New Webster Business Dean Plans to Expand Undergraduate Programs
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Posted by: Melinda Dorning
From The St. Louis American | 8.10.17 | by: Sophie Hurwitz
Simone Cummings is the new dean of the Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University.
Simone Cummings, the new dean of the Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University, took control of the school that awards more Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) degrees to African Americans than any other university in the nation. But she wants to see more undergraduate business majors.
“A lot of people think of the Walker School as a graduate institution,” she said. “And we do have very large graduate programs. We are the largest provider of MBA degrees in the St. Louis region, and we are the largest provider of MBA degrees to African Americans in the United States.”
However, she noted, “We are not as well known for our undergraduate education, but we are very, very strong in that area.”
The initiatives Cummings will be rolling out this year to increase undergraduate enrollment include more direct communication from the business school to high school counselors in the metro area, as well as new social media marketing.
“As part of that social media plan – it sounds kind of crazy, but – we’re sending them out these little pillows, they’re really cute, and asking them to take a picture, a selfie with those pillows, and then post that on social media,” Cummings said. “We really want to build up some awareness of our undergraduate programs, as well as a lot of buzz about some of the cool things that we’re doing at Webster.”
Aside from those recruitment efforts, Cummings noted that “the other side of recruitment is retention. So once you get students in, you have to make sure that they stay.” She plans to “change the culture” of the business school to make it more engaging to new students, and work with teachers on curricula in anticipation of Webster’s upcoming accreditation site visit from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
Cummings is excited to take on her new role as dean, and also recognizes her own hiring as symbolic of broader changes within the city that she loves.
“I think everything that happened in Ferguson, everything that’s happened since, has really caused people to think about issues relating to diversity in this region,” she said. “So I think that people have been hearing it, but maybe they haven’t been listening. And a lot of the things that have occurred, during Ferguson and since then, have caused a real awakening in the population here – and the population that has the capacity to hire, for example, people like me, to work in positions of leadership.”
At this time, in St. Louis, Cummings’ new role means she can “really make a difference here,” she said. “Sometimes people say St. Louis is cliquish, but St. Louis is one of those places where it’s a small city, and you have an opportunity to build a name. You have an opportunity to get to know a wide range of people, you have an opportunity to really make a difference in a city like this in a way that you don’t in some larger cities.”
Cummings, is deeply connected to St. Louis. A Lutheran North graduate, she attended Washington University – “the only school I applied to,” she said, “because I was stupid, I guess, or confident.”
After getting her degree in Business, with minors in Sociology and African American studies, she “lived in D.C., lived in Boston, lived in Chapel Hill, lived in Durham,” she said, working in Health Administration and as a professor at various institutions.
“I’ve lived in these other places,” Cummings said, “but none of them really compare to St. Louis.”
So when she was given an opportunity to return to St. Louis and work in the Health Administration program at Washington University, she “jumped at the chance,” she said, to come back to her hometown. When the Health Administration program at Wash U. was shut down in 2008, however, she began to look for other career opportunities.
“You have an opportunity to really make a difference in a city like this in a way that you don’t in some larger cities.” – Simone Cummings
Among those opportunities was teaching, as an adjunct professor at Webster University.
“After I had taught my first class there, they called me and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for a full-time position, and I said I would,” she said. “I started working there in January 2013.”
When Cummings, a product of one St. Louis university, began to work at another, she rose quickly through the ranks from professor, to Masters of Health Administration program director, to associate dean.
“I served with our interim dean at the time, Dr. Tom Johnson,” Cummings said. “Tom is a wonderful, wonderful person, and really gave me the opportunity to share that role with him.”
That practice in the role of dean gave Cummings the confidence needed to be sure she was the best possible candidate for dean of the Walker School when the position became available last year upon the resignation of Benjamin Ola Akande to accept the president post at Westminster College.
As an internal hire, Cummings said, “I knew that I could do the job better than, really, anyone else because I’d been in that role, and because I knew all the players, and it wouldn’t take me the amount of time to get up to speed that it would take someone else. Someone else would take, perhaps, a year to get up to speed. Given that I was an internal candidate, I could move forward very quickly.”
The business programs offered through the Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University have been accredited by ACBSP since 2008.