianco and I’m here with Nick Winnenberg. We’re at the Leadership Lounge podcast by the Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership. See you next time

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