Like so many members of UConn Nation, I cheered wildly for our men’s basketball team throughout March Madness, and when our players captured the NCAA Championship trophy in April.
And while every coach and player on that team contributed to an amazing season, I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you I cheered just a little louder for guard Joey Calcattera, a member of our MBA cohort at the School of Business.
“Joey California’’ as he was fondly nicknamed by Coach Dan Hurley, and then the rest of the world, signed a basketball contract with the South Bay Lakers, the LA Lakers’ G-League team, last month.
Calcaterra’s continuing success is no surprise.
During a recent interview with the School of Business, he talked about how he chose UConn because he knew he would be “working his tail off’’ both on the basketball court and through his graduate coursework. It is that kind of persistence that creates champions!
At the School of Business, we have more than 4,000 students all seeking their own championships—in business, in entrepreneurship, and in life.
Our report highlights their success, with 90 percent of our 2023 undergraduates employed or in graduate school within three months of graduation. Their employers, and their salaries, are equally impressive (page 17).
I hope the magazine will offer you a glimpse of our accomplishments, an introduction to some of our outstanding faculty (pages 7-9), and the alumni who are dedicated to our school (pages 10-11 and 14). Be sure to glance at our Words Worth Repeating (page 20), highlighting the wit and wisdom that we have shared and received throughout the year.
I want to thank you, our alumni and friends, for the many contributions you have made to the School of Business this past year. I am grateful for your support and encouragement of our students, and your partnership in our commitment to excellence in business education.
I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, with the love and companionship of those you hold dear.
One way to think about a college business degree is that it consists of 120-credit hours of course work, about half of which is study in the arts and sciences, and half in business courses. But students will tell you that the course work is only part of the growth opportunity that colleges provide in today’s world.
Beyond the course curriculum is a rich array of opportunities giving students incredible choices in experiences that will help them grow, thrive, and enjoy their college experience. Some are obvious, such as sports, the band, the student newspaper, social societies, and the like. Some are crafted living opportunities, such as the Business Connections Learning Community (BCLC), which provide programs that augment the student experience. The BCLC is a residential community in Belden Hall where students engage in significant, supportive programming, learning about everything from preparing a resume to becoming certified on the Bloomberg terminals. They host alumni who share insights about professional career paths and many agree to serve as mentors to our students.
There are many clubs focused on everything from accounting or finance to Formula 1 racing. Each of these clubs provides students the option to engage modestly or to become a leader with significant responsibility.
Alumnus’ Career Spanned From Military Service to Renewable Energy
Today I want to share a recent extracurricular event that exemplifies the richness and diversity available outside the classroom. On Oct. 20, alumnus Bryan Dougherty ’17 MBA was our guest speaker in the Sustainable Business Breakfast Series. Today’s students are sensitive to the environment and want to care for it, and learn about the many ways we can do so.
Bryan is an Operations Project Manager with Orsted, a Danish company that is launching offshore wind farms in New England. From my perspective Bryan played two roles. He exemplifies career progression, and he knows a great deal about green energy that the students want to learn.
Bryan is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint. He served nine years as an active-duty U.S. Army officer and then transferred to the National Guard where he continues to serve part-time. Following active duty, he returned to civilian life, joining Sikorsky in Stratford, Conn. The company encouraged and supported him in getting an MBA at UConn. This prepared him for a series of increasingly demanding roles over nine years. He then joined Orsted, following
through on an internal career spark to get involved with renewables.
He shared with us the challenges of bringing offshore wind to New England. Orsted has been doing this in Europe for 25 years, and the company has the technology to do it well. Bryan emphasized that in these initiatives, track record and experience are critical. But every new location is distinct and understanding the local operating environment is needed to gain a sustainable foothold. Regulation and environments are different.
I was reminded of learning decades ago about efforts to build long-distance transmission lines in the United States. The industry pointed out how much easier it was in communist countries or countries with other regulatory environments. In our country, every state, county, and municipality has property rights over regulatory approvals. The challenge is not only about whether projects will be approved but also about how long it takes to earn approval. In the United States, NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) is a potent barrier to approval of even the most logical initiatives. Getting energy from water-powered electricity to consumers was no easier than getting wind-powered electricity to consumers.
One Turn of the Blade Could Power a Home for 24 Hours
These wind turbines are huge, producing at an 11-megawatt capacity; where one blade turn is enough to power a home for one day. These offshore wind turbines are much larger than their land-based turbine siblings. Maintenance will require technicians to go up elevators inside them to service the mechanics. The technicians must get from land-based homes to the water-based generators. There are whales to protect, birds to worry about, and more. Launching these devices will be a mammoth effort, and Bryan referred to New London as the “Cape Canaveral’’ of New England offshore wind power. Once launched, these generators are expected to have a 35-year lifespan, and there are several entities involved ensuring the New London region remains an important hub during that timeframe, including the eventual decommissioning of the wind farms.
The proposed wind farms will generate sufficient electricity to power 900,000 homes, with future bids on the horizon to bring new offshore wind farms online in the next 10 years. The process involves companies bidding to access offshore sites for turbine installation, and the project is moving forward. But recently plans have been disrupted by the rising interest rates, which imperil the viability of large capital projects. The wind-farm projects are one of many examples of potential moderation of man-made climate change, and the difficulty in implementation reminds us of the challenges.
Bryan tied back to his MBA learnings, specifically with international business and operations management courses. He is seeing first-hand how understanding the local operating environment is imperative to business success. He is also applying operational design tools taught in his graduate class to apply to the current operations and maintenance strategy for Orsted’s New England projects. He is experiencing this with a job and company he loves, where he’s following through on an internal spark that was lit 15 years ago.
Bryan intends to support the School of Business’ Global Business Leadership in Sustainability Summit on March 1st, 2024 in Storrs, and hopes to see Husky Nation turn out to learn more about the impact of renewables on our state and the region.
A key goal of the School of Business is to convene important conversations among faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends. On March 24, we hosted our second- annual Global Business Leadership in Sustainability Summit. This half-day event to explore ESG issues drew a wide array of talent.
It was my pleasure to start the program with a conversation with Dinah Koehler, the head of ESG Research at FactSet. Dinah is no stranger to UConn, having met with our Student Managed Fund students last fall to discuss ESG. At the summit, we tackled pressing questions around sustainability, reporting practices, and regulation. Next, multiple panels including students, alumni, and UConn faculty delved into other pertinent ESG issues.
ESG stands for Environment, Social, and Governance, three important dimensions of our economic lives. In recent decades, many investors and companies have moved past profit maximization as the sole criteria for managing their companies and their investments. They have integrated ESG issues into their decision-making. For some companies, their commitment to ESG is about emphasizing these issues relative to their business model. For others, their ESG focus is a way to communicate to the investing community not only corporate values, but also about the risks and rewards of investing in the company’s stock.
A Legacy of Environmental Reliance at Risk
Dinah put the story in perspective by reminding us that humanity’s prosperity in the last several hundred years was built on a stability of climate regarding temperature, that enabled agricultural success and importantly, stability of ocean levels. This stable environment has been the cornerstone for economic progress, and now these historic realities are at significant risk.
Concerns about the environment and human influence on earth’s sustainability go back to Malthus. At the end of the 1700s, he cautioned that the natural growth of human population would exceed the ability of our planet to feed everyone. Happily, decades of agricultural innovation have sustained population growth. Recently however, the tension between people and planet has intensified. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Club of Rome’s landmark report, ‘The Limits to Growth’ – which stressed our planet’s interconnected systems. Of paramount concern is their predication that if growth trends in population, industrialization, resource use, and pollution continued unchanged, we will reach, and then overshoot the carrying capacity of the Earth within the next 100 years.
Companies Tend to ‘Cherry Pick’ Their Stories
More recently, the environmental threats have accelerated and despite the global gnashing of teeth, we are making insufficient progress to alter the overheating of our planet. The ESG focus is a response to these issues, in the spirit of what-gets measured-gets-better. Europe has led the way in requiring company disclosures about their environmental footprint, and U.S. companies have begun to engage in reporting. But a key concern around the world is the reliability and verifiability of disclosures. The phrase “greenwashing” has emerged to reflect company tendencies cherry pick the stories to tell in voluntary disclosures. Companies craft their narrative in a favorable light, emphasizing the positives and ignoring the problems.
The costs and difficulty of verifying these disclosures rather naturally spawned a small industry of firms that rank/measure/assess companies’ ESG characteristics. That industry fed another industry of companies offering ESG-friendly investment portfolios. Our conversation at the conference addressing ESG sustainability as an assessment of what these innovations are delivering, what they could deliver, how they could be improved, and what the future might look like.
Mandated Government Reports Provide Critical Information
ESG measurements and rankings are numerous and diverse in nature, including for example risk analysts MSCI. The basis of these measurements and rankings is information that companies report about their ESG profile. For example, what kinds of environmental risks do they face and how do they mitigate them? The “better” firms report more, but many critics argue that these firms “greenwash” their efforts. The data is not easily verifiable. An alternative reporting structure based on ESG activity drawn from mandated government reporting would yield reliable and verifiable data. Companies are required to fully disclose hazardous spills, train derailments, air traffic mishaps, accidents in the workplace, and the like. Today, these measures are less commonly the basis of an ESG ranking system, but such a system would be more credible.
From an investing perspective, some investors focus on maximizing their returns, and ask the question, “Is an ESG portfolio likely to deliver high(er) returns? Is an ESG portfolio likely to deliver lower risk (lower variability of returns).” Other investors have value-based agendas for their investments, and for example, prefer a portfolio that doesn’t hold tobacco stocks, or gun stocks, or fossil-fuel stocks. The important question is whether current ESG rankings provide relevant information for these questions.
The day of our symposium, MSCI (one of the most visible ranking activities for ESG that relies on firm reporting) announced that they were downgrading ESG ratings on thousands of funds. As reported in the Financial Times, “the changes are part of a push by index providers to tighten the criteria for ESG-compliant funds.” Especially in Europe, a triple-A ESG rating is required by many portfolio managers and this MSCI change is projected to reduce the number of triple-A companies from 1,120 to just 54, while the number with no rating will surge from 24 to 462.
Doing the Right Thing
In the last 50 years, science has made a case for global warming, and many countries have embraced the importance of action to ameliorate the CO2 and other pollutants accelerating the warming path. Good intentions have been expressed, but actions and investments have been insufficient to significantly slow the path. Awareness is critical, and ESG measurements support awareness. The clock is ticking.
We have witnessed many successes of businesses “doing the right thing.” Sixty years ago, the ozone layer was severely threatened, and SC Johnson, the parent company of Johnson Wax, responded by removing the destructive propellants from its products. Shortly thereafter, the government banned those propellants. Recently the press has acknowledged that the ozone layer has largely recovered. By all accounts, our challenge today is bigger and much more complicated, but there is hope.
Our second Global Business Leadership in Sustainability Summit brought attention to the issues of ESG measurement and investing, but also specific conversations more local to UConn and Connecticut. One panel led by alumnus Brian Paganini discussed the significant challenges of food waste in Connecticut. Brian’s company, Quantum Biopower, converts food waste into green energy and provides compost as a byproduct.
Professor Richard Meinart, Center Coordinator at UConn Extension, reminded us that not all compost is perfect for all uses. In Connecticut, our ground is over-burdened with phosphorous, and Quantum Biopower’s compost is phosphorous rich. This reminds us that the details matter, and Quantum will be challenged to find a way to mitigate phosphorous or treat their compost as an export product to other states.
Our other panels featured students and recent graduates who shared their UConn and professional experiences in the ESG space. They reminded all of us about the importance of bringing passion to address the ESG challenges what we will continue to face.
Indeed, our Summit was a rich and rewarding day – an important conversation that we must and will emulate.
We often do not think deeply enough about the domain of education. It is certainly about reading, writing, and arithmetic taught to our youngest learners as tools to enable them to learn more and explore more and grow more. As they move through their lives, the intellectual challenges evolve and the depth of their study and understanding grow apace. It has been my privilege to work in university settings for most of my adult life, among colleagues pursuing the next big idea and challenging received wisdom, while incorporating their innovations into writing, textbooks, and teaching.
In the Business School at UConn, we are constantly rethinking and revising our curriculum to focus on what is important. An example of a long-term evolution is the Friedman Doctrine. In 1970, University of Chicago professor Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times declaring that a business does not have any social responsibility to society beyond serving its shareholders. The notion was that profit maximization arose from the most efficient use of resources and as the profits were realized and distributed to the shareholders, the shareholders had the ability to use these returns as they wished to support socially important needs. This idea was embraced in business schools and became a foundational principle for finance. It also drove a bit of a wedge between the schools of business and scholars at their universities.
Triple Bottom Line Embraces Profits and More
Over the ensuing 50 years, many challenges to this doctrine emerged. Today there is the notion of a “triple bottom line” that suggests value maximization is not just about profit, but also includes people and the planet. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and investing based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) outcomes have emerged as a growing area of interest for our students and the companies who recruit them. Educators and employers know that the younger workforce of today cares about how their employer serves its community and the planet.
At UConn, our students are passionate about our planet and preserving it for their children and grandchildren. The Aspen Institute ranks UConn among the Top 10 universities addressing environmental issues, but our students want more. UConn President Radenka Maric recently responded by pledging carbon neutrality for the campus by 2030. The clock is ticking.
For our part, the School of Business is convening our second annual Global Business Leadership in Sustainability Summit on March 24 for students to learn more about this rapidly growing area and to meet alumni and corporate partners. Alumni and friends of UConn are welcome to attend.
Critical Thinking, Cultural Awareness Key to Business Education
The School of Business is often thought of as Milton Friedman’s apostles, where the profit motive rules supreme. Not true. Our colleagues in Arts and Sciences sometimes forget that half of undergraduate coursework in the business school is in the arts and sciences and many of our courses mandate both critical thinking and cultural awareness. Moreover, in the last several decades CSR, the environment, human rights, and other balance points for profit maximization have moved to the forefront of our curriculum. But they are balance points. The core notion that efficient allocation of resources to produce goods and services at low cost is one we embrace and we educate students in how to accomplish that.
For example, UConn has a Business and Human Rights Initiative, something that is unusual in higher education. The business school partners with the University’s Gladstein Family Human Rights Institute to develop and promote programs and activities that raise attention and awareness to global abuses of human rights. We will soon be launching a master’s degree and a set of certificates built around CSR. We expect many of our MBA students to make a subset of these experiences part of their education. In fact, our new MBA Now courses will offer a special series of elective courses in 2023-24 focused on sustainability and the supply chain. At the university level, in response to student interest, we have changed the common core that everyone must take to include an environmental course.
Humanitarian Benevolence Varies Greatly
In educating our students, one important objective is perspective. They must be able to evaluate “doctrines” thoughtfully and dispassionately. “Doctrines” by the nature of the word are belief systems that are extolled by groups, often religious or political. This notion is antithetical to the university. The Friedman Doctrine is appealing and simple. But it misses a great deal. It is built on an assumption of perfect markets and informed, benevolent citizens.
The perfect market assumption fails because of positive and negative externalities. Companies seeking to maximize profits make self-serving decisions when the costs of their polluting activity do not fall on them—a negative externality produces positive profit for the enterprise. The neighborhood bears the cost of bad water, etc. Informed benevolent citizens is also a failed assumption. In the USA today, we have familiar examples of people who have pledged the majority of their extreme wealth to nonprofits. Buffett, Gates (Bill and Melinda), Bloomberg, and Bezos follow in the path of Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, and Vanderbilt. But other uber-wealthy individuals have no apparent social conscience. So, the Friedman Doctrine is built on shaky ground that fails to incorporate externalities and overstates a shared humanitarian objective for those who benefit from (and influence) government policy.
The School of Business is committed to providing a curriculum that explores these important ideas, requires students to evaluate the nuances of ideas and opportunities, and gives them license to learn what they want to learn to enhance their future. We have launched a series of new programs that give students more license to choose their path. And we seek to engage them in open dialogue about not only efficient allocation of resources but also thoughtful investment in the future of our economy.
There is a narrative around higher education that it is ossified and unchanging. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the UConn School of Business is testimony to the dynamic nature of higher education. Today I am excited to share several major changes in our programs. The biggest is the realignment of our MBA programs.
Specifically, we are reducing the number of required credit hours by 25% to better align our offerings with our competitors. We are also eliminating the requirement that students must complete a concentration. Taken together, these changes give our students greater control over what they study, and allow them to tailor their program to knowledge required for their chosen career path. These changes give more decision making and autonomy to our students and reduce mandatory requirements of the degree programs.
Historically, concentrations were deep learning in core areas such as finance, accounting, management, marketing, or management information. Today the world is changing, and aspiring professionals seek targeted knowledge and more diverse opportunities. Rather than a deep-dive concentration in finance, they may seek some data analytics and some project management. Our revised curriculum opens these doors to allow students to design the program of study that they seek, and their employer may prefer.
The core curriculum is little changed. The total credit hours are reduced, which shortens the time to degree and the program’s cost. The reduced electives allow students to tailor their education to their needs. As work lives grow longer and the pace of change accelerates, we expect the notion of life-long learning to grow apace. Young professionals and their employers will look for periodic enhancement of their skills and knowledge. UConn will stand ready to provide shorter updates on important topics in the form of certificates, badges, or other affirmations of additional knowledge.
In the last few years, and especially in response to COVID, we have learned how important flexibility is to our students. In response, we have created a fully online MBA offering. Equally important, we have enabled students to seamlessly combine some courses in the online format and some courses in a face-to-face modality as the demands of their personal and professional lives dictate.
Our admissions professionals are ready to talk with interested candidates about how these changes may affect their plans.
As the semester draws to a close there is much to reflect upon. I am grateful every day for the engagement and involvement of UConn School of Business alumni.
As we engage together, I often hear, “I didn’t know you did that!” Here is a recent example of something we do that most don’t know.
Our Family Business Program focuses on the special issues confronted by family businesses. We create a forum for people with shared interests to exchange ideas, explore alternatives, and engage with each other and other business experts.
Family businesses have all the problems of any business. But they also face the inherent family dynamics that arise from family members reporting to each other. How do you confront the difficult conversation when you fire a cousin? How do you ensure that important, non-family professionals feel included and respected? Perhaps this is just another layer of complexity in managing complex organizations. But it is a very important, distinct, and thick layer.
Family leaders will determine how much to emphasize family, and how much to prioritize business success. Rather than pushing for optimal profitability, they may decide to satisfice on the business side by earning just enough to support the family and involve as many family members as desired. This can be a comfortable equilibrium.
In generational transitions, the comfortable satisficing choice often gives way to a profit-maximizing choice. The generation in control sees a future after leaving the company, and wants to maximize their resources when the transition happens. The next generation may want to continue the business but does not want to pay too much, even to mom and dad. Independent outside acquirers are even less willing to overpay.
A consensus emerged that “transition” covers a three-to five-year time frame, during which satisficing accommodations need to be replaced with professional business patterns, such as an independent board of directors and accomplished professionals in all key positions.
The panel also talked about the four “D”s….. Divorce, Death, Disability and Disagreement. These bring an immediate sense of urgency to the transition decision and deny the 3- to 5-year period to optimize the exit value. They also quoted results that only one in five of the companies that engage investment banks to sponsor an auction have a successful sale. Worse yet, they reported that 75% of owners who exited reported being unhappy a year later.
It is indeed a tangled web we weave and there are many ways for family business transitions to go wrong. Two things stood out to me: the need for open, honest communication within the family, but also within the business to set the stage for the business to evolve. Another take-away was that “you cannot read the label from inside the bottle.” There is certainly a tendency for all of us to think we know what we need to know, but the value of an independent outside assessment cannot be overstated. Transitions are better when supported by some independent confirmations of where the business stands and what its future can look like.
Today I’d like to introduce you to a few of the outstanding students at the UConn School of Business, the many achievements of our faculty, and the myriad of successes we have celebrated in the past 12 months.
In the pages of this year’s Dean’s Annual Report, you will read about Rashana Weerasinghe, who is completing her ninth (that’s right, ninth!) internship as a UConn student, this time at Amazon Robotics in Boston, where she is helping the company meet its sustainability goals.
You will also meet Linbing Pan, featured on our cover, who had an incredible summer internship at Nordstrom. During an introduction to alumnus Mike Koppel ’78, the former executive vice president and CFO of Nordstrom, Linbing expressed his passion for fashion and his interest in corporate management. Mike was able to advise Linbing on steps he could take to advance his interests.
These are just two of our many outstanding students who are pursuing active business experiences as part of their UConn journey. Our carefully designed and individualized advising program prepares our students for meaningful internships that are stepping stones to successful careers. Our well-connected faculty, successful alumni, and other friends of UConn give them the skills that they need, so when they land a big interview, they are ready to impress. Their stories begin on page 6.
Our business programs continue to produce outstanding results, with 88 percent of our Class of 2022 undergraduates securing jobs, entering graduate programs, or joining the military within three months of commencement. Be sure to see our top employers, rankings, and our placement statistics on pages 16-17.
Our faculty continue to make great strides in research that has real-world impact. In this issue, we feature three of our Operations and Information Management researchers who are tackling issues that impact us all, including how insurance companies can identify safe drivers, how the trucking industry can be more efficient, and how supply-chain management can be enhanced by lessons learned in the pandemic. Their work is featured on pages 26-29.
Our students are keenly focused on the intersection of business and society, seeking opportunities to learn and apply their interest in sustainability, corporate responsibility, and climate action. Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) influences business strategy and investors today more than ever, and we are meeting that need with a variety of programs and experiences. On pages 30-31, you will meet faculty and recent alumni who are making strides to elevate the social conscience of business.
I hope you enjoy reading about the highlights of a busy, exciting, and productive year. As I write this, Thanksgiving season is upon us. We have much to celebrate and many people for whom we are grateful. I wish each of you a holiday season of personal joy, professional satisfaction, and the abundant love of those you hold dear.
As dean of the Business School, one of my goals is to convene important conversations.
That is why I wish to invite you to join the UConn community for a presentation on climate change policy presented by Professor Robert N. Stavins, the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
A provocative speaker, Stavins’ topic is: “What Can an Economist Possibly Have to Say about Climate Change Policy?’’ His presentation begins at 4 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Dodd Center for Human Rights. The program will also be livestreamed; you can find a link here the day of the event.
“Attendees will come to understand what an economic perspective on climate change and climate-change policy has to offer,’’ Stavins said. “Business students and corporate executives should be attuned to climate-change policies because those policies will present very significant costs for some firms, and huge financial opportunities for other firms.’’
Stavins is the director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a University Fellow of Resources for the Future, and a former Chair of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Economics Advisory Board.
He directed Project 88, a national, bipartisan effort to develop innovative approaches to environmental problems. He has been a consultant to government agencies, international organizations, corporations, and advocacy groups.
In March, he will lead a week-long program on climate change, energy and policymaking for the long-term, convening policymakers and corporate leaders from around the world to discover the science, economics, and policy of climate change, as well as related aspects of energy production and use.
The School of Business is one of the many entities on campus that help to fund, publicize, and participate in this program, which is part of the Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series. The series honors the legacy of a prominent American naturalist, photographer, and writer who helped bridge the gap between the conservation and ecological movements of the 20th century. An eclectic thinker, Teale won the Pulitzer for his nature writing. In fact, his book on the pesticide DDT helped inform Rachel Carlson’s “Silent Spring,’’ which was credited for advancing the global environmental movement when it was published in 1962.
We are proud to extend his vision.
UConn is a ‘Green Campus,’ and we work to soften our carbon footprint consistently. UConn is making investments regularly to do that, although many in our community say it is too slow. The Aspen Institute, a collection of scholars, nonpartisan thought leaders, and other experts eager to address some of the world’s most complex problems, has said we are near the top in our efforts. This is a healthy tension. And conversations like this one help inform those on both sides of the debate. But that only happens when people come, listen and engage.
So please join us.
By doing so you foster your personal knowledge and growth and you underscore the importance of these issues to you and to our community.
In the School of Business, we often say that the goal of education is to help each of us reach our potential. We are here to help our students and alumni intentionally work toward that personal goal and to contribute to making the world a better place.
It does feel like a return to normal. After two years of COVID and virtual accommodations of various types, we are mainly face-to-face, and full of energy and innovation. My colleagues and I have been deeply engaged with new students in many of our programs.
The undergraduate students are arriving in record numbers with high accomplishments behind them and noble ambitions for their futures. They are accepting our challenge to be intentional about growing and learning in the next four years. I should say 4.1 years. That is the average time to earn an undergraduate degree at UConn. It is an extraordinary accomplishment that makes us a national leader in time to earn a degree. It does not happen by accident. We must provide them with the courses they need, when they need them, and we do. But that’s just a piece of the puzzle. We guide our undergraduate students, from the earliest days, to think about their education, their goals, their interests, and the ways they can develop leadership, knowledge, and industry experience. As a result, they become distinguished candidates in the job market.
Our graduate programs have become more diverse and complex. Last week, I was privileged to welcome students into multiple programs. The Online MBA (OMBA) and the MS in FinTech (Financial Technology) are new additions to our portfolio, aiming to be responsive to the needs of our students and to the needs of industry. Our corporate partners say they need every FinTech graduate we can produce, and the incoming students see those opportunities with crystal clarity. Our Online MBA provides flexible pathways to learning. During the COVID years we evolved our virtual learning delivery capability and can now deliver world-class learning opportunities to the students who want and need this flexibility.
Our well-established programs continue to attract talent, and it was wonderful to be with them again for in-person orientations and welcome. To remind you, we have multiple targeted graduate programs that continue to attract and serve high aspiration students: MS BAPM (Business Analytics and Project Management), MSA (Accounting), MS HRM (Human Resource Management) and MS FRM (Financial Risk Management).
On another morning I had the privilege of welcoming 10 new Ph.D. students. Each of our five academic departments added two students this year. And they take your breath away! They are intelligent, accomplished, and focused future faculty members. I told them they are ‘junior partners in the firm.’ And they are. They will open new avenues of thought. They will partner with our faculty to help advance ongoing learning and growth. We are very fortunate to have the ability to attract young people with their energy, enthusiasm, and promise.
There is a narrative out there about the irrelevance of education; a claim that nothing is changing and investment in one’s human capital is misspent. I find it confusing. When I look at what we are teaching and researching today, and compare it to 20 years ago: Wow!
Just look at the names of some of the degrees we offer today: Business Analytics, Financial Technology. My colleagues in the Marketing and Information Systems department are busy scraping websites to glean important insights into human behavior. The technology and the understanding of human behavior for this work did not exist 20 years ago, and today our students are expanding and defining it every day.
Some of the young people are talking about prior events as being at the end of the last century, and they are right. Twenty-some years into the new century, the future is rich and exciting, and UConn is contributing to our understanding of this world and preparing our students to thrive in it.
As viewed over the long arc of history, there are lessons to be learned from both pandemics and vaccines that inform our understanding of global prosperity. Good health and longevity are cornerstones of prosperity.
Seventy years ago, in 1952, polio cases exploded in the USA. Grade school students felt the brunt as they were kept at home, unable to play with friends and kept out of swimming pools, all because the consequences were so dire. If it sounds reminiscent of 2020 and COVID-19, it should. Fortunately, the iron lung had been invented to aid breathing for the sick. Unfortunately, there were not enough. People died. Bodies were deformed.
In 1955, Jonas Salk created a vaccine, and became a hero. In a televised broadcast he was asked who owned the patents to the vaccine. He famously answered, “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
It took almost no time for a fearful community to accept the vaccine. Shortly thereafter, in the spirit of continuous improvement, Sabine refined the vaccination process. Children returned to playing together and swimming.
But this was not an American story. Polio did not respect national boundaries. Nor did the rapid vaccine adoption in the USA describe a global response. Vaccinations cost money. Distributing vaccine is a supply chain challenge. People are not all receptive to the good intentions of a “Western remedy.” The United States and the United Nations and other organizations championed a global response, funded a global response, and ultimately achieved most of the goal: decades later.
By 1979, the U.S. was declared polio-free. Yet globally, in 1980, only 22 percent of one-year-olds were vaccinated against polio. This increased to a coverage of 86 percent of the world’s one-year-olds in 2015. Cases of polio have fallen dramatically over time. In 1980, there were over 50,000 reported cases of polio worldwide. By 2021, this number was below 1,000 with various small estimates from different sources.
In his book “Enlightenment Now,’’ Steven Pinker focuses on public health and childhood mortality improvements such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as examples of global improvements in many aspects of life. By 2015, polio was very rare outside of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Germ theory, antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical interventions substantially increased life expectancies in the last century. In 1840, life expectancy was about 40 years; in 2020 it had risen to 75 years. Reduced childhood mortality was the major explanation.
In this context, an article in The New York Times (July 16, 2022) headlined ‘Sharp Drop in Global Childhood Vaccinations Imperils Millions of Lives’ catches our attention. A vaccination rate of 94 percent is generally thought sufficient to create herd immunity. From 2019 to 2021 vaccination rates for DTP3 fell five points to 81 percent. While UNICEF continues to be a major supplier of vaccine addressing a broad array of diseases, people must engage with programs to make a difference. There is reason to fear that the loss of herd immunity across an array of childhood diseases will allow them to remerge.
The 1918 flu epidemic, and the 2020 COVID pandemic both briefly shortened the pattern of increased life expectancy. Decreases in global herd immunities may do so again. In recent days, NPR, the AP, The Washington Post and The New York Times have all featured news of the first polio case in the U.S. in almost a decade.
How does all of this affect the UConn School of Business? It reminds us of the importance of history, of understanding human behavior and decision making, and of the global interconnections of lives today. Our students take about 50 percent of their coursework in the liberal arts and sciences. We seek to educate global citizens, as well as prepared professionals. The AACSB, our accrediting body for high aspiration business schools, refers to our collective mission as supporting global prosperity. It is important to frame that goal as a quality-of-life goal, not a personal wealth goal.