New business dean relies on previous experience to face changing needs
Grand Valley State University’s new dean of business recognizes the need for academic programs to adapt to the needs and demands of a changing professional environment.Diana Lawson, the new dean of the Seidman College of Business at GVSU, is expected to assume the leadership role July 1. She said her experience in international business and leading change will be beneficial for the Allendale-based academic institution.
Grand Valley announced in January that Lawson will replace James Williams, who left to become president of Fisk University. Lawson previously served as dean and marketing professor at the Herberger Business School at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
Lawson said she will focus on continuous improvement and enhancing the college’s rigor and relevance in terms of what is provided for students and external stakeholders.
“Our responsibility — especially as a state institution — is to the state, and the students that we graduate will have a very high impact on the state,” said Lawson.
“As the college of business, really, we need to be relevant and we have to have the rigor that will allow our students to be able to succeed and continually change because once they leave here, it is only the beginning and they will continually have to reinvent what they do.”
With an academic background that includes a master’s degree in exercise physiology and physical education from Kent State University, Lawson decided to move into corporate fitness and went on to earn a Master of Business Administration.
“That was my first introduction to business and through that I began to gain an interest — but the real interest came when I worked for … one of the cruise lines,” said Lawson. “I was introduced to many different countries, and I worked with people from many different cultures. I was a minority in terms of the people who worked on the cruise ship, as an American.”
Focusing on marketing and international business, Lawson earned a Ph.D. in business from Kent State. She said her experience with international business will be beneficial in her role as dean of Seidman College of Business in understanding how organizations have to adapt to meet changing demands and expectations.
“I think regardless of whether our students become internationally experienced … the world is changing and the United States is changing. If you look at the demographics in the U.S., the fastest growing demographic are immigrants,” said Lawson. “Business must be global and must have a global perspective if they want to succeed into the middle of this century and beyond.”
Lawson also attributes her previous experience in leading a change in academic curriculum as added value for Grand Valley. After a three-year process, the MBA curriculum at Herberger Business School at St. Cloud State University now incorporates business content application, and personal and professional development within the program.
“Change is inevitable, and leading change is a challenge,” said Lawson. “In academic programs and higher education, we are known to be slow for change, especially in terms of curriculum.”
She said the strong entrepreneurial mindset at GVSU and in the surrounding community drew her to West Michigan.
“I was really attracted to that possibility or potential to envision and dream what higher education could be compared to what it is today,” said Lawson. “During the economic downturn, Michigan didn’t fare too well, but you’re starting to turn yourself around, so there has got to be something in Michigan that is really strong, especially in terms of trying new things and taking risks. The growth of Grand Rapids and this whole area of West Michigan — it would not have happened without that entrepreneurial mindset.”
Seidman College of Business, 50 Front Ave. SW in the L. William Seidman Center, was originally established in 1970 as the School of Business and Economics. The business college offers 10 areas of emphasis in its undergraduate program and internship opportunities with local, national and international organizations.