Faculty Impact - Dr. Susan Jensen

Posted: March 31, 2017 12:00:00 AM CDT

Photo of woman standing on rocksPlease tell us about yourself and your role at UNK and how that has transformed over the years.

After earning a finance degree from Kansas University, my first job after graduation was as a National Bank Examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. I worked in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania region before being based in the St. Louis office. After completing my MBA from Washington University in St. Louis I had the opportunity to help launch a new investment banking business in St. Louis. That experience sparked my interest in entrepreneurship. My time at UNK began in 1994 when I began as Assistant Director for the Nebraska Business Development Center. I loved the chance to work with all kinds of clients who were looking to start or improve (or sometimes salvage) their business. I was asked to be an adjunct instructor for CBT, and found I loved teaching. So by 2000 I had quit my post as Director of the NBDC center and started my PhD program at UNL. Then I was extremely fortunate to be able to return to UNK in 2003 as an assistant professor in the Management Department. That same first semester I worked with students to launch the SIFE team (now called ENACTUS) which was an incredibly rewarding experience. I've taught a variety of classes for CBT including entrepreneurship, small business management, ethics, strategy, leadership, organizational behavior, and a new creativity/innovation class I developed for Fall 2016. I was also honored to serve as Associate Dean for the college for 7 years.

Can you please describe your teaching style and creative approach in the classroom?

I try to build as much involvement and realism into my classes as possible and find various new ways to make the material "click" for students. I'm an advocate for experiential learning -- no better way to learn how to become a more effective leader than by actually taking on the challenge of leading others in a project.

This semester, you are traveling with students in Ireland. What is the purpose of this trip?

This spring semester in Ireland is a great example of experiential learning. The students immerse themselves in their courses of IrishPhoto of group talking history, literature and culture. For example, next week the students will learn more about the Irish "Troubles" by visiting Belfast and Derry and meeting with three ex-political prisoners. Their understanding of Oscar Wilde and Yeats' writings are enhanced by actually spending time in the regions of Ireland that inspired those writers. I am also incorporating the Strengths philosophy into the study abroad experience for the first time. Study abroad is a wonderful way to grow as a student, as you not only expand your world view and gain a deeper appreciation of the interconnectivity or world events but you also learn so much more about yourself. The Strengths philosophy offers a framework to help enhance that self-awareness and allow the students to strengthen their teamwork and leadership skills.

Can you describe the similarities and the differences in business culture between Ireland and the US?

One thing that stands out is the larger presence of government reflecting the more socialist democracy structure in Ireland. I've also observed an interesting dichotomy between the older and younger generations of business owners. The older generation's views are shaped by their experiences of Ireland as an isolated and economically weak nation, while the younger generation grew up during the "Celtic Tiger" economic boom and consider themselves to be more "european" than their parents.

What surprises have you had in this experience?

The emphasis on the “Irish diaspora” has been interesting, and not something I had ever thought much about before. We all know that millions of Irish emigrated but I didn’t realize how the Irish still here in Ireland take such pride in how those Irish emigrants “built America.” Everywhere we go, it seems we’re asked the same two questions: 1) what do you think of President Trump? and 2) do you have relatives here in Ireland? The second question is always lots simpler to answer than the first, and in all fairness, about 40% of our group members do have Irish ancestors!

Ireland is going through an economic and political transition; how has this impacted their business environment?

We are definitely here during “interesting times” with the combination of Brexit, election of Trump and the upcoming French election, and I’d characterize the whole atmosphere as one of uncertainty and anticipation. Brexit is always in the news and a topic of everybody’s discussion. Ireland has benefitted greatly from its involvement in the EU but also has historic dependence on the United Kingdom. The Irish economy (especially the western region where we are based) is heavily reliant on tourism, and changes in exchange rates can have a big impact. Talk of a potential “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland also has people on edge.

Can you tell us about some of the small businesses you have been exposed to during your visit?

Park Lodge is our home base for the semester, and is a great example of a 2nd generation family owned business that has experienced change as Ireland became part of the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU) and weathered the challenges of the Celtic boom/bust. And while it’s common to see global chain stores and franchises in the larger cities, it seems that except for SuperMac’s (Ireland’s version of McDonald’s) the smaller towns are served by a variety of mom/pop businesses, including butcher shops, pubs, barber shops, etc. The entrepreneurial spirit is also evident in the variety of small businesses that pop up to serve tourists. Has also been interesting to learn more about the agricultural industry in Ireland – very heavily subsidized/regulated and much smaller scale operations than what we’re accustomed to in Nebraska.

How has this trip impacted your students and what learning experiences will they bring home with them?

Photo of students learning to play an instrumentAfter 8 weeks, I can definitely see how the students have grown more confident in their ability to navigate new terrain and they’ll be the first to say their world view has been significantly broadened. It’s also encouraging to see how integration of the Strengths philosophy into our experience here has provided students with a new common language and tools to improve their individual and team performance. I hope this experience will serve as a catalyst to encourage those students to continue their efforts to explore and appreciate the interconnectivity of global business and society.

Please tell us about the most interesting person you have met during your visit.

So hard to pick just one! This past weekend, my husband and I visited the Dartfield Horse Museum & Heritage Center (http://www.dartfield.com/) and had the chance to meet the founder, Willie Leahy, who is a renowned expert on the Connemara pony. What a delightful man who truly exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit – in fact, he was recognized as the “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Ernst and Young. His commitment to showcase rural Irish life has garnered international acclaim. But he’ll be the first to tell you his famed Connemara Trail Ride (which attracts people from around the globe) had very humble beginnings – he saw an opportunity, took a chance, and as he says “figured things out along the way.”

What parts of this trip have reinforced your teaching style and make you appreciate all that UNK offers students?

I feel so incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to accompany the students on this adventure. We all have gained tremendous new insights and have newfound appreciation for not only the differences that exist across cultures and economies, but also the similarities and potential for collaboration. UNK’s commitment to experiential learning is genuine and yields profound future benefits.

Photo of group in front of body of water

By: Emily Kassmeier

Category: Entrepreneur, Business and Technology

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