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portrait of Ken Colwell beside a photo of the front entrance of Kepner Hall

New Business Dean Ken Colwell: ‘We Stack Up’

Since Ken Colwell, Ph.D., took the leadership reins as dean of the Monfort College of Business July 1, the veteran dean has been listening and learning while shaping his vision for the college of business and where he wants to take it.

Since Ken Colwell, Ph.D., took the leadership reins as dean of the Monfort College of Business July 1, he has been getting to know the faculty, staff, students, alumni and the broader UNC community. The veteran dean has been listening and learning while shaping his vision for the college of business and where he wants to take it.  

As a dean with a strong predilection for action, Colwell is transitioning well to chief executive of MCB. He brings a wealth of experience to the role. Having “crisscrossed the country twice” during his career spanning more than three decades, Colwell is a seasoned investment professional with expertise in strategic management and entrepreneurship as well as an experienced academic, with 10 years as dean as well as myriad administrative, teaching and leadership roles. So, he is well suited to the task. 

“UNC is in an interesting, fast-growing region of the country,” said Colwell. “I see regional public universities like UNC as being an economic driver for the region and the center of the community, coordinating the great work that is being done by the city and others.”  

Colwell has spent the first months on the job assessing critical priorities, evaluating the organization and developing strategies that enable MCB to adapt and thrive in the current and future business environments while building connections and relationships.  

He has framed MCB’s playbook to include these priorities, which build on the college’s historical strengths and pursue new opportunities:  

  1. Develop more online education programs that go beyond traditional undergraduate education. 
  2. Expand our graduate and professional business programs with areas of concentration to deepen and supplement working professionals’ business knowledge. 
  3. Launch new undergraduate concentrations focused on in-demand areas such as data, analytics, digital marketing and technology, among others.  
  4. Create an adult degree completion program to encourage former students who didn’t graduate to earn their undergraduate degree at UNC in a couple of years by applying work experience, past college credits and other credentials. 

Just as growing student enrollment is a top priority for UNC, Colwell sees MCB’s need to grow as essential to the college’s future success. 

“MCB is too small, for UNC, for the quality of education we provide, for the quality of our faculty, our technology and student resources and support,” said Colwell. He cites MCB’s extensive student support systems and resources, both in the classroom and once students launch their careers, as one of the main reasons the B-school is well positioned to effectively prepare and serve its students.  

“MCB will be a business school to watch,” said Colwell. “Thanks to the tremendous investment and generosity of the Monfort family, we have the resources to bring to bear on student success, career services, study abroad and more. That puts us head and shoulders above other business colleges.” 

This financial and academic support for our students is essential, explains Colwell, as they are working multiple jobs and have family responsibilities in addition to their academic course load.  

From industry to academia 

Colwell brings more than 35 years of combined industry and academic experience to his role,. Prior to joining UNC he was a former dean and professor at the University of Houston-Victoria College of Business.  

Previously, he served as professor and dean of the School of Business at Central Connecticut State University and associate professor and dean of the School of Business, Public Administration and Information Sciences at Long Island University in Brooklyn. He has held other academic and leadership roles at the University of Miami School of Business Administration and Drexel University LeBow College of Business. 

Although new to UNC, Colwell is not new to the West. In fact, he considers himself a Westerner, even though he was born outside of Seattle and grew up in suburban Washington, D.C. He spent 10 years in San Francisco, launching his professional career at Charles Schwab in online trading during a time of explosive growth in the 1990s.  

After 10 years of the fast and furious pace and extremely long hours of retail brokerage, Colwell felt burned out. So, he paused his career to pursue an MBA at San Francisco State University, immersing himself in thinking and studying business theory rather than buying and selling stocks, bonds and other financial investments. This business education was key to his future and built on his problem-solving skills acquired from an undergraduate degree in Biology at McGill University in Montreal. 

Enjoying the reflection, analysis and learning during his MBA program and at the encouragement of his professors, Colwell took the leap and pursued a doctoral degree in Management with an emphasis in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon. That put him on the path to academia. 

MCB is a good fit

Colwell was attracted to UNC as an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), having served as dean at three other HSIs and Minority Serving (MSI) institutions. Given his time at both private and public universities, Colwell prefers smaller public universities where he feels he can really make an impact on students’ lives.  

“Our students don’t have many of the privileges students at other universities do,” said Colwell, who is driven by a deep passion for the work that he does. “We stand out. Our students are not entitled. Our students put their heads down and work hard. They are humble. Employers love our students. 

“While I enjoyed my time [at Drexel and University of Miami], it was inherently unsatisfying…. because the students were coming with so much privilege, frankly. I didn’t feel like there was a larger purpose to what I was doing,” explained Colwell.  

“So, I started looking at schools that were more interested in educating underrepresented minorities or underserved populations, helping them get jobs and moving them up to the middle class.” 

When asked about the value of a business degree, Colwell references the top 20 salaries which are in the field of business. “Business graduates are employed so there’s an immediate payoff,” said Colwell, adding that this is especially important for this generation of students who want to see a strong return on their investment. 

“MCB is a tremendous value to students. We are accredited in business and accounting by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Only 5% of schools worldwide have earned this recognition. 

“We stack up: We provide a good value education. Our graduates get good jobs. They get good salaries. They have good lives.” 

MCB’s accolades speak well to the quality of its programs: It has the No. 1 program in the world for Accounting Information Systems and Experimental Accounting Information Systems, No. 12 in the world for Experimental Financials and No. 23 in the world for Experimental Auditing. It is the only business school recognized by the Colorado Commission of Higher Education as a Program of Distinction.  

Furthermore, MCB is part of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative and has incorporated ethical leadership throughout the curriculum. All of its students graduate with a certification in ethical leadership from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.  

A 21st century business education: What’s next? 

As markets face constant disruption on multiple fronts, business education needs are changing. Business schools always need to adapt. The new dean shares his view of elements of a strong undergraduate business education. 

Tech skills. Astechnology is an ever-increasing part of people’s everyday lives, the demand for tech-savvy and capable business professionals is growing. Incorporating more applied tech skills into business education is important, said Colwell. These include internships which are required in MCB, hands-on work experiences, corporate visits, job shadowing and more that help students develop a strong portfolio of work for future employers. UNC’s strong alumni network across the state and the country provides helpful connections for MCB students where Bears help Bears. 

“Employers want more tech skill sets. Teaching students these skills enable them to step right into these roles,” said Colwell.  

Staying attuned to industry is critical in order to equip graduates with the knowledge, experiences and skills to excel in the ever-evolving, fast-paced world of business. A 2021 Deloitte report on the future of tech reveals that the prevalence of tools such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing will only increase.  

In their most recent study on the future of cyber, research reveals companies’ top two priorities from the previous report, cloud moved from the No. 2 spot to the No. .1 spot, displacing data analytics. With those shifts, comes an explosive need for people with the tech skills to understand the role cyber plays in digital transformation priorities, especially when it comes to cloud, data analytics and 5G.  

Certificates and specializations. In addition, introducing more specialized certificate programs and micro credentials to advance students' and alumni careers is essential, according to Colwell, adding these programs can not only serve business majors, but also humanities majors and others looking for business credentials to show future employers.  

Micro credentials and badges are small, bite-sized but well-designed courses that students take asynchronously or through blended learning, according to Edalex, an education technology firm. Their simplicity and flexibility in learning make then highly attractive to both students and professionals.  

“I think we need to get into that business in a very big way,” remarked Colwell. 

Colwell envisions these types of credentials in complementary, interdisciplinary programs at UNC in areas such as information systems, digital marketing, finance, analytics and others. He explains that they may be offered as standalone credentials as well as stackable credentials and/or embedded into academic curricula. 

For business schools, the status quo is incongruous with the ever-changing business world. In collaborating with MCB faculty, the college will build curricula and programs that will serve the next generation of students in today and tomorrow’s business landscapes. 

“This is what we do,” said Colwell. “Our collective expertise in management, accounting, technology and entrepreneurship and ethical leadership will help us build a culture of excellence to grow and strengthen the MCB community. Ultimately, we want students to be able to tackle important problems in business and make a positive difference in their communities.” 

— written by Debbie Farris

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