YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Broadening the role of the Williamson College of Business Administration in the community, placing greater emphasis on addressing technology and ensuring the college is more inclusive are among the objectives its new dean has set.
Kelly Wilkinson joined the Youngstown State University college in February, succeeding longtime Dean Betty Jo Licata. Wilkinson was hired following a national search led by Phyllis Paul, dean of the Cliffe College of Creative Arts at YSU.
Before coming to YSU, Wilkinson served as associate dean of the Scott College of Business at Indiana State University. There she worked with the current YSU provost, Brien Smith, who supported her in assuming various roles at Indiana State, including department chairwoman and associate dean.
Smith praises Licata as “one of the better deans” in the country, and Wilkinson as the ideal transition.
“I liked what I saw when I worked with her. She’s change oriented,” Smith says.
“To be innovative, you have to change. And that’s what makes Dean Wilkinson a good match. She’s now in a position to look at things and question things, which is her nature,” the provost says.
Wilkinson says she finds Youngstown State and Indiana State similar in terms of their student populations and their roles in the community. At her previous school, she had the opportunity to work with students who were first-generation college students.
“Education changes their lives and changes their family’s trajectory,” she says. “We weren’t just changing a student’s life. We were changing a family’s lives.”
Wilkinson was surprised to learn the number of Williamson students participating in internships this summer – 110, nearly back to prepandemic levels. “That doesn’t happen just by chance. That happens because there’s faculty and staff working together to guide students,” she says.
As employers navigate the workforce shortage, students are receiving multiple job offers, she says. Employers aren’t looking for students with just perfect grades.
“They would rather have somebody who has decent grades, but also is involved, that’s worked. They want a well-rounded student,” Wilkinson says.
“We have to prepare students for careers that don’t even exist right now,” she continues. “So what does that mean? It means we have to give them the tools to learn – and to be critical thinkers.”
The new dean envisions the Williamson College as “the lifelong learning hub of the community,” the resource businesses turn to to improve their employees’ skills. The college has done that in areas such as accounting and real estate, she says.
The college’s headquarters, Williamson Hall, is in a location that puts the college in “a great place to start looking at what we can provide the community and students, too,” she says.
“I used to say that, that professional development and academic development ran parallel. Not anymore,” she says. It does this in combination with each other, not always separate.
Wilkinson sees more credentialing taking place in fields such as data analytics, an area she sees as a “game changer.”
She also sees the need for the Williamson College to become a resource for technology-related areas such as artificial intelligence, particularly in accounting, as well as blockchain.
At one time, conventional wisdom held that technology changed every 18 months. But that window has shortened, she says. One issue the college is looking at is to prepare students to adapt to the coming changes.
“We used to say once you developed a foundation, it was going to see you through. Not anymore. There’s just so much change,” Wilkinson says. “So why can’t we be the hub for change?”
The Williamson College is looking at how technology is “morphing” the way people do their jobs and examining the core skills they need, she says. People learn about technology, accommodate it (or find a workaround), and finally assimilate it, or make it a part of their process, she says.
”I want us to develop growth mindsets,” Wilkinson says. “You’ve always got to be able to learn more, and to go from accommodation to assimilation.”
Wilkinson sees the need to address technology within the classroom and ensure all students have the technology they need to learn “anytime, anywhere,” as she put it. Many students work and might not have the opportunity to go to an on-campus lab during the hours they are open. So they need laptops with the appropriate software.
“Every classroom in this college should be a lab if students all have their laptops. That’s something we’re struggling with,” she says. “I have some ideas on how we can do it for our college.”
Wilkinson also envisions improving the connections between students and the entrepreneurs operating out of the Youngstown Business Incubator. Additionally, she wants to expand the community involvement of the college, as with the volunteer tax assistance program and the upcoming Dare to Care Day on April 22, led by the Center for Nonprofit Leadership. On that day, students will help various social nonprofit organizations.
New standards by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, an accrediting organization, include societal impact, she says. “We must be part of the community. We want to have societal impact.”
Additionally, Wilkinson outlines the need for the college to encourage diversity and inclusion. She plans to address that by issuing a diversity statement and to have speakers who represent a diverse population. She acknowledges that business – fairly or unfairly – has not always been seen as welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds – or women, for that matter, she says.
“We want students to feel that this is their college, no matter who they are, and that we address those needs,” she says. “People gravitate to places where they feel comfortable [and where] there are others that understand who they are.”
Pictured: Kelly Wilkinson is the dean of Williamson College of Business Administration at Youngstown State University.