Q&A: Sridhar Sundaram, University of South Florida, St. Pete

Last July Sridhar Sundaram, D.B.A., took the reigns as Dean of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business (KTCOB) at USF in St. Petersburg. This January the college opened its new building, Lynn Pippenger Hall, a modern, light and airy four-story building created with the goals of incorporating the best technology with community engagement to maximize the educational experience of USFSP’s business students. 

Dean Sundaram talks with 83 Degrees about what makes KTCOB unique as well as what’s important to shaping his long-term goals for the college. 

83 Degrees: What distinguishes Kate Tiedemann College of Business from the nation’s top colleges of business? 

Sridhar Sundaram: I think if [students] prefer a small school atmosphere where they are able to engage with the faculty and the other aspects, that’s where our strengths are going to be. And now with the new building what we’re able to do is to really start engaging both the business community and the general community. 

On top of that we apply the concepts that we’ve learned into experiential learning. But there is a third part that’s becoming more and more important, and that is really what we call professional development -- that is investing in the person, in the growth of the person. And this can be very simple, with communications, giving them the ability to network, to talk to people, preparing their resumes etc. But also building the broader perspective. Bringing in speakers, allowing them to get a broader perspective about the world. Targeting and investing in that has become much more important especially for first generation students. 

83D: How does KTOCB gauge the private sector needs in the community? 

SS: One way is through my advisory board. I have representatives from both private companies, public companies, but also from the community to say, “What are their needs? Where do they see the talent need?” For example- data analytics, we all hear about it, but what does that really mean? Every organization now is generating so much data, one of the needs they have is how do they structure the data so we can use it meaningfully. How do you manipulate the data to get some intelligence out of it? And third how do you use it for the decision-making process, and the final aspect is how do we actually implement the change? So when you have that conversation, whether it’s with Jabil Circuit or whether it’s a local bank, that’s what we look at and say, OK, how do we tailor our program to make sure that our students have the talent to be able to address some of those issues when they go through our curriculum. 

83D: How is the KTOCB addressing those needs through curriculum and real world training for its students?

SS: One example is finance. We are in a hotbed of financial services because of Raymond James, Franklin Templeton, all of the others. So there are a couple of different aspects. One is a typical bank, that would look at credit analysts, you have financial services companies that are looking at investment analysts, and then we have others who are looking at financial planners. So we’re building curriculum around CFAs or Certified Financial Analysts, that prepares students to be in the investments area, so our curriculum is built around it so they can get certified. We’re also building a separate curriculum on CFP, which is a Certified Financial Planner, and we’re building around that so they can get into both the managing and advising field. So that’s kind of how we’re bringing it back to the curriculum to say, where are we? What are the needs there? And how can we provide not just the knowledge but also the certification the students need to be successful out there tomorrow. 

83D: How does the new building Itself, Lynn Pippenger Hall, improve the experience for business college students in regards to meeting those needs?

SS: All the classrooms are at the top of the 21st century technology. We have specialized spaces, like the Wealth Management Center for our financial students, The Consumer Insight lab that is a facility for our marketing students. We’re working on the Collaboration Terrace and the Entrepreneurship Suite. These spaces are designed specifically to support all of these activities. The other aspect is community engagement. It’s amazing the short period of time we’ve been here, there are so many events we’ve already had. Our own, but also events from outside. So what this allows is engagement for the community to come and see what kind of resource we have, but also for our students to start to see, whether it’s companies coming here to have their events, or other organizations, the interaction with them is huge, and for me that’s really important because that interaction allows them to grow. 

83D: If another multimillion dollar donor came forward what would be the priority for that money?

SS: Right now the key priorities we’re looking at is having a student investment portfolio. Let’s say for example we get a million dollars, the students would manage that as part of a class. The nice thing about it is that they make the decisions, with the guidance of the faculty, and quarterly they have to report to an advisor and say, “these are the decisions I made, why they made it, defend it, and if they didn’t perform to expectations, why didn’t they perform to expectations? So they get the real world experience. But any earnings from that typically would be used for scholarships, for paying for data bases, things like that. 

83D: What’s next for the college? Talk a little about your goals for the college over the next five years and the strategies you’ll use to accomplish those goals. 

SS: At the undergraduate level the question I’m asking is, what is the skill set that they need in the next 10 years? Is our curriculum providing that skill set? Let’s look at it critically and ask bold questions. Secondly, when we look at the specific majors, are we being multi-disciplinarian? How do we make it multi-disciplinarian so [students] get a broad perspective. The third part is really the experiential part. How do we provide that experiential learning for our students. Internships is a common vehicle to do that, and we’re continuing to promote that, but we also have other vehicles, where students are working on projects for companies, competing in real world case scenarios, where they have to go compete, go defend what they’ve done, that experience is tremendous. The last part is all the other facets that are outside of the classroom, how can I provide that experience for them? So that’s where you look at mentorship programs, at professional development programs. 

At the graduate level I’m really looking to see, how do we become innovative? One thing I’ve done in my prior work is build one year accelerated programs. How can I build a one year program that allows students to get the hour requirements, get a Master’s Degree, and then we build in some of the other things that companies are looking for like practical experience as well as professional development? But we can do it in a very innovative fashion. The other thing I’m looking at is at the graduate level is, not everything has to be degree programs. How about executive education that are non degree, certificates and other things. And one final aspect is really becoming a resource for the community. 

83D: Anything else?

S.S. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the level of support that the community has provided this university. I think the interaction, the integral nature of the university and the community is tremendous. For me I think that’s a great asset. I’m very thankful and we’re going to build upon that as we move forward in multiple different ways. 

This story is part of a series -- supported by USFSP -- about innovative programs and talented people working and studying at the public university based in downtown St. Petersburg. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Amy Beeman.

Amy Beeman is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.