Tippie dean forum | Leader of University of Virginia residential MBA program Tom Steenburgh emphasizes fundraising, diversity, equity, and inclusion actions

Steenburgh answered questions and presented his ideas via Zoom about his experience in higher education and his plans if he were to take the helm of the Tippie College of Business.


Raquele Decker

Tippie College of Business Building is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Tippie College of Business continued its search for a new dean by hosting a third and final virtual forum Thursday, where candidate Tom Steenburgh, senior associate dean for the University of Virginia, Charlottesville’s Residential MBA Program, discussed his plans for fundraising and dedication to mental health and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Steenburgh said he has a background rooted in business, working at the corporation Xerox, which specialized in marketing and selling digital and print goods. He said he worked there for many years before he made the decision to shift into teaching and help students build their own business careers.

He said what drew him to the college and the dean position was the college boasting a strong undergraduate business program. If chosen, he said he hopes to continue to strengthen the undergraduate program, as well as the master’s program, which is something he believes business fields at universities nationwide are struggling with.

Steemburgh is the third and final candidate to virtually visit campus for a second round of finalists for someone to take the helm of the Tippie College of Business. The UI relaunched an external search in June to “recruit a new and diverse pool of strong candidates” after a spring search did not produce a final selection.  The previous dean Sarah Gardial left the position in March to lead Belmont University’s business school in Tennessee. Amy Kristof-Brown — one of the finalists for the permanent role — has been serving as the interim dean. Paolo Volpin, who leads Cass Business School at City, University of London, is the third candidate for the job.

When asked how he would remain proactive in navigating the changing nature of revenue sources, Steenburgh said it is important for schools to use their funding appropriately and invest in programs or renovations of programs that will be beneficial towards the college.

“You have to be efficient with your money,” Steenburgh said. “You have to make strategic bets about what’s going to happen, you have to be willing to close programs or change programs.”

RELATED: Tippie dean search: University of Iowa business college holds its first forum after relaunching search with candidate Paolo Volpin

With COVID-19 complicating travel both nationally and internationally, this has placed many challenges on international students looking to receive higher education in the U.S.. Steenburgh said that he is passionate about assisting international students pursuing higher education and careers within the U.S.

At UVA, Steenburgh said he helped revise a plan that assists international students by preparing them for their collegiate education by exploring their career interests and options, supplying them with resources, and providing them with training to prepare them for competitive classroom environments. 

Steenburgh’s passion for helping students does not end there, he said, as he is focused on holistically improving student life on multiple fronts, providing them with resources such as networking, receiving a quality education, and opportunities for successful career options. 

Steenburgh said fundraising and donor relations needs to be healthily balanced between faculty and alumni.

“The challenge is finding what they care about and what the school cares about,” Steenburgh said. “I would spend time with you as a faculty, really having a deeper understanding of what your priorities are and then time with the alumni in the same way, asking questions around what makes them proud, why would they want to create a legacy for themselves, and what do they care about.”

Steenburgh said he cares deeply about mental health and the wellbeing of department members, and has worked at UVA to revise and redesign programs that will better assist students, faculty and staff in the area.

“I was sensitive to this issue even before the COVID-19 problem,” Steenburgh said. “I think, particularly in difficult times like now, it’s even more important to be thinking about how to support people with mental health issues and have a little patience with each other, as you as you work through this.”

RELATED: Tippie dean search | Interim Tippie Dean Amy Kristof-Brown emphasizes finding innovative programs for funding, learning

When asked to reflect on his experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion, Steenburgh said that for those living in Charlottesville, Virginia, the white supremacy rallies of 2017 are a constant reminder of the ever present issue of racial inequality within the nation. 

“[I’ve talked to] people don’t feel safe in the area,” Steenburgh said. “And so then that brings out really strong emotions. I’ve been involved in many town halls over the last several years, just letting people vent, and express frustration around what’s going on in the city.”

Steenburgh said at the UVA’s Darden School of Business, he assisted in increasing efforts to diversify members of the department, emphasizing the need to have a faculty resembling and representing the student body.

“There’s a variety of things that we’re doing,” Steenburgh said. “I think the fundamental thing that we try to accomplish is to help people feel like this is the place where they feel at home. We try to approach it in a variety of ways to help students feel like this is a great experience for them.”

First reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Steenburgh worked from 2003 to 2012 as a professor at Harvard Business School, which overlaps with the time President Bruce Harreld was a lecturer there from 2008 to 2014. Though, the two did not travel in the same circles. The deans of the college report to the provost, not to the president. It’s worth noting another candidate, Kristoff-Brown, already works with Harreld at the UI as have other internal candidates for other administrative positions.

“Tom and I were on the faculty at HBS at the same time. So, we knew each from that experience. His appointment was in the Marketing Unit and mine was in Strategy and Entrepreneurial Leadership Units. So, we traveled in very different circles. We also met many years earlier when he was at Xerox and I was at IBM. However, I had no involvement in recruiting him to the Tippie opportunity. In fact, we had not talked for many years until this morning.

For the record I have also guest lectured at UVA’s Darden School but never met with Tom while there,” Harreld wrote in an email to the Gazette shared with the DI.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include that Steenburgh had worked at Harvard at the same time as UI President Harreld.