Joann Bangs

"I think of the School of Business and
Professional Studies as 'the school of really
neat stuff.'" — Joann Bangs

St. Kate's Q&A

Interim dean Joann Bangs means business...

By Elizabeth Child

Over the nine years that Associate Professor of Economics Joann Bangs has taught at St. Catherine, the University has tilted the lens through which she views the world. It's affected her teaching and her research, and has inspired her to step in as interim dean of the School of Business and Professional Studies.

The mission has been her motivator, Bangs says, particularly the University's emphasis on social justice and student centeredness. "I see them as interconnected. We're reaching out to first-generation students who would find it difficult to attend college."

Since assuming the position of interim dean this past semester, Bangs has embraced her role wholeheartedly. "Everyone here has the same goal in mind," she says. "We may disagree about the best way to meet that goal, but we are not arguing about the goal itself."

Bangs grew up near Madison, Wisconsin, the youngest of three children and the only one to go to college. She earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. While carpooling to work as a research assistant for the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., she met her future husband, Bill Glahn.

She earned her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota and landed her first teaching position at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. When her husband got a job as an energy consultant in the Twin Cities, she found a home at St. Kate's.

What is the School of Business and Professional Studies?
It is the former School of Business and Leadership combined with part of the former School of Professional Studies. It includes the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS), the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) and the departments of education, business administration, economics, communications studies, and apparel merchandising and design, which used to be part of the Department of Family and Consumer Science. There wasn't enough critical mass in the two separate schools, and it was unwieldy for the University to have four schools.

What do the departments and programs in the School have in common?
All of them think about innovation, look at external partnerships and care about social responsibility. The professional aspect of the School relates to the fact that when students graduate, we want them to be practice-ready, performance-ready and ready to be ethical practitioners.

How will the separate programs and departments work together?
We're always working to maximize our resources. For example, a young-adult literature course is shared between MLIS and the education department. Young-adult literature is a licensure requirement for some teachers and is applicable to MLIS. We are also considering how MAOL and MLIS might construct a dual degree.

What prepared you for this role?
I have been chair of the economics department for the past three years — one of those as co-chair with Professor Deep Shika — and I spent five years chairing the faculty's educational policies committee. I just loved that. I enjoy being a part of decisions about where the University should be enhancing the curriculum, and I like getting the community on board with changes that have to be made. I like moving things forward.

When will a permanent dean be hired?
We'd like to have a new dean by the fall of 2014, once we figure out how the departments fit together and who we want as a leader.

A new MBA program will be launched next spring in a market already crowded with MBAs. What will make it uniquely St. Kate's?
With concentrations in healthcare, management and integrated marketing communications, our MBA is a good synergy of things we already do well. We have a strong business department, and the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health is regionally recognized. We have people here who are very strong in integrated marketing communications, things like search engine optimization and how to use social networking. A St. Kate's MBA graduate is going to be well grounded in social justice and be a very strong communicator in a digital age.

How will students decide between the MAOL and the MBA?
The MAOL has always regarded itself as the alternative to the MBA, and it still is. The MAOL degree focuses on leadership. It is more for people who are already in leadership positions and feel they need to strengthen their leadership qualities.

Our MBA is aimed at younger professionals who want to enhance their skills. Ideally, I could see people doing the MBA very early in their careers, and later, when they are in leadership positions, returning to do the MAOL.

As interim dean, you've had less time to teach and conduct research. What do you miss most about that part of your work?
I really enjoy being in the classroom, working with students. I teach statistics in the Day program and in the MAOL program. It's both my favorite and most frustrating class. A lot of students come in who are terrified of taking a statistics class. People have told them they're going to have a hard time doing math — and that fear is more pronounced the older the student is. It is incredibly rewarding to watch students grow in class and get to the point where they can do it.

How has your teaching influenced the way you bring up your 10-year-old daughter, Meredith?
Over spring break we were in Sarasota, Florida, touring the John and Mable Ringling mansion. I was trying to show her all the detail, but she spent the whole time saying, "Who needs all that silverware? These people must have had major self-esteem issues!"

It sounds like St. Kate's social-justice mission has affected her. How has it influenced you?
Most of my research surrounds issues of equity. That is the St. Kate's influence.

You and MAOL director Rebecca Hawthorne completed the fifth annual Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership this year. What was new in the findings?
We now have five companies within the top 100 Minnesota public companies that have 30 percent or more female board members and executive officers. That's up from three the past four years, but we still have a long way to go.

The growth in women on corporate boards has moved just a fraction of a percentage point these past five years. What value does the research bring?
The Census keeps gender equity uppermost in people's minds. People tend to hire people like themselves. If corporate leaders are not aware of and concerned about diversity, then there is less likelihood of seeing change.

Why do gender-diverse boards matter for companies?
Research shows that gender diversity makes for a better decision-making process. People from diverse backgrounds tend to ask different questions, and having that discussion leads to better decisions. Research also shows that companies with diverse boards tend to do better financially.

What are your hopes for St. Kate's?
I'd like to see a strong, vibrant MBA program and more national recognition. We have academic strengths that need to become better known, like the great work we're doing in STEM education and the fact that MAOL was one of the first leadership programs in the nation.

What do you do for fun?
I read murder mysteries — but I don't want to apply my problem-solving skills there. I want the mysteries to be hard enough that I can't figure them out.


Northfield, Minnesota–based writer Elizabeth Child is a regular contributor to SCAN.

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