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Caryn Beck-Dudley: Educating for the Future of Business

Caryn Beck-Dudley is the dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara. Prior to joining Santa Clara in 2015, she served as dean of College of Business at Florida State University for nine years. In her time at Santa Clara, she has worked to emphasize Santa Clara’s unique position as a Jesuit University in Silicon Valley. She is the first woman dean at Santa Clara, and was previously the first female dean at Florida State and Utah State.

Selected Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: What did you want to grow up to be when you were 10 years old?

Caryn Beck-Dudley: I played college, which is a weird thing I know, but I wanted to be a college professor. Or, I wanted to own an employment agency; in those days you got a job by going to an employment agency.


GC: Did that change at all when you got into college?


CBD: Oh, totally. I had no idea of what I wanted to do, but I loved college because I had been playing college since I was ten. My mom asked what I was going to graduate in, so I added up my credits. I could graduate in political science, so I graduated in political science and went to law school.


GC: What did you learn in the first couple years of being the business school dean at Utah State?


CBD: Being a dean is very different than being a faculty member. You learn to manage your time differently. You learn to count meetings as actual work time—as a faculty member you count meetings as wasted time. If I did that I wouldn’t accomplish anything all day long. The modern business dean meets with alumni, asks for support and talks about your strategic vision.


GC: What were your goals when you started your job at Santa Clara in 2015?


CBD: My one goal was actually set by the Board of Trustees, and they really wanted the university to be more firmly entwined with Silicon Valley and emphasize our place. One of my goals has been to amplify to a broader audience what Santa Clara is about and why it’s important to Silicon Valley and beyond.


We have a theme, “You can go anywhere from here,” but most of our alums actually stay within a 60 mile radius because the work environment is so spectacular. For me, [Santa Clara is] about our conscientiousness and our emphasis on being humane business leaders.


GC: In the past several years, with the rising cost of higher education, there’s a stronger argument to be made for skipping school and going straight into the world. Why should a student who is on the fence about committing to the time and money of a college education stay in school instead of working or starting a company?


CBD: What I think Santa Clara does really well is our liberal arts education, which doesn’t necessarily prepare you for today’s job, but hopefully prepares you for the job 5-10 years out. That really comes from reflection, having a broad body of knowledge to draw upon, and flat out a network. One of the things universities give you is a network of like-minded people, and you rely on that network forever.


GC: What are a few skills or mindsets do you want Santa Clara students to leave with?


CBD: I hope they’re intellectually inquisitive, because they never know what they’re going to see. I hope they read a lot, and read widely. One thing that has helped me in my meetings with alumni is that I can talk about almost any subject at a pretty base level because I watch sports, I understand classical music, I understand art, I understand the humanities, I read in a lot of technology areas. There’s not very many topics that would come up that I couldn’t hold a conversation in. I hope students gain that from a university setting.


GC: Are there any business or technology trends that will change the way we live our lives in the next 5-10 years?


CBD: I think artificial intelligence and virtual reality will totally disrupt higher education. Higher education is basically on a 400-year-old model, so if you think about it, there’s no reason you would have ten-week classes that are 50 minutes a piece where you sit in the classroom. You could find the information quicker than I could, and someone could analyze it for you.


There’s no reason why it’s 4 years to graduation or so many hours. All of that is a construct of a 400-year-old model. For example, maybe you should never graduate from Santa Clara. Maybe you should always be able to pop back in and retool. To me, those things haven’t been thought about very hard in our education system.


With virtual reality, you can be in the best professor’s class in the world in any subject, and it’s like you’re there. It’s not just like online education, it’s real education. You can replicate a lot with that.


GC: You have set several firsts in your career, being the first woman business school dean at Utah State, Florida State, and now the first woman dean of the Santa Clara Business school. Have you ever felt more pressure to succeed or be a role model in your career because the business world has been historically male-dominated?


CBD: Always. I always think I am a role model. When I practiced law, I was one of six women lawyers in a firm of 80. I’ve been in all male industries before.


It’s interesting—at Santa Clara, almost all the deans are women. The dean of the college of arts and sciences is female, the dean of psychology and education is female, and the dean of the law school is female. It’s very rare to have that many women deans on a faculty.


GC: What does your ideal Saturday look like?


CBD: It might have been my last Saturday, and I don’t get them very often. My son came up for an early birthday, and I stayed in my sweats all day long. We went to see a movie, the Darket Hour which was a great movie. We went to a great meal at Santana Row and hung out at night and laughed and drank a bottle of wine. It was the perfect Saturday.


GC: What advice would you give to a first-year student starting college?


CBD: Stay on top of your classes and have a great time. You’re only in college for four years, and while you might think it might seem overwhelming, it’s not—life always gets better. Have a great time, meet as many people as you can and try new things.

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