The Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business has named Trent Thurman the new associate dean of Executive Education. Thurman will bring 16 years of higher education experience to Georgia Tech when he joins Scheller on May 1, 2021.
Thurman comes from a family of educators, so it was only natural he ventured into higher education. He is currently the director of the Master of Science in Technology Commercialization program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin and previously spent nearly a decade as assistant dean and director of McCombs’ portfolio of professional MBA programs. Prior to this most recent appointment, he was the executive director of graduate programs at the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Thurman has been recognized for teaching excellence by the McCombs Undergraduate Business Council, the Texas Asian Business Students Association, and the MS in Technology Commercialization program. His other accolades include the President’s Outstanding Service Award by the University of Texas in 2012 and the Student Services Excellence Award by the McCombs School of Business in 2011.
As assistant dean and director of the professional MBA portfolio at McCombs, Thurman led all aspects of the school’s MBA programs in Austin, Dallas, and Houston for more than nine years. Under his leadership, the programs jumped to No. 6 in the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of part-time programs, the highest ranking in program history. During his stint as executive director for graduate programs at the University of Tennessee, he successfully led the effort to improve the quality and diversity of entering MBA classes.
We spoke with Thurman to learn more about his journey in higher education and what his goals and vision are as the new associate dean of Executive Education.
You had a career in commercial real estate before working in higher education. Did you always plan to make the move to higher education?
My father was my high school principal, and my mother and wife were teachers, as were her parents. Working in higher education was one of those things I should have figured out early on. It happened mid-career though, and I am so happy it did. From day one I realized that higher education is where I belonged. It’s one of those things where I feel like I don’t “work.” I love working with students. I love being on campus. I will always be in higher education and hopefully, be able to help students achieve their academic and professional goals.
What is your favorite thing about working in higher education?
Without question, my favorite part is getting to know the students. I love learning about their goals during the interview stage and then watching them progress through the program and then ultimately achieving those goals. Playing a small part in that process is very fulfilling.
I like nothing more than hearing from a former student who says, “Hey, I am now doing what I wanted to do when I interviewed with you.” I think everyone in higher education loves seeing that and seeing students progress to reach their goals and dreams.
What is your proudest moment as it relates to your career in higher education?
There are several. On the administration side, I am really proud of the university-wide service award I received from the University of Texas at Austin because it was student and staff nominated and reflected the success of a number of initiatives that my team and I initiated to ensure a great student experience. To get recognition from those students and the team I worked with on a daily basis was humbling. On the teaching side, it is my daily interaction with undergraduate students. Having the opportunity to have an impact on individuals at a fairly early stage of their career has been so fulfilling and impactful. I feel very fortunate every time I walk into the classroom.
Do you have any mentors that you look up to?
One of my mentors is my dad. As I said, I didn’t recognize it at the time, but a lot of my style, especially in dealing with students, is what I learned from him. Someone else who has inspired me is Steve
Salbu, former dean at Scheller. He was my business law and ethics professor in business school and was easily my favorite professor. He was the first person I got in touch with when I was considering a move to academia. He connected me with a few people at Red McCombs School of Business and that ultimately led to my first job at McCombs. I’ve molded my approach to teaching and connecting to students based on his teaching style and approach. I am excited to be able to work with him again at Scheller!
What’s the best advice you’ve received as it relates to higher education?
When I was mid-career, I made this pretty dramatic shift. I was in commercial real estate, so I was a long way from higher education. I convinced myself to take that risk based on conversations with a few mentors and friends. In a way, I stepped back and started over in a new career. I haven’t regretted that at all. From a professional standpoint, taking that leap was the best decision I ever made and I’ve loved it every day since. I’m where I belong.
Your situation seems similar to what graduate students may go through.
Sometimes students attend graduate school to take that next step in the organization, but often it is to pivot to something completely different. So, having gone through that experience, I can encourage others to make that leap.
What would you say is your leadership style?
I would call it authentic leadership. I know who I am, my values, what I stand for, and I try to act on those. I think if you were to talk to former MBA students that I worked with and former staff, they would all tell you that I am going to be authentic, genuine, approachable, empathetic, and focused on how we can achieve organizational goals together.
What are some of the goals you have in mind for Executive Education?
One of the goals from the Institute’s strategic plan is to be the nation’s leading provider of lifelong professional graduate degrees and non- degree programs in technology-related fields. I sincerely believe we can achieve that. We have the thought leadership from the faculty and the global reputation of the Institute. On the Executive MBA side, there is no reason why we can’t consistently be a globally-recognized, top ten MBA program. My goal is to be the number one program at the intersection of business and technology.
You’ve held director positions and executive director positions during your career in higher education. What have you learned in those positions that you will bring with you to your new role at Scheller?
I have been working with students for about 16 years, and I think it’s understanding what the students are going through, especially when you think about it from an executive format program. It’s a huge commitment. I think if nothing else, it’s understanding what their needs might be, and then ensuring their experience is the best it can be and help them achieve what they’re trying to get out of the program.
What are you most looking forward to about being the associate dean of Executive Education?
I think there is a lot of momentum already at Scheller and Georgia Tech. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of certain technologies. So, I think the time is right to come in and be a leading provider for the post-pandemic world. What do leaders need to know about as we move into a digital-first approach to business? I am excited because I think the timing is right. We can draw from a pool of great, diverse students.