Columns: Describe the path that led you to become a business professor.
Sumichrast: From the time I was very young, I wanted to understand how things work.
I was interested in being a scientist and I got my undergraduate degree in physics. But I also really like improving the efficiency of things— taking something and making it better. Whereas with physics you tend to observe things and understand them and you’re less involved with changing them. As I got older, that desire to be able to influence and improve things became stronger. So, as a graduate student I switched to the management science program.
Columns: That started you on an academic path. What led you into administration?
Sumichrast: After completing graduate school at Clemson, with the help of my mentors, I joined the faculty at Virginia Tech and worked there for 19 years. Over that time, I became more interested in administration with the idea, again, of wanting to be able to improve something. I’d been successful at publishing and teaching, but I really hadn’t had many opportunities to improve the system, in terms of academics, beyond my own courses. When I was asked to be an associate dean—and improving the M.B.A. program was at the top of the list of things to be done—it sparked my interest.
Columns: You were an associate dean for four years, then you were the dean at LSU for four years. What attracted you to the deanship at the Terry College?
Sumichrast: The first thing was the strength of the Terry programs. Being the dean at a very strong business school at a top-tier university was appealing to me, as was leading an organization with the potential to further improve. I saw the economy of Georgia growing faster than the national economy. I saw the availability of a big city like Atlanta, where our students could be recruited and graduates placed in jobs with good futures. I saw a well-placed alumni base and the (executive education) facilities that we have in Atlanta. And, then personally, it’s closer for my wife to see her family in Virginia.
Columns: You haven’t had the chance to meet many students yet, but what are you finding out about Terry’s faculty and staff?
Sumichrast: With both faculty and staff, I’ve found a willingness to be flexible. As I’ve met them, no matter how long a person has been here, they’ve told me, “If you have a new idea, let’s talk about it. We’re willing to do something different.” There’s a real desire to improve. I’ve also been very impressed by the research credentials of the faculty and their commitment to doing first-rate research.
Columns: Describe your approach to leading the Terry College this first year.
Sumichrast: I want to spend a lot of time understanding the environment, especially the faculty and staff in the college, the history of the college, the alumni of the college and getting their ideas on how we can improve the college. I want to find out from the business community if there are areas in which we should be providing education or services that we don’t now. And finding out from the faculty if we’re giving them the resources they need to do their jobs well.
Columns: Are there some shorter term goals that you already know you want to pursue?
Sumichrast: There are some. I’d like to hire more faculty. I’d like to see that we have more tenure-track faculty assigned to the traditional teaching and research positions. I’d like to review the structure of the college’s administration from the dean’s office down into the departments and centers to see if we might have ways of gaining some efficiencies. And I’d like to look at our development and alumni function to make sure that we have the best organizational structure and the right set of goals and benchmarks to work with. One other important initiative for the next few months is to carefully review plans for a new business education complex and finalize our decision on where the college should be located and in what type of facilities.
Columns: What are your views on enrollment and admissions at Terry?
Sumichrast: We need to come up with a system that assures that every student admitted to Terry gets a high-quality education, has seats in required classes and has choices for electives. So, we should take a look at our enrollment policies, but we shouldn’t change anything that makes it less likely for us to achieve those overall goals. I think the college should take a look at the benefits and problems with moving to a four-year model, as opposed to the current two-year model (where rising juniors apply to majors).