Q&A: Paul E. Jensen, Dean of LeBow College of Business
Even though Paul E. Jensen, PhD, is the new dean of the LeBow College of Business, he’s not a new face at Drexel University. Far from it. He started his Drexel career in 1997 as an assistant professor in economics, and has since held a wide variety of roles, including interim director of the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management and director of Goodwin College of Professional Studies.
Jensen had even been acting as interim dean for LeBow for much of the last year before recently being named dean. In this Q&A, find out why Jensen thinks his varied background will aid him in his role, and what he has in store for the future of the college.
Q: Since going from interim to permanent dean, have you taken on any different responsibilities? You had already set forth this three-year strategic plan and now you're going to be able to bring that to fruition.
A: I do think, just due to circumstances, that my case is a little unusual. I did start a lot of stuff as an interim dean, and so when I became permanent there wasn't this massive change, like, ‘Now I'm going to do X, Y and Z.’ I was already doing it. So in terms of responsibilities it really hasn't changed much. But now I know I have at least a five-year horizon to plan for, so I suppose there are a few things that I can now execute that I might have hesitated on as an interim dean.
Q: Tell our Drexel Quarterly readers a little about your overall background and what you did before coming to Drexel.
A: I think the notable thing in my background is, in my undergraduate years, I spent two years at a liberal arts college studying liberal arts and economics. This was planned, and then I transferred to Syracuse University so that I could study engineering.
I mixed liberal arts and economics with mechanical engineering. That sort of gave me this more diverse background, a unique mixture. I graduated and went to work for General Electric. I did that for a few years, working in their power generation division in a sales management role. Then, eventually, I decided to go back and do a PhD in economics at Penn State, and then I came to Drexel in ’97. I think having, in my academic career, that mixture of arts and science and engineering, and then in my professional career, combining corporate with academic for the last 26 or 27 years, has been beneficial. I’ve enjoyed that variety, and it has served me well.
Q: What made you want to come to Drexel?
A: I came here as an assistant professor in economics after choosing between a few schools. What attracted me was that I had done a co-op as an undergraduate. I had experienced it so I think early on I had an appreciation, but not a full appreciation. It took me a while to fully appreciate the impact we have on our students. I think what we do for our students in terms of academic and professions development is pretty special.
I was also attracted to the fact that economics at Drexel resides in the business school. I think that there's a more pragmatic approach in business schools than, say, in arts and science, and that I found appealing.
Q: When you started here, was there anything you really wished Drexel would adopt that has now come to fruition, or that you can work towards bringing to fruition now as dean?
A: Since the day I got here, I’ve heard comments like, ‘We have to figure out how to integrate co-op into the curriculum.’ And it's funny because that largely relates to my long-term view. That concept is central to the strategic plan I developed as an introduction to the plan we're continuing to develop now. The thing that I want to accomplish is to really be innovative about integrating industry into our curriculum, and taking our connection to industry beyond sending students out on co-op. This is about closing the loop by bringing students and faculty together to work with our industry partners to develop solutions to today’s complex business problems.
If we can integrate industry into the curriculum through, say, projects, then what's happening in industry is now being integrated into the curriculum, and helps inform curricular changes. It helps give faculty new experiences, which may guide faculty research and certainly may guide how faculty update their courses. So that is probably the one thing that has been talked about for 21 years and we're now beginning to do it. It will be one of my main initiatives over the next five years, to continue that effort.
Q: What are the things about Drexel and LeBow that have made you want to dedicate so much time here to moving everything forward?
So there is feedback and great complementarity that I think is extremely powerful, and I think that LeBow has made great strides in terms of really developing our ability to have an impact on our students through this integrating of development professionally and academically. I think that's at the heart of what keeps me energized.
Q: What’s your key advice for LeBow students?
A: My advice is always try to sort of maximize your options and avoid the path of least resistance because I think that often closes doors. For me, combining two different fields as a student gave me options. Doing things to maximize your options is really important, particularly early on. Whether that's selecting courses or thinking about jobs, I think options are one of the keys to being successful. This is especially important now, because students are likely to experience more changes than previous generations in terms of technological impacts upon industry and career paths.
Q: Where do you see the future of business headed
A: Business is becoming more intertwined with computing, engineering and technology, and that's going to continue.
I think the other thing is that the future of business and the future of higher education are going to be more about academic-industry partnership. I think this is sort of the brilliance of Schuylkill Yards, that we have this $3.5 billion-dollar investment which is about academic-industry partnership. It's clearly mutually beneficial — universities are going to benefit from this, industry will benefit, students will benefit. Long-term, this may also provide pathways to better address rising costs of education, where industry is more involved in this process. Those are some of the things that are going to be very exciting in terms of the future of business.
Q: What do you do in your spare time? What’s your family like?
A: What spare time? [laughs] I have three sons. One has graduated college and is currently working for Prudential. But they are all swimmers, so I have two still swimming. My spare time is usually spent at some sort of swim meet. I will probably travel twice this summer around the country watching my boys swim at these five-day meets. So that's what I do in my spare time. When I'm not at a swim meet, I try to sneak in a ski vacation once in a while.This story was published in the summer 2018 issue of Drexel Quarterly.