Business and Ethics / Campus Community

The Albers Difference

Written by Dean Forbes

March 21, 2022

Graphic of 75th anniversary of Albers.

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At 75, Albers School of Business and Economics honors its rich history as it looks to the future.  

This spring, the Albers School of Business and Economics will officially commemorate its 75th anniversary, thriving behind a model of educating the best and brightest for success in the business world with faculty who are leaders in their disciplines and industries.

Much of what makes it a successful school today—Albers and many of its programs consistently rank high in the region and nationally in such publications as U.S. News & World Report—can be traced to its roots when it first opened its doors to students in 1947, led by founding Dean Paul A. Volpe (learn more about Dr. Volpe, dean from 1947-1965, here: https://www.seattleu.edu/business/news-events/albers-brief/albers-brief-fall-2021/online-exclusive-volpes-speech/), as the School of Commerce and Finance: Instilling and teaching ethics, values, people skills and other so-called “soft skills” with students; championing and recruiting women faculty; emphasizing faculty scholarship; and offering students real-world experiences through mentorships, networking and career opportunities. Some of its touchstone programs include the Albers Placement Center, the Albers Mentor Program, the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (home to the Harriett Stephenson Business Plan Competition) and the Albers Executive Speaker Series.

“The Albers School of Business and Economics has endeavored, since 1947, to evolve with a world that never stays still,” says Dean Joseph Phillips, PhD. “One thing stays constant, however, is our commitment to a values-centered education and putting the student, our ultimate consumer, at the heart of everything we do.”

Career preparation and ethical leadership are core tenets of an Albers education, as strong today as they were almost 50 years ago when there was an emphasis on educating and preparing students for employment opportunities, recalls Bill Weis, PhD, professor of management. Weis says then-Dean Gerald Cleveland built up the school’s programs in the late 1960s and 70s, including his own at the time—Accounting—which went on to become SU’s second-largest discipline after nursing.

“We spent a lot of time in the office on weekends and in downtown most weekdays recruiting employers for our students,” says Weis, now in his 49th year on the Albers faculty. “We had a lot of champions downtown among the accounting community.”  

Small classes and more faculty interaction with students are among the key differentiators of the Albers of today. “We knew who our students were and they knew us,” says John Eshelman, PhD, former Albers dean and emeritus economics faculty.

The Dean

While Albers honors its history, Dean Phillips says the school is “well-positioned for the future of higher education and business education because of faculty and staff. They have the commitment to excellence and continuous improvement that is required to keep pace with a changing environment. We also have the humility to know we need to reach out to the business community to learn what the future will require from our graduates for them to be successful.”

Recently Phillips, along with faculty, students and alumni of the business school, reflected on what Albers means to them and how its storied past sets it up for future success.

What makes Albers stand out from other business schools or peers? What sets apart our students (undergrad and grad) from those at other universities?

Phillips: “What makes us distinctive is being a business school aligned with the Jesuit and Catholic mission of our university. We are focused on our students and their success. We have long promoted the importance of ethics and the responsibility of business to have a positive impact on society. That message is resonating more and more with the business community, as the recent pivot of the Business Roundtable illustrates. (The Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies). We are delivering on our mission of forming business leaders who work for the good of their organizations, society and the planet.”

How does Albers meet the needs of today and for the future? What stays fundamental to its core and what evolves?

Phillips: “The most important thing is for us to continue to recruit and retain outstanding faculty and staff who are devoted to their students and to the SU mission and vision. … What stays the same is our commitment to student success. What evolves is the student experience—what is needed to ensure their success will change over time.”

What are you most proud of as dean? 

Phillips: “I’m most proud of the collaborative and inclusive culture we have among our faculty and staff where we keep our focus on what is best for our students. We are also forming business leaders who understand the important role the business sector must play if we are to address the most pressing challenges our society faces. That is an inspirational mission that everyone can get behind!”

The Faculty

Jennifer Marrone, PhD, Professor of management and the George Albers Professor, 2020-2023

For the past 17 years Jennifer Marrone has taught at Albers, currently in undergraduate- and MBA-level management courses and next year she’ll teach in the Executive Leadership Program.

How Albers has changed over the years: “We’ve grown a lot. For instance, we have added an emphasis on data analytics, added specializations and revamped the Professional MBA (PMBA) program in recent years. We have certificate programs that offer different entry points into the PMBA. We’ve also added courses in project and process management, diversity, change management. All have become more and more in-demand by students and in the marketplace.”

As a faculty member, Marrone says she feels supported and praises the school for its awareness of the challenges for underrepresented groups.

“We now have an anti-racist curriculum change series that many faculty are participating in. It’s a year-long seminar to raise the critical consciousness of Albers professors so we can design courses and activities and interactions with students that are anti-racist. I feel there’s always been an interest in understanding diversity practices and I do feel like I’ve been supported in that.”

Cathy Xuying Cao, PhD, associate professor of Finance and the Dr. Khalil Dibee Endowed Chair of Finance, 2019-2023

Cathy Xuying Cao has taught at Albers for a decade and during this time says the Master’s of Science in Finance program has undergone many revisions, including multiple tracks for students to specialize in.

“The motivation for every single program change or revision is driven by the job market demands, feedback from alumni and suggestions from our financial advisory board,” says Cao.

She credits Finance Chair Jot Yau, PhD, for championing the need to remain current and relevant. 

What makes Albers different: Cao says staying current differentiates Albers from some other college business programs. “If there is a new trend we try to respond,” she says. For example, right after the financial crash in 2008, they introduced a course on financial crises to help students understand what leads to these events and how to avoid potential future ones.

The so-called FinTech or financial technology sector encompasses cryptocurrency, machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, big data and other new technologies that apply in finance.

“We want students to be up to date on how nontraditional finance companies influence the financial landscape,” says Cao. “There is no textbook for this.”

Bill Weis, PhD, professor of Management

Albers’ longest serving faculty member Bill Weis, PhD, has spent nearly half a century teaching in the business school. Weis, a professor of management, began in the accounting program before transitioning to the management faculty and MBA programs in 1995.

How Albers has changed over the years: “We are far more academically accomplished in terms of publications,” says Weis. “I look at our current faculty members, many are world class scholars as well as teachers. I’m on the Albers Personnel Committee and I look in awe at the accomplishments. The level of scholarship is amazing, especially considering we’re a school that doesn’t offer a PhD program.”

Looking at Albers’ history and its many milestones, among them is the recruitment and hiring of women faculty. Weis was involved in hiring women faculty in the management program and says Albers in 1975 had highest percentage of women faculty of any business school in the country.

John Eshelman, PhD, emeritus economics faculty; former Albers Dean

John Eshelman, PhD, emeritus economics faculty and former Dean, executive vice president and provost for the university, recalls that in the 1970s, the SU undergraduate business program was the only AACSB-accredited program in Washington besides offerings at the UW and WSU. The MBA program was the only AACSB-accredited evening program in the state. Accreditation was a significant milestone, he says.

“One of our claims to fame and competitive advantages was that were one of the few accredited programs in the state,” he says. 

How Albers has changed over the years: The university was in a tight financial situation in the 1970s and needed to increase faculty scholarly activity for accreditation. Harriett Stephenson, for whom the business competition is named and who preceded Eshelman on the faculty, was able to get grants from U.S. Small Business Administration to help support research. Stephenson made a huge difference, says Eshelman.

The Alumni

Lindsey McGrew, ’19 MBA, The Madrone School

Lindsey McGrew, '19 MBA, began her SU graduate education in 2013 and was drawn to Albers by the structure of the MBA program, which suited her preference to work with different students in various business programs.

In 2015, McGrew founded The Madrone School as a nonprofit, with the school formally opening two years later (her concept for the school won the 2016 Business Plan Competition). The business was not planned. Her son, now 14, has autism and there were few schooling options for his needs. “I’m not a teacher or a therapist but had the business background,” says McGrew. Today, Madrone has grown to include locations in Redmond and Woodinville.

How did the Albers MBA program prepare her for the “real world”? “One thing I really appreciated about the school was the real-life experiences of the professors. They were able to talk about what worked, what didn’t work. That was really meaningful.”

McGrew remains involved with SU as vice president of the Women of Seattle University alumni group and as a judge with the Business Plan Competition.

Ann Jarris, MD, ’17 LEMBA, founder of Discovery Health MD

Discovery Health MD was Ann Jarris’ capstone and winning project of the Business Plan Competition. Initially, the company, founded in 2017, was designed to serve the maritime industry with medical support services. The business—with 200 employees—“exploded” during COVID-19 to provide direct consumer and employer testing.

Jarris was a practicing MD in emergency medicine and was interested in building telemedicine programs. “I did not have the knowledge or education to articulate the value proposition to my employer so I decided to go back to school to effect the change I wanted,” says Jarris. The executive leadership program helped her to articulate that vision.

Why SU? “For me, it was the emphasis on the soft skills, the emphasis on the leadership aspect and what your personal leadership goals were,” says Jarris, who also attended SU in the early 1990s to take the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Professional Health Studies Certificate.

The Students

Jenna Maeda, ’22, is a double major in marketing and business analytics with a minor in economics.

Why SU? Maeda chose to attend Albers for its internship opportunities, small class sizes and the ability “to get to know your professors and your professors wanting to get to know you as a student.”

“Albers’ emphasis in and ability to get jobs out of college and set students up for internships really drew me toward Seattle University,” says Maeda. “With a focus on that and preparing students for the workplace, I felt this would be the best place to start my journey.”

Maeda took advantage of mentoring opportunities and the Albers Placement Center.

“It was a nice and really comforting thing to talk to professionals and learn what their process was like for getting jobs, having them bring in some of their coworkers, talk about the digital job search, what to look for in a job that is going to match not just what you want to do professionally but your values and making sure you find the right fit.”

Kevin Dong, ’22, is a double major in finance and marketing.   

As he was applying to business schools, Dong was looking for one that offered diversity and a sense of community. “I did so much research and I came across SU. I was attracted to its Jesuit values because I attended a Jesuit high school . . .

The number of resources available for students in Albers was an “amazing factor and gave it the upper hand over other schools.”

Dong is currently interning with Washington State Department of Transportation doing budget analysis and operations work costing. He credits the Albers Placement Center with helping him with networking. Post-graduation, he has job options lined up in the transportation field.

“The university and Albers prepared me so well because I think a lot of the time at schools, we get this notion that we have to build these hard skills like technical skills, understanding syntaxes for accounting, building a ledger for accounting, which are all important. What made SU so important to me was that their emphasis on soft skills as well.”

Learn more about the Albers School of Business and Economics.

Read this story in its entirety in the latest edition of Seattle University Magazine, available now.

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