Betti Jo Licata, Williamson College

Licata Reflects on Accomplishments of Williamson College of Business

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Betty Jo Licata chuckles when asked whether she always envisioned a career in education.

“When I was a kid, we used to play school,” recalls the dean of the Youngstown State University Williamson College of Business Administration.  “I went to college to become a special education teacher.”

But her pursuit of a degree in that field took a different turn. After 26 1/2 years, Licata will retire Dec. 31 as dean of the business school – a college that today is unrecognizable from when she arrived in 1995. 

Kelly Wilkinson, associate dean of the Scott College of Business Administration at Indiana State University, has been appointed the new dean of Williamson and begins her tenure Feb. 1, 2022.

Under Licata’s stewardship, the college has expanded and introduced new student-centered programs, initiated a more ambitious outreach and engagement effort, attained critical academic accreditation, and constructed a building that reflects the technological advances of a modern business economy.

“I’ve been in higher education my entire career,” Licata says. “I’d like to feel I’m making a difference. I love to see our students succeed and point them in the right direction.”

Licata grew up in Lockport, N.Y., a small town born along the Erie Canal during the first half of the 19th century and whose major employer today is a General Motors plant that manufactures radiator components.

“I did my undergraduate work at the State University of New York, Genesee,” she says. During her sophomore year, she steered away from special education and opted for a degree in psychology.  From there, Licata enrolled in Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute and earned a master of business administration and a doctorate in management.

“My focus was in human resources – education and training,” she says.  “I thought I would go into industry until I started interviewing for higher education jobs. I thought, ‘This is the best of both worlds.’ ”

These interviews led to her first position as a faculty member and then associate dean and director of graduate programs at Ohio University.  In 1990, she accepted the position as dean of the Dahlkemper School of Business Administration at Gannon University in Erie, Pa.

Five years later, she found herself hired as the new dean of the Williamson College of Business at YSU and never looked back.

“During the 1990s, YSU was undergoing some of its first big transformations,” Licata recalls. “When I was hired, I had two primary charges — one was to help the college earn AACSB [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business] accreditation.  The other was to increase the engagement and visibility of the College of Business.”

The Williamson College earned accreditation from AACSB in April of 2000, a distinction bestowed on fewer than 25% of business programs in the country and less than 5% worldwide. 

Moreover, the college has accelerated its efforts to engage the private sector and enhance student programs that have resulted in strong partnerships and a culture of professionalism across the curriculum.

During Licata’s tenure as dean, the business school established the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, the Entrepreneurship Center, the Center for Career Management, Students Services Center, Business Leaders Program and the Student Leadership Council.

Another major effort was to expand the college’s internship program, Licata says. “We had this when I arrived. But it has grown significantly and is an important part of the student’s preparation,” she says. “We’ll have more than 200 students in paid internships this year.”

Mousa Kassis, director of the Ohio Small Business Development Center’s Export Assistance Network, says his desire to create an Ohio export internship program was met with unqualified support from Licata.

“Her leadership is bar none,” Kassis says of Licata. “She allows people to be innovative and let them do what they do best.”

With Licata’s support, Kassis was able to develop a curriculum and establish a new internship program in 2014 that partners with the Ohio Department of Development, The Ohio State University, the University of Dayton and Cleveland State University.

“We’ve trained about 75 students through the program,” Kassis says. It filled a need of local and regional manufacturers that rely on exports for their business. 

“She’s built a culture of business here and reached out to the business community about their needs,” Kassis says.  “She gets it.”

The business college enjoys a strong partnership with the Ohio Small Business Development Center, now housed in the Williamson College of Business Administration.

“It’s been a wonderful partnership for our students,” Licata says. “When you build relationships with employers, you can involve them in other ways.”  The OSBDC has also initiated a procurement tech assistance program that students can participate in.

Student consulting projects have helped business students to achieve firsthand experience in team building, problem solving and working directly with businesses and organizations, Licata says.

“We’ve done 70 consulting projects with companies and nonprofits,” she says. Recently, the university created a partnership with Tech to Universities program of NASA. “This will allow students to explore NASA technologies and make recommendations on how they can be commercialized.”

Additional efforts such as the Student Investment Fund – a program where students make real investment decisions – have grown to $2 million for the Youngstown State University Foundation. 

Ultimately, it’s about providing the best opportunity for students to succeed, Licata says.

None of this could have been accomplished without dedicated faculty and staff, Licata says.  All but two of the 42 faculty in the business school were hired since Licata joined YSU. 

“The biggest accomplishment has been working with the faculty and staff to develop the programs and services that enable our students to meet the demand of employers,” she says.

There is also a bricks-and-mortar legacy that will always be associated with Licata’s tenure – the construction of the $34 million building that now houses the Williamson College of Business. The building opened in 2010.

Licata says the new building enables some of these programs to move forward while it opens the potential to invite interaction from the private sector.

“It creates a culture of professionalism for our students and their engagement with businesses,” she says. The atrium of the building, for example, allows the college to host “Meet the Employers Day” for students, while its conference room plays host to the Professional Development Summit for accounting and finance majors on Student Practitioner Day.

The building, on West Rayen Avenue and West Phelps Street, is positioned to draw the attention of professionals in the central business district, says Gregg Strollo, president of Strollo Architects, Youngstown. The firm partnered with Minneapolis-based Perkins + Will to design the structure.

“It’s designed to promote interaction between the business community and the school,” Strollo says.  Indeed, the new business school is positioned to foster “productive collisions,” a concept that engenders professionals, students and faculty interacting with one another as they walk through the building.

Strollo says that Licata remained focused on the building’s quality of space and its function as a place of higher learning.  “Betty Jo is the Valhalla of good clients,” he says.

Most importantly, the building stands as a statement to the direction the Williamson College is headed.

“It’s a professional facility,” Licata says. “It’s what our students deserve. It’s what our faculty deserve.”

It’s also important that the business college curriculum maintain its adherence to the needs of employers as industry changes.

“It’s important to broaden our portfolio for students,” she says, evidenced by YSU’s new Excellence Training Center downtown and new developments in the electric-vehicle industry with Ultium Cells and Lordstown Motors.

As for her next chapter, Licata says she and her husband, Jack Monda, plan to remain in the Youngstown area, where they’ve raised a family.  “I’ll still be involved in causes such as United Way and Junior Achievement,” she says.

Ultimately, Licata says she would like to be known for supporting students in the same way her mentors supported her in undergraduate and graduate schools.

“I’ve been shaped by people who’ve worked with me as an undergrad and a graduate student,” she says.  “I’ve had good mentors who gave me a lot of opportunities. I’ve tried to do the same for others as well.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.