Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mary Ellen Zuckerman

Mary Ellen Zuckerman:

A Dynamic Woman and Facilitator of Change

By: Joseph W. Norman

Mary Ellen Zuckerman, Dean of the John Wiley Jones School of Business at the State University of New York at Geneseo, is a woman of incredible character. She is an interdisciplinary educator and administrator who has used her motivation and work ethic to achieve much success for herself and the people and programs she is involved with. Team player is one of the best ways to describe Zuckerman as she has created that type of community in the School of Business she manages. In fact, she states “Teamwork is very powerful in terms of retaining people and getting things done. It gives you a good feeling of satisfaction and it allows you to see the best side of people.” This positive attitude and dedication to the greater good helped Mary Ellen take the Geneseo School of Business through AACSB accreditation - three years of toiling through extensive paperwork, interviews, and organizational soul-searching. These attributes have also helped her create a relationship with the Hacettepe University in Turkey, open the Pamela York Klainer Center for Women in Business, and develop and produce many aspiring young business people. Her academic success, represented by her book on the history of women’s magazines, her Ph. D. in American History, and her M.B.A. in Finance, both degrees from the highly esteemed Columbia University, has created a dynamic and powerful woman who has the ability to facilitate great change.

It all started for Mary Ellen as a child when she picked up her first biography. She was always interested in the people of history and to this day is a self-described, “inveterate reader.” She describes her favorite genre of books, biographies and memoirs, as an opportunity to “take you out of yourself,” and because of this she finds the reading experience “very inspirational.” To get more specific, she prefers biographies of women because she can relate to them better. In fact, women in history have been the most important focus for Mary Ellen in her career as an academic and as a community organizer. Her dissertation was written about a gap she found in female journalism during the Progressive Era of American History. This led her into research of the magazine industry, the history of marketing research and advertising industries, and gender and media. Her research sparked a passion for business, so she pursued an M.B.A to tie her academic and business desires together. After a brief tenure as a Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, posted initially to the United Nations, she decided to step back into academia and pursue her doctorate. She successfully defended her dissertation after nearly a decade of research which she was forced to do part-time while she taught management courses at SUNY Geneseo. Consistently she has showed her ability to get the job done and get it done well.

As Dean of the School of Business she has accomplished a great deal and many of those accomplishments have been some of her fondest memories. One of the most prolific of achievements is the AACSB (Association to Advance College Schools of Business) accreditation. To begin the history of her efforts at Geneseo, as a professor in the school of business, she had the opportunity to serve on countless committees from the beginning of her tenure in 1985. Some of these include; committees on scholarship, appointments, curriculum, affirmative action, women, academic affairs, working papers, personnel, faculty development, college senate research, and numerous others. Many of these extra-curricular activities she led at some point, often as the Chairperson. Other notable areas include her role as the Treasurer of the Geneseo College Senate in the 1987-88 school year and her advisory role of the Geneseo Student Marketing Club in 1999.

At this point, in 1999, she took the opportunity to take on what ended up being one of her most profound achievements at Geneseo, the illustrious business school national accreditation. This is a challenging project to say the least, and when she took the reigns in 1999 it was not going well. In just three short years (or very long ones, depending on who you ask), she was able to turn the ship around and get the John Wiley Jones School of Business, AACSB accreditation. She describes it simply, “It was very exciting because we all worked very hard.” While describing the culmination of the process she told a story about when the AACSB representatives were at Geneseo interviewing faculty, staff, and students. “The team came in on a Wednesday and spent two days in the department interviewing people.” She states, “It was very difficult for me because the team did not want to talk to me. They wanted to find out if everything I said in my report was true.” Therefore, she reflected on her experience; “I am sitting in my office biting my nails wondering what is going on.” Fortunately, on Thursday night they told her the decision was going to be favorable before the Friday morning meeting with the campus administration. She quips, “I could at least get a good night of sleep.”

The scope of Mary Ellen’s influence have not just been on the Geneseo campus community, but also on a regional level due to her involvement in many other organizations. One of note is the MAACBA, Mid-Atlantic Association of Colleges of Business Administration. It is a group of business college Deans whose executive board she has been on for about five years. Just recently, she finished her term as president. In Rochester, she is involved with a community service project at the Temple Sinai sheltering the homeless and helping them find jobs. She likes it because it is a volunteer opportunity she can bring her two sons, fourteen and sixteen, along to. Her other affiliations are with the Rochester Women’s Network, American Marketing Association, Association of Marketing Educators, Business History Society, Economic and Business Historical Society, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Research Society for American Periodicals, and the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History. The extent of Mary Ellen’s involvement is vast and powerful. She speaks at countless conferences and professional events. In fact, just recently she gave a speech at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, New York. Her commitment to her beliefs is not just one of published words but also community action.

Another part of Zuckerman’s life which is of utmost importance to her is her family. As a happily married mother of two, her family life may seem moderately stress free, especially with all of her professional engagements. Those two children are of another class of civilization however; they are teenagers. This has made her recent favorite quote, “It was a good learning experience.” She laughs about her frequent use of the line when raising her children, “You lost the tennis match, well it was a great learning experience; you fell out of the tree, it was a great learning experience.” Also, her husband and she have the pleasure of being in the Brighton Central School District, which does not have a sports bus. Therefore, many hours are spent driving the children around to the various extra-curricular activities they are involved in, of which there are many. Despite the usual teenage tribulations, some of her favorite gifts have been the motherly ones she has received from her children; one of which is a picture drawn by one of her sons in preschool which she described as “a picture that really captured who he was.”

Her husband is incredible at throwing surprise parties for her, of which he did after her dissertation defense and after she had the signing of her first published book, A History of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995. He is an academic as well at the University of Rochester as the Chair of the Psychology: Clinical and Social department. Their relationship has been valuable to Mary Ellen because it has given her an opportunity to talk about her ideas for the Jones School of Business with another academic not biased to her particular organization. This was especially helpful in her transition to the administrative side of academia.

Now, it is important to the get into the little things that round out whom Mary Ellen Zuckerman really is. After claiming not to be an adventurous eater, she declared her favorite food coffee yogurt while her favorite candy bar is Snickers. Her modes of relaxation are reading, yoga, walking and watching movies. Her current readings include a few biographies, Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach and Susan B. Anthony’s biography. She re-read the latter in preparation for her recent speech at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester. Other favorite book genres include: women’s issues, mysteries, history, and best-selling fiction. Some of her favorite movies include Desperately Seeking Susan, A Very Long Engagement (in French), and The Illusionist.

A quote that drove her through much of her career in academia is by May Sarton: "I understand that a talent is something given, that it opens like a flower, but without exceptional energy, discipline and persistence will never bear fruit." Mary Ellen said this inspired her on a daily basis when she was researching vigorously throughout her graduate and doctorate work. As a true academic, one of her frustrations is incompetence and lack of responsibility. She also has an incredible memory, which has served her well throughout her role as an educator, mother, and administrator.

A few people that Mary Ellen would love to meet are all powerful women from different times in history. The first of the three is Hillary Clinton, who actually came to Geneseo to speak and she got to shake her hand, but she would enjoy spending more time chatting with her. Another is Queen Elizabeth I, a powerful woman who managed her way through some tricky situations, came into her own and was very successful, and the last is Eleanor Roosevelt, because of her ability to evolve and grow as a person and a leader.

Dean Zuckerman’s model of leadership is as follows; a leader has to have a vision and they have to be able to motivate people to work together towards that vision. “You are wise as a leader to listen to the people around you.” She says, “The biggest difference from being an academic to the head of a unit is you do not have to solve the problem yourself while as an academic you work alone.” This was a wonderful revelation for her as she adapted to her position. It is important not to get too far ahead of the people you are working with, but not to get stuck in the “nitty gritty of the day to day.” She insists that “you have a plan to move ahead at all times.” She continued, “The little things somebody else can do, it is your job to say “Where are we going?” and “How are we getting there?” These are the attributes she models everyday in her own pursuits.

Life long learning and resilience are her two messages for her students and our readers. “You are going to be in different jobs and circumstances that change all the time. Things change and you need to be able to meet that challenge. Be flexible.” It is fitting to finish Mary Ellen’s story with those few pieces of advice because they are emblematic of who she is. Her efforts to improve herself and the people around her have been constantly modeled by her actions and resilience.

Mary Ellen Zuckerman, Ph.D., MBA

SUNY Geneseo

Dean, John Wiley Jones School of Business

South Hall 113

Phone: 585-245-5367


Bio: Mary Ellen Zuckerman

Book Information: A History of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995

Jones School of Business: Website

Live interview on Business Week Online: