In August 2019, Dr. Joelle Saad-Lessler became associate dean of the undergraduate division at the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, replacing Dr. Ann Murphy, who continues at Stevens in a more research-intensive role. Dr. Saad-Lessler discussed her vision for Stevens and preparing students for success beyond their careers.
What most excites you about taking over as associate dean?
What I’m most looking forward to is the chance to have a bigger impact at a place I respect. I didn’t realize it would be this much fun — I look forward to coming to work, and I have to drag myself out of my office. It’s a small organization, they’re open to good ideas, and I have yet to hear “no.” Every time I come forward with an idea, everybody’s willing to pitch in and help. It’s very exciting.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for Stevens’ undergraduate business programs?
“As educators, it's natural for us to focus on the curricular aspects of education. But it is just as important to ask how we can create opportunities to help students blossom, and make sure they're happy.”
Just today I was looking at the salary data for our graduates, and that’s the real story for us. Our graduates’ salaries are among the highest in the country. That tells you our graduates are ready for the job market and are attractive to employers. For parents, and I say this as a parent, college is an investment. When parents trust us with their kids, they want to be sure their kids get great jobs. So my primary challenge is letting people know how amazing this place is. But this challenge is also the biggest opportunity, because Stevens is a great university — we just have to get the word out.
Another opportunity for Stevens is our location, which helps us get constant feedback from our industry partners, to stay at the forefront of technology and ensure students get the skills they need. For instance, we now emphasize analytics in our programs thanks to the feedback we get from across the river. We designed a significant analytics component into our new accounting program, and just updated our marketing program to include a stronger emphasis on analytics and innovation.
I’m also focused on improving student engagement. One initiative I would like to pursue is increased faculty-student interaction. I want faculty to get to know the students outside the classroom, and to build the campus community into a second family. I also would love to see faculty include students in their research projects. A challenge for us as a school is that a majority of the undergraduates don’t live on campus. The new residential towers will be a tremendous help. When students are on campus, it’s easier to foster a sense of community.
As a parent, what’s a key consideration for you as your children consider where to go to college?
Well, it’s not just about financial success — you want to make sure each of them is a whole person. My kids have always been tough on themselves, they have extremely high expectations of themselves, and that’s obviously something they have in common with Stevens students. But I constantly have to make sure they realize academic success is not the be-all and end-all.
As educators, it’s natural for us to focus on the curricular aspects of education. But it is just as important to ask how we can create opportunities to help students blossom, and make sure they’re happy. Our Center for Student Success is a big part of that, by paying attention and tracking engagement academically and socially. We’re a technical school and it’s great that we can provide our students with the opportunities that make them desirable job candidates, but we want to make sure they’re happy and they’re whole people — that they’ve made friendships, made memories and, at the same time, accumulated skills. This is a responsibility I take very, very seriously.
Dr. Murphy was a force as associate dean, expanding the size and scope of the undergraduate division. How will you build on her accomplishments?
Ann built a tremendous machine. My role is to flesh things out and consolidate on the gains that she made, and really improve student engagement, like we discussed.
I also want to increase the diversity of our student body, with more representation among women and minority populations, because a more diverse student body enriches the whole campus. We are working to start a mentorship program with local high schools — as an experience for our students to give back to the community, but also to hopefully be a pipeline for a lot of these students to understand how we can serve them.
What’s one thing the Stevens community doesn’t know about you?
I guess I have a very different background from most. I speak five languages and I am an immigrant — I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon. But I’ve worked in higher education for a long time, I know what it’s like to work with students and encourage their success, and I think I have an opportunity to make a mark and continue to improve this great institution.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.