With new deans taking charge in several schools across campus, programs at the University of South Dakota may see changes in the near future.
Whether it’s new programs or continuing pre-existing ones, two of the newest deans at the university, Thomas Gue in the School of Law and Venky Venkatachalam at the Beacom School of Business, are looking to provide the best experience for their students.
Angela Swanson, a junior studying business, would like to see classes that address different aspects of business, like how health services and business are connected, along with seeing certain programs removed.
“I feel like with accounting and finances they say you’ll hire someone to do it anyway, so it’s a waste of time,” Swanson said.
The Volante sat down with the two deans to discuss their plans for the future of their departments, along with their visions for the schools.
Thomas Geu, dean of the School of Law
Geu erases the number 47 from the blackboard in his office and writes 46 in its place. It represents the months remaining until he needs to wrap up the School of Law’s planned $15 million contribution to the University Foundation’s Onward Campaign, one of a handful of projects he’s taken on in the 14 months he’s been the permanent dean.
“We’ve been very busy,” Geu said. “I’ve been going around, mostly in South Dakota, to try to line up major gifts. I look forward to getting back out and rattling the tin cup for the law school.”
Prior to being named the permanent dean, Gue was the interim dean for two years. So he isn’t unfamiliar with the law school — it’s his 26th year as a member of the faculty.
“It’s been an easy transition,” he said. “I know most of the folks on the faculty pretty well, and I know the students reasonably well.”
Since 2009, law schools around the nation have experienced a decline in enrollment, a decline which Gue said the University of South Dakota was able to escape for a few years. Gue said a combination of factors has led to the nationwide decreases.
“What appeared to be an absence of jobs in Big Law and student debt, law school is expensive, and the acknowledgement that being a lawyer is hard work…all those things kind of made prospective applicants give things a second look,” he said.
Geu said the school aims to have around 75 students entering each year. This year, there are 74 first-year law students, but the second and third year classes are smaller.
Whether it’s the short or long term, his goal and focus for the School of Law remains unwavered.
“Our focus is clearly on the students and preparing them for a career in law,” Geu said.
Part of the focus includes training students on how to better use and understand technology, including using office management apps and find ways to give students more experience.
For now, he’s enjoying the school year being young.
“I’m still excited about the beginning of school — I’m always excited about the beginning of school,” Geu said. “It is remarkable how quickly first-year law students assimilate the basic information and a few skills. It’s exceedingly fun to watch that.”
Venky Venkatachalam, dean of the Beacom School of Business
As one of the newest deans at USD, Venkatachalam’s office is relatively bare. That is, it will be until he unloads the 16 boxes from his home.
Prior to being named dean, Venkatachalam was an associate dean and professor at the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. With a background in both business and mechanical engineering, he places a focus on collaboration, one of his “three c’s of student success” – connect, communicate and collaborate.
“You are not going to be alone sitting in a cubicle in an office,” Venkatachalam said. “Interpersonal skills are critically important.”
When it comes to his plans as dean, Venkatachalam looks beyond the university.
“I want to make a positive impact in the economical development in the state, in the region, working closely with the employers and working closely with other agencies to see how our students can succeed,” he said. “That’s my responsibility and I am very, very passionate about that.”
He said he plans to add more innovative programs to the business school, along with working with faculty to develop a strategic plan and vision statement.
“There are a lot of ideas floating around,” Venkatachalam said.
Even though he’s been at the university for less than two months, he said he looks forward to what’s next for USD.
“The future is very bright for our students, for our business school, for USD and for the entire state,” Venkatachalam said. “South Dakota is going to become the go-to place for innovation, entrepreneurship and for economic development. The ecosystem is all coming together, and that is an exciting thing to see.”
(Thomas Geu, the dean of the University of South Dakota law school, has been a part of the faculty at USD for the last 26 years and is now leading the law school’s “Onward” campaign. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)