Written by Andres Gomez-Perry
On May 31st, 2019, Geeta Menon will step down as the Dean of the NYU Stern Undergraduate College, concluding an eight-year tenure. From June onwards, current Vice Dean Robert Whitelaw will serve as the head of the Undergraduate College, with NYU Stern as a whole being led by current dean, Raghu Sundaram. The Gould Standard sat down with Dean Menon and Vice-Dean Whitelaw to discuss the transition.
Dean Geeta Menon—a lasting legacy
“Dean Menon has a warmth and vibrant energy… a love for the school that shows in leadership and ability to energize faculty, staff, and students.”
- Ashish Bhatia, Assistant Dean of Student, Engagement, & Innovation
For the past eight years, Geeta Menon has served as Stern’s undergraduate dean, during which she has left a lasting mark on the school’s community. “She truly cares about building a strong undergraduate experience,” explains Parbs Anant, Stern’s 2019 Student Class President. “I’ve seen Stern become a better place because of her passion.” Menon is amiable and sincere, but also humorous and free-spirited. She describes herself as “the official cheerleader of the undergraduate college.”
During her deanship, Menon has placed students at the core of her work.“I quickly realized that if I don’t ask, they don’t get,” revealed Menon, “and that really hit home.” Following this theme, she leaves behind a series of legacies that have transformed the undergraduate experience. On the academic front, she envisioned a program that would unite students and faculty to explore new dimensions of research and academia via the Stern Program for Undergraduate Research. Approximately 600 students and over 50% of faculty have participated since its inception. Alumni of this program are now in PhD programs around the world, like MIT and The University of Chicago.
Additionally, under Menon’s leadership, Stern’s reputation has expanded beyond just “a finance school.” The school now boasts 13 concentrations and 4 degrees for students to concentrate and major in. For example, the BS/BFA–a dual degree that joins a BS in business from Stern and a BFA in film and television from Tisch School of the Arts–trains students with the business and artistic foundations to become the future leaders of the film industry. On the student life front, Menon transformed the Office of Student Life into the Office of Student Engagement (OSE). Under its new functions, OSE formalized student clubs under one structure: the Inter-Club Council (ICC). Allowing for more transparency and better communication, ICC ensures that students can take full advantage of social and professional opportunities on campus. “One of my favorite parts about ICC is being able witness passionate club leaders do what they love to grow the Stern community,” remarks Amy Dong, Stern junior and ICC Treasurer.
Dean Menon’s efforts to revamp the undergraduate experience have increased the value of the Stern degree. For example, the undergraduate admissions rate decreased from 22% for the class of 2019 to 8% for the class of 2022. According to Menon, the drop is due to a rise in the demand to attend Stern. Apart from prospective students, companies also recognize the increased value of the Stern degree. The 2019 and 2020 classes have placed students in Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google, world-premier PhD programs like Oxford Economics, and alternative consulting firms like Dalberg Advisors. According to the NYU Stern website, the undergraduate college “now enjoys 98% summer internships in the junior year and a strong 98% placement rate within six months of graduation.”
Although Dean Menon will be greatly missed, she will not be going far—the eighth floor to be exact. After May 31st, she will become the Abraham Krasnoff Professor of Global Business & Professor of Marketing. “Being Dean has taken me away from my research… I am especially interested in the digitization of the marketing world.” Other items on her bucket list include writing a book, developing a new elective course, and skydiving.
Welcoming Vice Dean Whitelaw—Onto the Future and Beyond
“Dean Whitelaw… is analytical, thoughtful in his decision-making, and inspires confidence and respect. He has a great sense of humor, always remains calm, and I think students will enjoy getting to know him in his new role.”
- Tiffany Boselli, Assistant Dean of Academic Advising and Judiciary Affairs
Last year, Dean Sundaram and Dean Menon handpicked finance professor Robert Whitelaw for the new vice-dean role. “When these positions are open, leadership talks and discusses the types of skills the position needs…when they approached me, I was—to tell you the truth—thrilled,” recounts Whitelaw.
Vice-Dean Whitelaw is a long-term faculty member of the Finance department. For the past twenty-seven years, he has served in an array of roles that include chairing the Finance department, implementing a new elective on portfolio management, and helping to design NYU Shanghai’s curriculum. “When the rest of the undergraduate leadership team learned that Professor Whitelaw was going to be our new Vice-Dean, we were really happy because of how much impact he has already had on the undergraduate college,” notes Erin Potter, Executive Director of Communications.
As the school transitions to a one-dean structure, Stern will experience some changes over time. In the short-term, the Stern undergraduate experience will remain unchanged. Says Vice-Dean Whitelaw, “There’s going to be the same great faculty, classes, and clubs…the only difference is that students may start to see Dean Sundaram in a few events like Welcome Week.” In the long-term, the one-dean structure will exploit synergies across different programs at Stern, raising the collective value of the Stern experience.
On another front, Vice-Dean Whitelaw envisions a undergraduate college that embraces diversity regardless of socioeconomic status. The first step, according to Whitelaw, is to continue building Stern’s financial capabilities so that any qualified student, regardless of socioeconomic background, can attend the school. “For me, ‘I am Stern’ is a recognition that we… are made up of individuals with different viewpoints and ambitions, and that the school can and should allow diversity to flourish.”