Nicole Thorne Jenkins
New Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce
University of Virginia Board of Visitors member John A. Griffin (McIntire ’85) pledged $6 million in 2019 to endow the deanship of the McIntire School of Commerce. With $4 million in matching funds from UVA’s Bicentennial Professors Fund, the endowment created the John A. Griffin Dean’s Chair, which honors the leadership of former McIntire Dean Carl Zeithaml. Nicole Thorne Jenkins became the John A. Griffin Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce on July 1, 2020.
How will private support help you achieve your vision for the Commerce School?
There is a shared vision for McIntire. It includes continuing and building upon our legacy of a one-of-a-kind student experience provided by highly skilled and committed staff and faculty, a portfolio of academic credentials that are in high demand by employers, and a through line that clarifies the role that commerce plays in professional success and in the common good.
With private support, we are able to maintain the intimate student experience that we are known for and which makes us unique among schools of business. The generosity of our alumni has allowed us to remain small, with fewer than 800 undergraduate students and a student-to-faculty ratio of less than 10 to 1. We are able to maintain our focus on serving students in a manner that creates a cohort of exceedingly proficient pre-professionals who are prepared for anything.
Have you talked with many McIntire alumni, and what are your impressions of the school’s community?
I have met with McIntire alumni from the past several decades, one-on-one and in small groups. The most consistent theme is one of gratitude for their time here on Grounds in the Comm School. The lifelong friends that were made, the transformational experiences in and out of the classroom, and the close interactions with faculty are the threads through which our alumni are tied to this community. As a result, they are protective of the things that make the McIntire experience unique and are committed to ensuring our well-earned legacy in perpetuity.
President Ryan has made supporting first-generation students a priority of his presidency. How do you hope to support first-generation students in the Commerce School?
The challenge that many first-generation college students have is a lack of transparency about navigating the university experience. The people they are closest to, whom they normally would turn to for help and guidance, are less likely to be helpful. This demographic of students is exposed to different information about higher education than their peers. They may also be faced with justifying their choice of attending college, which creates stressors that may reduce family support, as their decision may diverge from their family and possibly societal norms.
Research also shows that first-generation students are less likely than their peers to pick business as a major. This is partly driven by a lack of clarity about career paths. The challenges and opportunities that we have in the Comm School are to help students connect the dots regarding how a Commerce degree translates into occupations that are well-defined, in high demand, and economically beneficial. At the same time, because so much of life occurs through the conduit of commerce, these credentials provide students with opportunities to make a significant and scalable impact on the lives of others. We need to do a better job at telling the story of commerce to prospective and current first-generation students.
Despite social distancing and other COVID protocols, what has become a place that you enjoy visiting on Grounds outside of Rouss & Robertson Halls?
I take a three-mile walk most mornings around Grounds. While my family will move to Pavilion V on the Lawn in the spring, I am currently living in a smaller property on the Range that was originally a home for enslaved people. I frequently end my walk at the Memorial for Enslaved Laborers. Both locations evoke a mixed set of emotions for me, and I am sure the sentiment is shared by many. Given social distancing, these are the two places where I spend most of my time on Grounds as I work remotely from the apartment.
As a Black woman who is dean of the School of Commerce at UVA, it is surreal that I am living in such close proximity to the memorial. In some small way, it makes me think that I am reclaiming a level of dignity and respect for the enslaved people who traversed this hallowed ground through the most difficult of circumstances.
What excites you most about being a part of UVA at this particular time?
We are in the midst of a global pandemic where we are being forced to think about and do things that we never imagined ever having to consider. The cost to humanity is immeasurable, and I am hopeful that all members of the UVA community are safe. However, at the same time, we are in the right mindset to innovate and to imagine what we can do with our curriculum, our delivery methods, levels of access, and more that would be transformational for our students. It’s exciting to think about how to incorporate the unimaginable into our new normal for the benefit of the students we serve.