Interview: Dean Menon

The Gould Standard decided to catch up with our favorite ‘glocal’ faculty member and dean as she transitions back to sit at the forefront of academic excellence and innovation here at NYU Stern. Photo courtesy of NYU Stern.

Written by Aditi Shankar & Devyani Nijhawan 

As a Marketing Professor, NYU parent, and, of course, Dean of the Undergraduate College (UC), Dean Geeta Menon fills a variety of roles on campus. Dean Menon took her first sabbatical in 16 years last semester to travel around the world to study commerce from a cross-cultural and global perspective.  Many of us have followed along via her Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and blog, but The Gould Standard decided to catch up with our favorite ‘glocal’ faculty member and dean as she transitions back to sit at the forefront of academic excellence and innovation here at NYU Stern:

  1. Welcome back! We tried keeping up with your travels via your blog, but we’re wondering if you could talk through your sabbatical experiences. What was your favorite destination?

I traveled with a colleague, a Marketing Professor and former faculty member at NYU, Tina Kiesler. We contemplated how the world has changed rapidly in terms of markets and consumers—the world used to be a siloed place where each area would have things idiosyncratic to that area, but technology – the Web, social media — has made the world flat and transparent.

It’s interesting to wear your researcher hat even when you are traveling. Two main themes surfaced during the trip: (1) leadership and (2) global vs. local brands. We learned more about world leaders like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi in India, and observed partnerships between species like zebras and wildebeests during migration while our safari in Kenya. Regardless of where we traveled, we saw how omnipresent global brands can be and how people’s perception of that omnipresence can vary regionally.

We prepared a complex excel spreadsheet comprising destinations, accommodations, weather, etc. At each location, we dedicated one day to reflect on our experience and write our blog. In terms of favorite destinations, I have several but the most prominent ones include the Amazon, Machu Picchu, and the Tanzania and Kenya safari (where I succeeded at using Facebook Live after three futile attempts). It was also interesting to be in Russia during the American Presidential debates. It was a sabbatical of a lifetime.

  1. We’re curious to learn what other Dean’s initiatives you in partnership with the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) are looking to introduce/establish, alongside any study abroad expansion plans.

First and foremost, let’s give SPUR a huge shout-out. We launched the program in my first year as Dean. For the longest time, this idea was niggling at me. We have the best faculty (rated #2 or #3 globally for research productivity depending on which ranking you look at) and the most talented undergraduate students in the world, so it was only natural to bring the two together.

In terms of new initiatives, Stern UC, beyond the shadow of doubt, is quite nimble. While we’ve been open and dynamic, we’ve made sure that the core curriculum continues to be very strong. The trends in the market have constantly evolved; even though we have been known to be one of the top schools for Finance, we have diversified and catered to new student interests. Accordingly, we introduced a sustainable business co-concentration, luxury marketing track, with a few other irons in the fire. With rising student interest in the tech sector, we also launched the Tech Trek – visits to tech companies in NYC.

In terms of our global presence, we use the NYU global network, but we also encourage study abroad through the International Business Exchange (IBEX), where students gain different experiences compared with study away.

The Office of Student Engagement (OSE) is new too and was created in 2013. We used to have an Office of Student Life that solely focused on social development. OSE is a manifestation of our understanding that Stern is a professional school with an integrated professional side. When I started my time here at Stern in 1990, NYU was a regional, commuter school and you can see where it is today: it has become a global powerhouse.

NYU and Stern are not for the faint of heart. You are in the city. I am not going to say that it’s the right school for everybody but it’s the right school for a large section of very talented students. Those are the students we are trying to get through our doors.

  1. How has being a mother of a NYU student added to your perspective on the NYU experience?

Oh, it’s made me even more appreciative of this place! You know, I lived in the building behind Tisch Hall when my son was born, so he could actually see into my office from our apartment. He’d sometimes sit on the window sill and wave to me while I was in the office. NYU has been in our life right from the get go, since he was born.

But I didn’t completely appreciate how great NYU was until I saw the other side that NYU parents see. For example, I’ve never seen such efficiency in terms of moving into a dorm. On the parent side, you see these things that are really awesome.

Also, I would not have been Dean without my son. One night I went to dinner with him while he was an undergraduate student here at NYU Tisch. And he asked me, “What happened today?” And I said, “I got nominated to the Dean role.” He said, “Oh, what did you say?” I said, “I said no.” He asked, “Why?” I said, “Because I don’t want to be a dean, I’m a professor!” And he said “Mom, think about this, think about how you hang out with me and my friends — you can do stuff to influence our lives, don’t say no. Tell them you’ll think about it.”

And that’s how this journey started.

4.What advice do you have for seniors as they enter the workforce and the ‘real world?’ What advice do you have for freshmen?

For seniors, I would remind them that when you enjoy what you do, work is not work. The line between work and life gets blurred. Work hard by all means, but enjoy the work that you’re doing. All of us will have grunt work to do; believe me, I have a ton. But that grunt work becomes more manageable when you see an overall purpose behind it and you enjoy the bigger outcomes. So keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying it, rethink.

To freshmen, I advise you to keep an open mind. I know plenty of students come here with the mindset to pursue finance because their parents or friends told them that it’s great. Finance works for many people, but it’s not for everyone. I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open — explore the opportunities OSE provides, like Stern Talks, which gives you a quick overview of different industries. Keep an open mind and seek out opportunities.

In general, to all students, I would say to leave this place better than how you found it. Always think about how you can pay it forward to future generations of students.

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