Clark pushes for UNCW business school to reach next level
August 31, 2012By Meredith Burns
Lawrence “Larry” Clark has been the dean of University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Cameron School of Business since 2000.
He was the business school dean at Sonoma State University and LSU-Shreveport prior to joining the UNCW administration. Clark, who has a background in economics and law, also was recently appointed to Cape Fear Community College’s board of trustees.
In this edited interview as told to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Meredith Burns, Clark discusses how UNCW’s business school has evolved and what students need to do to compete in the tough economy.
“I’m hoping – not hoping, I’m expecting – that we will make it into the Businessweek’s Top 100 undergraduate business school programs in the country.
That’s a goal the faculty and I are working towards. I proposed that to our faculty a year ago when budget cuts had never been more severe for the business school, at a time that it would be counter-intuitive to think about trying to become nationally ranked so highly.
But we have continued to do some really, really great things here, and our advisory board continues to say to us ‘Don’t think as a regional business school, think of yourself as a really good business school that happens to be at a regional university.’
And we’re doing that. We’re constantly looking at what could we do better and how could we do it better.
What we’ve done since I’ve been here that I’m most proud of is our Cameron Executive Network. That is our mentoring program, and we have nearly 225 mentors and nearly 450 students that are mentored one-on-one. Perhaps something that is even more important is that we have something around 35 members of these mentors during the academic year give us a half-day a week to come out and do resume assistance and reviews for our students.
They’re about to begin with every Cameron student, and there are nearly 1,900 undergraduate students, to work with them on interview technique. These mentors have connections. They’ve helped us with placements that we’ve done with elite firms.
They’ve helped us to create those relationships, they’re guest speakers and they just do a great, great service.
The budget cuts have been very severe for UNCW and the Cameron School of Business in particular. We have probably 16 percent less permanent dollars today than we did three years ago.
It’s a challenge, but I’m most proud of our faculty. Our faculty has really stayed focused on the students and empowering students and being engaged with students. The students tell me how pleased and proud and happy they are with the faculty. It’s tough, but we’re making it.
At UNCW, we are down slightly in the number of business majors, but it was by intent. We increased the expectation for admission into the business school. So we’re still doing very well in terms of enrollment, and we’re very pleased. We’re placing students very, very well here at UNCW Cameron School of Business.
It’s a chaotic world out there to me because I graduated from college a long time ago. While [current students] have been students, it’s been a chaotic economic environment.
So to them that’s normal.
To me it’s not normal; it’s abnormal. It’s becoming the new norm, but it’s an adjustment. But it’s their reality, it’s their world, it’s what they’ve been associated with. The students that were caught, those who were already business majors when what has happened with the recession, I think those students had a much harder time because it was happening to them real-time. The students coming in right now, they take it well.
What we hope is that students, whatever they go into, would be entrepreneurial in their approach.
And that really causes the student to go back to things that are true of any traditional liberal arts major, critical thinking skill sets. We’re trying to have the students become more entrepreneurial in how they look at things, that innovation and asking how you might do something different. I think the students who are in college today, whether they are in business or not, look at things more as ‘what if?’
I think our younger students think at a faster pace of change, and I think that contributes to the fact that they are well prepared for dealing with the more chaotic workplace that they’re going into. The change is less threatening to them, and it’s more about opportunity.
There are two books I might recommend to my students. Looking at the combination of The Flivver King [by Upton Sinclair] and Henry Ford’s autobiography, My Life and Work, are really a very powerful set of two books for a business major to really get an understanding of what happens today.
Sometimes in business there’s a tendency to think everything’s just been discovered today, and in fact it hasn’t been. I think learning how innovation can occur and learning how to deal with innovation and change can be learned by looking at a different era.
Our executive advisory board came up with things they thought a business student needed to achieve as a student to be successful in the business world.
When I looked at the list that they developed, ultimately it wasn’t much different than any list you would have for any other student of any other major at a university.
Obviously, the student has to be able to communicate well, they have to write well. I say to students to be successful, they need to make sure, if they can, to have a study abroad experience.
They need to see the world as being a much broader place. They need to have one or more strong internship opportunities because they need to be able to show they can work in a workplace and be effective in a workplace. And today, technology proficiency is an expectation. They should have more than one language that they are proficient in.
So I think if they can think of themselves as being able to be effective as a world citizen, they will be well-prepared.”