A Personal Perspective From the Business Education Alliance: Willie Hopkins
Posted January 12, 2018 by Christine Apple
- Coordinator, Member Engagement - AACSB International
In this blog series, AACSB reaches out to members of the Business Education Alliance to garner their personal perspectives on business education. We ask educators and practitioners about their professional journey and any insights they can share related to the future of our industry. In this interview, Willie Hopkins, dean of the Murray Koppelman School of Business at Brooklyn College, shares his experience as a business school educator and administrator, as well as what being part of AACSB’s Business Education Alliance means to him and his institution.
How did you learn about AACSB?
I was first introduced to AACSB in 1999, when its headquarters was still in St. Louis, Missouri, and I was an assistant professor of strategy at Colorado State University. After five years at Colorado State, I accepted a professorship at the University of Akron. After two years there, I went back to Colorado State and resumed my former position. My first dean’s job was in 2004 at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. After a year there, I accepted a dean position at California State University Chico and was there for six years. I’m now in my seventh year as a business school dean at Brooklyn College, which is part of the City University of New York.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
I had no idea that I was going to become an educator. I grew up in Arizona, so I just wanted to live in a place where it was cool and green. I wanted to move to Alaska but settled on moving to San Diego and enrolled in the business program at San Diego State University. I was not a traditional student. I had been in the military and went to college after I was discharged. The professors at San Diego State didn’t intimidate me. In fact I think I intimidated them. If the traditional students in class were making noise and weren’t paying attention, I would stand up and say, “I’m paying for this, so be quiet and listen to the professor. I’m here to learn.” This was probably the first indication that I was on my way to becoming an educator.
As an undergraduate and MBA student at San Diego State, my professors recognized something in me and some of them asked me assist them with grading and tutoring other students. One day one of my professors said to me, “Why don’t you get a PhD?” I thought about it and eventually applied to four schools: the University of Alaska, the University of Oregon, Stanford University, and the University of Colorado. I found out that the University of Alaska didn’t have a PhD program, so that shows you how much I knew about academic stuff. As it turns out, one of my professors had a brother who was also a professor, at the University of Colorado (CU). He told his brother that I would be a good candidate for the PhD program at CU. After learning a little bit about me, his brother gave me a positive recommendation to the graduate admissions committee and I was accepted into the program.
Although I thought being a professor would be really cool, what I really wanted to be was a dean. The reason I wanted to be dean is because when I was at San Diego State, I took a microeconomics class from the dean of the business school. I had no idea that microeconomics would be so difficult, so I dropped the class. The dean asked me why I dropped and I said, “I can’t get this stuff.” He told me to come by his office so he could tutor me. I took the class again the following semester and got an A. I thought that was what deans did—help students, so that’s what I wanted to do. After becoming an assistant professor at Colorado State and teaching my first class, I knew that being a professor wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my career in academia; I wanted to be a dean. So I worked my way up to department chair and associate dean and eventually to the deanship.
Can you think of a moment during your deanship that has affirmed your choice to pursue a career as dean?
When I first became a dean, I started a student leadership council to keep a connection between the students and me. It has been marvelous. They have had such an impact on me. They are so smart and so energized, and I love it. We interact weekly. They assist in developing programs do all sorts of other tasks. The students definitely have had the biggest impact on me.
How does the mission of AACSB affect your business school?
One program I started in 2011 is called “Business Matters.” It’s an annual, two-day event where students get to listen to and interact with executives from various industries. One year, we used AACSB’s accreditation pillars—innovation, impact, and engagement—as the theme, and we brought people in to speak on these topics. At every event we host, I talk about how our school coalesces around that theme. In fact, this theme has guided a lot of our decisions for moving forward.
Who is your favorite thought leader/visionary?
Recently, in 2015, I met this gentleman named Murray Koppelman. Through his generous gift we became the Murray Koppelman School of Business. He is an older gentleman and is the nicest man. Over the years he has met with U.S. presidents, foreign leaders, and other dignitaries, and yet he is not all pretentious. What inspires me about him is that his attitude is always about giving back. When he comes to visit me, he likes to share the story about how Brooklyn College helped him when he was a student and how he is now determined to help Brooklyn College students by giving back. Although the classroom was not my favorite place to be, I love students. So the attitude of giving back is something that I share with Mr. Koppelman. As a dean I am in a position to do just that.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?
King Henry VIII. I love reading and watching movies about all the kings and queens of that era. But I find King Henry VIII to be fascinating. He was a ruthless guy, but he was also a great strategist, and strategy is my academic background. Although I’ve been very successful using strategies to get things done to move the Koppelman School of Business forward, I would love to have dinner with King Henry VIII to talk about how I might use some of the different strategies he used to get things done. Of course I’m not talking about the Machiavellian types of strategies that he used.
What value have you gained from being a part of the AACSB network?
The opportunity to network with the various deans I’ve met at AACSB meetings over the years is what I have gained most. I don’t think I’ve missed a meeting since I started going to them. I have many great friends that I met by attending AACSB seminars and conferences, and I have learned from them what they have done and are currently doing to make each of their business schools the best that it can be.
Willie Hopkins is dean of the Murray Koppelman School of Business at Brooklyn College in New York.