One year at the helm, Husson’s new leader presses for change

John Rohman, left, WBRC chairman and  Stephen Rich, left, WBRC President/CEO, catch up with Husson University President Robert Clark, right, at the the Gracie Theater at Husson University Campus August 17, 2010. The Gracie Theater is one of the many large projects the Bangor-based architectural and engineering firm has undertaken in its hundred-plus year history. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
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John Rohman, left, WBRC chairman and Stephen Rich, left, WBRC President/CEO, catch up with Husson University President Robert Clark, right, at the the Gracie Theater at Husson University Campus August 17, 2010. The Gracie Theater is one of the many large projects the Bangor-based architectural and engineering firm has undertaken in its hundred-plus year history. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
Posted Dec. 17, 2010, at 3:31 p.m.
After a year at the helm of Husson University, President Robert Clark shares his vision of the school's role in the business community, including the college's recent decision to offer an M.B.A. program starting in 2011. Photographed while working in his office at Husson University in Bangor Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
After a year at the helm of Husson University, President Robert Clark shares his vision of the school's role in the business community, including the college's recent decision to offer an M.B.A. program starting in 2011. Photographed while working in his office at Husson University in Bangor Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)

BANGOR, Maine — It has been almost a year since Robert Clark took over as Husson University’s president, and the private school has unveiled some changes — including plans to offer a Master of Business Administration degree beginning in 2011 — with more in store.

Clark’s background in business and the global economy was a key factor in the school’s decision to hire him, he said in a recent interview, and Husson’s offerings are beginning to reflect that.

The school has always had an overarching goal of preparing students for the professional world, Clark said, and that will continue even as Husson tweaks its curriculum, from the new MBA program that will replace a Master of Science in business to a new focus in high-level tourism management and marketing in the hospitality management concentration.

“If we don’t prepare our future hospitality leaders, we’ll fall behind,” Clark said. “Academics is not an isolated world, if we choose to be engaged.”

The school has concentrated on growing programs in health care in recent years, he said. They will remain important, Clark said, but Husson also seeks to “reinforce our history in business.”

Dick Trott of Brewer, chairman of Husson’s board of directors, said the directors hired Clark because they believed he would continue to aggressively offer new opportunities at the school.

“He’s proven to be a good choice,” Trott said.

They have been happy with Clark’s efforts in the business school in particular, Trott said.

“We’ve been revisiting that part of the curriculum, trying to ramp that up, improve upon it,” he said.

The MBA program will be rolled out in two phases. In January, students who have an undergraduate degree in business can begin taking graduate-level courses. There are about 150 students already enrolled in the program, according to Ron Nykiel, the new dean of the business school. While the majority are Husson’s Master of Science students transferring into the MBA program, at least 15 are new students, and Nykiel said he is getting a phone call a day from a prospective student interested in the program.

Then, in midyear 2011, Husson plans to roll out a new “enhanced MBA” for individuals who have completed their undergraduate degree in a field other than business.

The MBA courses will be offered in Bangor and at Husson’s satellite campuses in Portland and Presque Isle, Clark said. The remote sites will feature hybrid classes; there will be some distance-education component, and professors likely will travel to the sites on occasion.

There are, of course, other MBA programs already in existence in the state. The University of Maine has about 80 MBA students studying in tracks that include management, finance, accounting, and business and sustainability. One of its alumni is Clark, actually. The University of Southern Maine has about 125 students in what is a generalist MBA program, though some concentrate in finance or taxation. Both MBA programs are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Southern New Hampshire University offers an MBA degree through its Maine campus in Brunswick with between 200 and 225 students taking classes at any one time. The school also plans to begin offering MBA classes in the Lewiston-Auburn area, according to Bo Yerxa, director for the SNHU Maine Center for Continuing Education, at the request of the local chamber of commerce.

Clark said Husson planned to offer classes that were particularly sensitive to “time of delivery,” making it easier for professionals and students with family obligations to take courses. And, he added, Husson’s enhanced MBA program would have a low barrier to entry for nonbusiness majors — without the requirements that they take many basic business courses as part of the course of studies.

Nykiel said he was looking at extending the tourism management concentration into the MBA program as well. And he’s exploring other courses of studies for the business school, including casino management and gaming — to prepare students for high-level careers in Maine’s growing gaming industry.

As a student and as a professor, Clark has had a strong international focus. While an undergraduate at UMaine, he studied in Madrid. He spent four years in Europe in the Army as well. As a professor, he did research on developing securities markets globally, and he studied contemporary business issues in Africa. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the Norwegian School of Management and a guest faculty member at the Business and Economics University in Vienna. He ran the Institute for Global Enterprise in Indiana before returning to Maine.

He said Husson was not doing enough now to encourage a global perspective among its students. In the 1990s, the school had more than 100 international students, but that dropped to about a quarter of that population after 9-11, he said.

He said he plans on increasing Husson’s efforts and is currently recruiting a director of international initiatives for the school. In addition, Husson is exploring sending some of its education students to student-teach at Lee Academy’s school in China, Clark said.

Nykiel added that he has added a foreign language requirement to the business school, as well. The school is offering a class in Mandarin Chinese in January, in partnership with the Bangor Chinese School, he said. The class will focus not only on basic language skills but on culture and business protocol as well. The class is already full, Nykiel said, with 22 students.

In addition to curriculum changes, there are some brick-and-mortar projects coming, Clark said. The school plans in April to begin a $3.5 million renovation of the dining commons, Clark said. He plans to propose to the board the first new dormitory on campus since 1968. The three dorms now house 1,000 students, Clark said, and he hopes a new $8.5 million building would hold another 200.

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