Taking Care of Business (and Justice Studies too)

Helen Barker

"We go into the field because we want to teach; we want to make a difference in the lives of children and young adults."

Taking the reins in Summer 2019, Dean of the School of Business and Justice Studies Helen Barker is responsible for providing leadership to staff in the School, as well as to the faculty who have built a tradition of excellence in teaching and learning with particular emphasis on providing individual attention to students through a strong commitment to small classes and high impact practices.


Q: Tell us a little about yourself. 

A: I moved to Utica from the Washington, D.C. area, where I worked with another college for 18 years. I decided it was time to step away from my position in executive leadership and go back to being a dean where I could work closer with students and faculty as this is where my passion lies. I also always wanted to come back toward upstate New York or the New England area. I lived in Baldwinsville for several years, which is where my son went to elementary school. I also have family here. 


Q: What attracted you to UC?

A: Having lived here, my ultimate goal was to get back up to Upstate New York. I got a phone call from one of my own doctoral graduates, asking if I knew somebody for the position of dean of business and justice studies. I thought to myself “Hmm, maybe I am that somebody!” I decided that I would apply and started talking with everyone here. I was very excited and the environment felt very comfortable from the beginning, right from the drive up here. I also really liked the fact that UC is a small, private institution, as that is what I come from and what I’m comfortable in. When researching UC and its programs, I saw tremendous opportunities for growth in the areas that I would manage, which was very attractive. Also, the combination of skills needed for this position happens to be my skill set, which is an unusual combination where I have business, cyber and political science in my degree wheelhouse, as well as my leadership experience.


Q: How has your past experience prepared you for this?

A: Formerly in industry I restructured entrepreneurial companies that were moving to the next level and needed a fresh face to do that. The university where I was before was in that situation. When I initially began that position, I brought in a business program that they didn’t have before. I’m accustomed to and successful in growth opportunities for organizations, which I think are skills that I bring here. I also have a wide breadth of experience, both in business and academics. I’m able to wear both the administrative hat as well as the faculty hat, which means that I am able to support the needs of faculty within the boundaries of institutional budgets and guidelines. The ability to wear those two hats, combined with my professional and academic background, gives me something unique to contribute to the continued success of UC. I can use my skills to help Utica become even greater than it already is. 


Q: What are your short- and long-term goals in your position?

A: To start off, I would like to look at every aspect of the program, figure out where we are now and see what is doable in terms of growth. I’d like to see what the available opportunities are and be sure they are consistent with the College’s strategy and mission. Obviously, I bring with me some preconceived ideas of what we should be doing and where we should be going, but I have to make sure that they are consistent with what the College wants to do. I can already see that there are exciting opportunities in business and cyber. I need to learn a little bit more about where we are with justice studies. Completing this in-depth look at the program would lead into long-term goals. My basic long-term goal is obviously growth, but first I want to be really dedicated to assessment. I think that data analysis is a very valuable tool in making decisions on what we add to or change about a program or department.


Q: What do you think will be most challenging?

A:  Change in general will be most challenging, as change can be hard. I think it will be difficult to get faculty and administration to trust that even as a newbie, I can and will help them get through the change and that it’s for the betterment of the programs, the institution, and the students. Obviously, the students are our priority, what’s best for the students to prepare them to go out into the world and be contributing workers/citizens. We want to put out a whole human being, not just someone who can program or write an essay. 


Q: What are you most excited about?

A: Working in an environment like this, where people care about their jobs and want to be here, is wonderful. They care about the students and they care about the institution. Higher education is not what a person does to make a million dollars; we don’t go into education to get rich. We go into the field because we want to teach; we want to make a difference in the lives of children and young adults. At UC, I see very talented people who are committed to the success of the students, even going as far as to push students who don’t always seem to want to succeed. They are dedicated to trying to make sure students get any and every opportunity they hope for. I have people wave at me every day and say “Hi, Helen!” and although I don’t always remember who they are yet because I’ve met so many people, that interaction is very indicative of the environment. The environment has made me very comfortable and that’s always important when you move away from family. It’s also important to me that the family I brought with me is comfortable here. That is the case, so I’m very happy about that. Also, the challenges that await me are exciting. There are always challenges for a new person including making changes, bringing what I know and deciding whether it fits the models I have already used, or deciding that I need to try and find a new model to use at UC. 


Q: What do you see as the future of business education in five to ten years?

A: In the market right now, analytics are huge. Leaders that we graduate, whether they know how to do analytics with the programs that are out there, need a fundamental understanding that their greatest asset is data and that data needs to be protected. I am a firm believer that our business students need to understand cybersecurity. They do not need to do cybersecurity, but they need to understand what it means to the institution. Business is no longer in isolation in that we do accounting, financing, marketing and general management. We also need to be able to communicate with the people in the sciences and understand the lingo if we are going to lead these organizations. We are technology driven. We need to understand what the threat that is presented to an organization when a person walks past a desk and somebody has their passwords written on a sticker. If business leaders are not understanding that then we cannot expect our employees to understand that. Another important part of this is an understanding of the legal and political environment within which business operates. Thus, my vision of business is a fusion of disciplines. I think that that is a differentiator in schools that are graduating students who have a lens that includes different disciplines, which UC does a fabulous job. Whether the students always enjoy it or not, the liberal arts classes UC offers are significant and broad enough that they provide students the opportunity to speak to all these areas. The liberal arts classes make our students more well rounded. It’s very holistic in that sense. I want to take all the degrees in the School of Business and Justice Studies to the next level. Many students ask the question, “Okay, I learned all this – so what?” and I want to answer that question and give them the “Here’s why.” 


Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: In my non-work hours, I try to keep my bonsai alive, which I have been doing for about 20 years. Indoor and outdoor herb gardening is another pastime of mine. Whether I’m power walking or walking my dog, I’m always on the move. I am currently in the process of reading three books from three different genres. I enjoy repairing old homes, so I’ll be looking to buy one in Utica. Last but not least, I enjoy spending time with my grandkids.

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