Rady School of Management Q&A with Dean Lisa Ordóñez

Rady Campus

Lisa Ordóñez, the Dean at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, recently celebrated her first year with the university. Prior to Rady, Dean Ordóñez previously served for 25 years at the University of Arizona. Her roles included being a research faculty member and later as vice dean for over four years. MetroMBA recently sat down for an interview with Dean Ordóñez to discuss how her experience has been so far, the strong biotech and tech start-up community within San Diego and Rady, how their program differentiates itself and how they are adapting their learning amid COVID-19.

MetroMBA: You are celebrating your one-year anniversary as the Dean at the Rady School of Management. What has been your experience so far? What has surprised you the most?

Lisa Ordóñez: It’s very exciting to come in as the second-ever dean at the Rady School of Management. Bob Sullivan was the founding dean who did an incredible job to start a business school from scratch. The transition has been smooth because the Rady community has been so welcoming and supportive, including our lead donor, Ernest Rady.  Since Rady is still relatively new, there are many ways that I can help prepare us for future growth.

I have spent this last year learning about the San Diego region and its history. We are the only program at a Research university to be started within the last 20 years accredited by AACSB. The Rady School of Management exists because the community asked for us.  Thus, Rady is committed to the San Diego business community.

The strong biotech and tech start-up environment in San Diego is a great opportunity for our students. The students work actively on business problems, whether solving data analytic problems, or taking biotech or tech solutions to market. We teach our students how to take an idea through the process of building a business and going to market.

Biggest Surprise at Rady

Really the biggest surprise was learning about the incredible business and start-up community in San Diego. This is a very connected and supportive community with a concentration in biotech. Even with this strong support structure, it became clear during the pandemic that many small and mid-sized businesses were struggling and needed more support. At the same time, we had MBA students whose internships were being rescinded. In addition, incredible donors stepped in offering support. In response, we created the ‘Rady Coalition for Business Recovery’ to put together teams of students and faculty to help bring solutions to local businesses who needed help during the difficult time amid COVID-19.

MetroMBA: What is the one area of the Rady MBA program that you wish prospective applicants knew more about?

LO: Learning by Doing. It is the key way to learn and is not a new concept. A quote based on ancient Chinese thinkers sums up the value of learning by doing: ‘tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I might remember, engage me and I’ll learn.’ That engagement and learning by doing is the foundation of the Rady student experience. Our ‘Lab to Market’ project allows MBA students and select engineering students to take a concept and go through the process of creating businesses.  In addition, our masters students in finance, business analytics, and public accountancy all have to work on a real business project and use the skills learned in the program. They are doing this with the best research minds in academia. We have incredible business faculty who are creating the cutting-edge tools in business management; so, our students are learning from the people who create those tools.

MetroMBA: What sets the Rady School of Management graduate management education offerings apart from those of other schools your applicants are considering? Basically, if someone is looking to go to business school, why should they choose Rady?

LO: Our focus on innovation and class size are our differentiating factors. Students receive individualized experiences with our faculty, including personal mentoring and a dedicated team to support them. Students are immersed in an environment that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in the classroom and projects. They will be working with students who already have masters, PhD, and MD degrees. We also have many veterans from the military who bring leadership experience. Thus, they are working with an interesting array of classmates who bring a ton of experience. Together, these incredible students will work closely with our research faculty to apply the knowledge they are learning in the classroom.

MetroMBA: What are the advantages to going to business school in California and more specifically, San Diego? How does the Rady School of Management prepare students specifically for careers locally, regionally and globally?

LO: What we teach our students can help them go anywhere. We have a large international contingent, so we are training people who go back to home countries, while many remain in the U.S. as well. We are training our students to have cutting edge tools to thrive in San Diego, which is one of the largest areas for biotech start-ups. We place these students to companies right here in town and around the world.

These days with the pandemic, you need an educational experience that allows you to adapt to a quickly changing environment. In addition, all of our programs are mathematically and analytically focused so the students learn strong techniques that are cutting edge in the business world.

Another advantage for students is that our career services start before you even get on campus. We provide resources including resume workshops, individual interview training, and virtual conferences for meeting companies and securing internships. It is something we are working on from day one. I say this to all of our incoming students, “your job is to get a job.” Thus, we provide our students with events such as meeting firms or bringing industry leaders speakers to us (now virtually) to prepare them for the job market.

Corporate Partners at Rady

When it comes to Rady’s corporate partners, Qualcomm is the largest employer in the region where many of our students secure jobs upon graduation. There are other large companies like Illumina and Lytics which we have a strong job placement pipeline as well. We also have several biotech and tech start-ups in which our students take leadership roles. Lastly, we are launching our corporate partnership to market our MBA programs and our new weekend MS in Business Analytics program for working professionals. We are in the process of developing agreements with companies in which we will offer fellowships for their employees and the companies will recruit and provide tuition remission to attend programs within the Rady School of Management.

MetroMBA: What is the one upcoming development or change at the Rady School of Management that you are most excited about and why?

LO: One thing that we did this year that helped us during the pandemic is that we reconsidered our admissions process for the MBA, which required the GMAT/GRE. This year and next, we are waiving the GMAT/GRE for most applicants in the Evening and Weekend MBA programs, which helped us double and triple enrollment numbers for our programs this fall. In the Fall of 2021, we will launch our new FlexWeekend Business Analytics program targeted for working professionals. This was just a nascent area of study during the time they received their degrees, but now students can come back and get trained in how to harness data to make better business decisions.

MetroMBA: Everyone has been affected by the uncertainty of Covid-19 and how it will impact their decision-making whether they will attend business school, delay their decision or even what program they will consider. What has the University done to ensure students are confident in their investment?

LO: The one thing we did since we knew COVID-19 would lead to lower percentage of acceptances was to drastically increase the number of students we admitted. We knew there would be those who chose to delay their education and defer until Fall 2021. As the pandemic continued, several students requested deferrals for next year, which we liberally granted to meet the needs of these students. Even with these deferrals, we have the good problem of having a much larger number of students join us this fall than ever.  Luckily, we had a deep pool of quality applicants so we did not have to lower our standards to have the highest enrollments to date. Due to the deferrals, we already have a great start for Fall 2021 admissions.

In terms of connecting with students during the summer, our goal was to make sure they felt part of Rady before they joined us by hosting webinars, training, and townhall sessions. Most of our enrolled international master’s students did not receive visas to join us this fall due to closures in emigration offices. We decided to offer 8 p.m. PST classes in our MS in Business Analytics and MS in Finance to allow students in Asia to attend classes via Zoom synchronously so they are able to actively participate, rather than watch a recorded lecture.

Adapting to the New Remote Learning

We have identified Vincent Nijs, a marketing faculty member to be our tech liaison. He and our IT group have trained our faculty to integrate best practices for remote teaching, efficiently use breakout rooms, polling and other types of techniques to keep students engaged during class.

We have found that we are getting more participation than in some of our face-to-face classes.  The students can write notes in the Zoom chat or meet in breakout rooms to solve problems or discuss the course concepts.  They cannot hide in the back of class.  In reality, remote teaching is not lower quality instruction, but simply a different type of instruction which is helping our students adapt to the ever-changing workplace.

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About the Author

Ryan Nemetz

Ryan is the Director of Client Services at MetroMBA and Clear Admit. He has over six years of experience in higher education including his current role and serving as a college basketball coach at Eastern University for four years.

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