Molding middle-class mettle

As dean of the College of Business and Economics, Christine Clements is a driving force behind the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s ongoing campaign to develop some of southeastern Wisconsin’s most dynamic business and civic leaders. With Clements at the helm, Whitewater’s College of Business & Economics molds strong leadership mettle out of mostly homegrown talent. Recent donations from alumni and corporations will soon enable Clements to provide even better educational opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders. She recently discussed her mission with Small Business Times reporter Greg Stanley. The following are excerpts from that interview.

SBT: What attracted you to the business school at UW-Whitewater?

Clements: “I knew that I loved this area because I had spent a number of years in the Madison area. I also grew up hearing that Whitewater was an outstanding business school, and that was, of course, the kind of place I wanted to work.”

SBT: Do you have certain principles or values that you try to lead with?

Clements: “Absolutely. To me, the most important thing we do is continue to support and develop the human resources where we work. People’s careers should not be something that they just do to get paid for. People’s careers should be avocations. They should be things that they love and find fulfillment in.

“I believe you have to create the kind of environment where people feel fully engaged and rewarded by the work they’re doing. Everybody wants to be part of something exciting, so one of the things I love about being in a leadership position is it gives me a real opportunity to help make that happen, to create a vision that people can get excited about and that allows them to do the things that they love in a lot of different ways that appeal to them. You always place service above self. That’s where the real rewards come from. I think that leadership is about service. I don’t think it’s about power, I don’t think it’s about ego. I think it’s all about service.”


SBT: What opportunities to UW-Whitewater students gain through the school’s organizations and program offerings?

Clements: “The majority of our students will leave here and go to work for some company at least in the short- to mid-term, and most companies are not looking for somebody who just comes in and does their job. We certainly want our students to be able to do their job and be comfortable with it and be secure, but they’re looking for people who can do more than that job, and you’ve got to foster that entrepreneurial spirit for that to happen.

“I think our faculty are living examples to them, and they learn from the connections with the business community that when you go out into your career field that that curiosity and that engagement and that sense of bringing something extra to the table makes them successful, or fosters their successfulness. Entrepreneurship is almost always a good idea, no matter where you are.”


SBT: Who has helped you structure the vision and ultimately complete the goals that you’ve had for the students and for the curriculum?

Clements: “I am standing on the shoulders of my predecessor, Joe Domitrz. I have had wonderful supervisors. For example, Dick (Richard) Telfer (interim chancellor), he is a wonderful mentor and coach and person to work with. But I would also say in many respects the vision and our success in achieving it are really more about the people in the college. They’re about the students and the faculty and certainly our business partners, because what happens is when you open the doors and you start letting them talk to each other, they come up with some pretty astounding things that then we all buy into, and it helps us move forward.”


SBT: What keeps you at Whitewater?

Clements: “Well I love it here. I know itsounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I love to get up in the morning and come to work. I have not always felt that way. I am not genetically programmed to be this cheerful and enthusiastic – that’s why I got a degree in poly-sci (political science). But I believe in the college and the people who are part of the college, and I believe in the vision for the university and the college, and I just love the work I do.”


SBT: Over the years, do you see changes in the students, in their ambitions and goals?

Clements: “You notice some differences in our students. Every university has sort of a student personality or a culture, and Whitewater is no exception. There is a strong student culture here. The fact is that this is not a lot of really wealthy kids. This is mostly middle-class kids, and a number of them are first-generation college students, and the vast majority of them are working their way through school. They’re paying their precious dollars and working really hard to be here, so they really value what they’re learning, and it’s very important to them that there is value in what they’re receiving in return. They’re extremely career-focused, and their work ethic is truly extraordinary. I’m not sure some of these kids sleep. I don’t know that I’ve seen any changes while I’ve been here. I think that’s consistently true of our student body. The faculty love working with them.”


SBT: What does it take to keep Whitewater one of the top business schools in the nation?

Clements: “It takes a commitment on our part. It takes a commitment from the university and from the college that we will maintain that. I want to say that it takes resources – it absolutely does – but I will tell you that we will not compromise our commitment to what we want to be because people keep taking money away from us. We may have to redefine how we do it, or we may have to not be as widely available, although I would hope not, because Whitewater has always been committed to access. That’s the bottom line of what we do here – we want students to be able to come here. I think it’s that commitment. We stay focused on mission. We can’t make resources the central focus of what we do, or we’d just shut our doors in dismay and disgust and despair.”


SBT: What are your personal goals for the school?

Clements: “My personal goals are for this to be the very best College of Business and Economics that it can possibly be for everybody who is part of the college, be they students or faculty or staff. That’s my primary goal. I want it to be, and this sounds really corny, but I want it to be the kind of place where everybody who is part of this college feels like they can be everything they want to be.”

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