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Oct 31, 2023

Where the Greatest Minds Are Made: Transitioning from A Corporate Career to Higher Education

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - UNC-Wilmington

This piece was contributed by Dr. Yolanda Pollard, Director, Swain Center for Executive Education within CSB.
Throughout my career in corporate settings, I embraced the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the greatest minds, from nuclear engineers to philanthropists to multi-billion-dollar merger strategists. As I considered a potential transition to higher education earlier this year, one key factor – the chance to pour into those professions that have impacted every stage of my career – greatly influenced my decision to pursue this path.
The combination of the right university, the opportunity, the timing, and completion of a doctoral program in executive leadership checked all my decision boxes. Still, my family, friends, and colleagues sought to understand my line of thinking around the unexpected move, particularly following a 30-year corporate career. Indeed, it was a complex thought process to explain in a concise, relatable way. That is, until I stumbled across a point of view that nailed my rationale.
Prior to assuming my role as director of the Swain Center for Executive Education at University of North Carolina Wilmington, I extensively researched the latest trends in the field. As I have continued to follow executive education developments since arriving at UNCW in July, I discovered a unique perspective that surprisingly articulates both my interest in executive education and the general benefits of working in academia.
In a recent blog post, the executive director of UNICON, a consortium of university-based executive education programs, explores several elements that address the question: Why Universities for Executive Education? Among the elements highlighted, I also found my talking points for answering the frequently-asked question I receive in professional and social circles these days: Why did you transition from a corporate career to higher education?
While I personally and professionally could relate to each element stated about universities in the blog post, some points resonated with me more than others, as I ponder the corporate-to-higher education career transition. For instance, one item emphasizes that university instructors commit entire careers to seeking knowledge and bringing to leaders the ideas that shape discourse in society. 
Similarly, in my daily role as director of executive education, I connect university instructors and resources with leaders to spark conversation and spread the resulting knowledge throughout organizations. To this extent, universities also are uniquely positioned to explore and invest in learning and knowledge-sharing techniques and processes in real time.
The UNICON blog post goes on to underscore the message that organization leaders trust that the knowledge universities share is rooted in proven, evidence-based concepts. Additionally, these concepts can emerge from campuses where multiple schools of thought, disciplines, and practices are based to generate and challenge breakthrough ideas. In essence, universities exist in society for the common good and to play this specific role.
 All things considered, it was never a “corporate versus university” or an “either-or” personal decision-making process. Quite frankly, there is always room for growth and progress in industry and in higher education. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron. Ultimately, the career opportunity represented the potential for the two settings to co-exist, partner, and become better in a world that evolves and thrives when the greatest minds come together.

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