This month, associate professor of accounting Dan Bens, the Frank and Susan Parise Fellow, assumed a new role at the Eller College: associate dean of Eller MBA programs. Bens joined the College in 2005 from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where he taught for six years. In 2007, he was recognized with an Eller MBA Distinguished Faculty Award. He holds a Ph.D. in accounting from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Indiana University.
eller buzz checked in with Bens to get his insight into the suite of Eller MBA programs and where they are headed going forward.
eller buzz: Could you talk about your role here at Eller?
Dan Bens: When I came in 2005, I immediately jumped into MBA teaching, and I also advise doctoral students. My classes at the University of Chicago were very similar to what I teach here. The content is the same, the classes are just tailored to a slightly different audience — there are fewer bankers here. Having had several years of direct interaction with students is, I think, a big advantage as I step into this role. I’m going to continue teaching going forward.
EB: How would you characterize the students you’ve encountered in the Eller MBA programs?
DB: There is strength in the diversity of the student population. In the Full-Time program, we have students with significant business experience as well as people who are coming in as career changers who don’t have much experience in business yet. As faculty, it’s rewarding to reach someone who’s never thought about accounting before. I see a lot of enthusiasm to learn and participate in classes and the experiential learning opportunities we offer.
In the last four months, I’ve reached out to students in every program that we have. I was just up in Phoenix meeting the new class of Executive MBAs and spent a couple hours with them. Because they have significant professional experience, they’re able to bring that into classroom discussions, which can be exciting and challenging for faculty. The goal is to translate and channel one person’s experience into a lesson for the collective benefit of the group.
EB: How would you evaluate the student experience in each of the three MBA programs (Full-Time, Evening, Executive)?
DB: The curriculum in each program is in very good shape. In the full-time program, we offer a distinct core experience through superior communications and experiential learning opportunities; in traditional areas, we really are up there with Chicago and Wharton in terms of quality. I’ve been in active discussions with faculty to help students develop even better critical thinking skills by challenging them with less structured problems. Sometimes it’s hard for students to break out of the passive/receptive mode, and to better prepare them for managerial positions, we need to help them get comfortable with ambiguity.
EB: What goals do you see for the future of the programs?
DB: I’d like to see us provide students in all three programs with more opportunities to get together through unstructured activities like networking events or perhaps even structured options like classes. Right now, we have close to 350 students enrolled across our programs, and we can do more to take advantage of that size — for example, if just ten percent of a class is interested in a certain elective, we might not be able to justify the cost of offering it, but if ten percent in each class is interested, it might make sense to convene a class, perhaps a distance option. In recent months, the evening and full-time students in Tucson have been interacting more; the evening students now have a representative on the MBA Student Association.
The student experience is not solely what happens in the classroom; it’s also what happens in the network, and we have a big network.
EB: This month, you traveled to San Diego for an alumni event. Can you talk about engagement with Eller alums?
DB: I definitely think we need to work even harder to communicate the value of our programs and the abilities of our students to a wider audience. Social media provides good options to communicate with our alumni, but I’m also committed to connecting the old fashioned way: pounding the pavement. I was in San Diego on January 21, I’m planning to be in Salt Lake City next month, and I’ll be up in Phoenix meeting with students, alumni, and corporations as well. I’m looking forward to getting personal, face-to-face time with people, and I like it when people challenge me and ask tough questions.