“Think and Do” Leadership with NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson and Poole College of Management Dean Frank Buckless

Dr. Randy Woodson became North Carolina State University’s 14th chancellor in April of 2010, and he leads the largest university in North Carolina with more than 34,000 students and a $1.5 billion budget. Under his leadership, the university created and implemented the pathway to the future strategic plan and advanced each of its strategic goals. How has he done it? Let’s find out as Chancellor Woodson is joined by Poole College of Management Stephen P Zelnak Jr. Dean Frank Buckless in this insightful conversation into how NC State differentiates itself from other universities.

 

Transcript

Chancellor Randy Woodson: We’re in one of the fastest growing metros in the country. We’ve got companies all around us hiring great graduates from the Poole College of Management, from our engineering school, and, and et cetera. But we want to make sure that we continue to interact with those graduates, help them remain relevant, and remain useful and productive for the companies that have hired them, for upscaling for future careers.

So, I’m really excited about how we bring our academic talent at NC state together to think about, how do we meet those needs? And do it in a, in a way that continues to differentiate NC State as the “Think and Do” university.

Jenny Hammond: Welcome to the Poole Podcast, the official podcast of the Poole College of Management at NC State University.

This is a “Think and Do” conversation about the relationship between academics and industry. And each episode, we will share research and ideas from the classroom, from our incredible faculty, and explore how it’s being translated into practice. I’m your host, Jenny Hamon, chief marketing and communications officer here at Poole college.

Let’s dive in. This has been a tremendous first season so far for the Poole Podcast. We continue to have some really interesting conversations about the work our faculty and staff are doing, as well as how it is impacting industry and the greater good. I look forward to continuing that conversation today with these two very special guests.

First, I’m pleased to welcome back to the podcast, the Dean of the Poole College of Management, Dr. Frank Buckless. Dean Buckless has been with NC state since 1989, where he has served many roles and the department of accounting, including department chair. And 2019, Chancellor Woodson appointed him the fifth Dean of the Poole College of Management. Dean Buckless has been a huge proponent of the Poole Thought Leadership Initiative and continues to work to grow the brand and impact of the college.

I am also lucky because I get to call him boss. Our next guest, Dr. Randy Woodson became North Carolina State University’s 14th chancellor in April of 2010. Woodson leads the largest university in North Carolina with more than 34,000 students and a $1.5 billion budget. Under his leadership, the university created and implemented the pathway to the future strategic plan and advanced each of its strategic goals.

NC State has become a lead university for two NSF engineering research centers, one manufacturing USA Institute, and partner on six others. And expanded to more than 70 industry and government partnerships on its nationally recognized centennial campus. NC State has also garnered national and international recognition for its faculty and students scholarship.

NC State launched the, “Think and Do,” the extraordinary campaign to raise $1.6 billion for scholarships, research, programs, and facilities, propelling the university to even greater heights. Leading by example to tackle the world’s grand challenges, Woodson also chairs the APLU Commission of Global Food Security and serves on the Us Council of Competitiveness Executive Committee.

All right. Well, Dean Buckless, let’s start with you. Poole College just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. We’ve packed a lot in a short period of time. In your opinion, what has been Poole’s greatest achievement so far? And where do you see the college going in the next 25 years?

Dean Frank Buckless: Sure, Jenny and, and a lot of ways, that’s a hard question because there’s so much to be proud of, of what we’ve done in the last 25 years. But if, you know, if I really step back and think what makes me most proud, it would be that we’ve really leveraged the strength of this university, the STEM of this university, and the engagement this university has with industry to really make an impactful experience for our students and our community.

You know, and we’re seeing that in so many ways. And, you know, we’ve, we’ve gotten great support from our industry leaders in our community, our enrollments are just going through the roof. I mean, we’ve increased the last five years our undergraduate enrollment by over 20%, our graduate enrollment by 50%. And we’ve in that timeframe, we’ve also seen about a 20% increase in the starting salaries for our undergrads and even a larger increase, over a 20% increase in our graduate students. So, you know, we’re just seeing so many great things happening because of what we’ve been able to do and differentiate ourselves through the strength of the university. \

You know, looking to the future, honestly, I think universities, we have to be much more connected to our graduates and our community on a daily basis. And I think that’s the area we’re going to really have to start expanding because, you know, the, the knowledge, pace of knowledge creation is just so much faster today. And the pace of change is just so much faster that we all have to kind of up our, our knowledge and up our tools on a daily basis.

So, making sure we’re there for our, our graduates and our community, when they need those, those updates to make sure that they have a lifelong career, that they can really be successful. That’s the area we’re going to really need to move into. You know, because of the nature of this university, I feel we’re better positioned to be able to do that than a lot of universities across our country.

Jenny Hammond: To answer, Woodson, in the last few months, uh, the university has revealed its next ten-year plan. Looking back at the last 10 years, what key decisions help influence this next phase for the university?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Well, you know, when I got here, I really recognized something that actually Frank was just talking about, the differentiated strength of NC state is sort of the “Think and Do” attitude that we have. You know, the, the mindset that we want to be the best scholars, but we want that to be impactful in our community. And, and so I believe some of the key decisions we made early on are really focused on that engagement part of the university. How do we, you know, how do we build a university that’s relevant to the needs of the community?

And we’re very fortunate to be in a state that’s growing and a part of the state that is as exciting as any metropolitan area in the country. And that, that affords us a tremendous opportunity to take the strength of the university and make it relevant to the economy of, of the triangle, relevant to the economy of the region, and, and to the nation.

I think on a really practical and fundamental level, one of the key decisions that we made early in the tenure of the last plan was really to get a handle on enrollment. And, you know, Frank just talked about the tremendous enrollment changes in uh, the Poole College of Management, but that’s really been at a university that hasn’t had dramatic enrollment changes at the undergraduate level.

And the reason for that is because we thought it was important for us to really focus on quality and make sure that we were doing everything possible to be the most competitive university, to attract the best students here and to really produce graduates that are ready to compete in the marketplace.

And so, I think one of the most critical decisions we made early on was really managing enrollment. And, and saying bluntly, is we made a hard decision not to continue to grow the undergraduate enrollment at NC State dramatically. And that was a hard decision because it’s a financial decision. But it’s had a big impact on the demand for our university.

It’s had a big impact on– our graduation rate has, has gone up by almost 20% in the last 10 years. So, you get good students, you give them a world-class education, and it turns out they graduate. And then when they graduate, as Frank pointed out, they get jobs. I think those are some of the critical decisions we made early on.

Jenny Hammond: So, this next topic, I think you both are pretty passionate about, which is entrepreneurship.

Chancellor Randy Woodson:  Yeah.

Jenny Hammond:  I think that that is definitely a key differentiator for us at NC state. Dean Buckless, how important would you say the partnership between Poole College and the university in supporting entrepreneurship ventures locally and statewide? How key is that?

Dean Frank Buckless:  I mean, I think it’s, it’s, again, it is one of our key differentiators and it really, again, takes to the strength of this university; the science, technology, engineering, math. You know, using those, that knowledge and those concepts, and then bringing them to the market. You know, is that “Think and Do,” taking it in and applying it.

And so, we’re giving our students just great experiences that are really making them ready for tomorrow’s world and, you know, making them more adaptive and, and, and being able to change and innovate and be creative that a lot of universities aren’t able to do. So, it’s just really made a difference in the students that we are able to graduate. And then the market and the opportunities they’re having when they, when they get out.

But it’s more importantly, it is really making a big difference in our broader community. Because it’s creating the jobs of the future. And, you know, I think that’s a, you know, all of us want to make sure that everybody in this state and in this country has a great opportunity and, and, you know, most new jobs come from startups in this country.

So, we’re helping to be an engine there and, you know, and that is so much fun to see and it’s to, you know, see these concepts, you know, go from theory to go to actually being applied and being used in the world. There was an article that I’d like to talk about. That was, uh, came out in Forbes in December of 2019.

And it was, “How Is North Carolina Fueling Startup Success?’ And you know, what was really cool about that is it, it said that NC state is the engine. We are really helping to create new opportunities in this state and in the broader world. In just the last five years, it highlights that 170 startups have come out of NC state.

And, you know, raised over $1.7 billion in capital and created many jobs for our citizens in our community. And it’s just exciting to see that and to see the opportunities that are being created. And that, you know, this is a big part of the reason I think this area of the state is so vibrant and is just booming right now. Which, you know, I’m sure our chancellor can talk about. It creates other challenges for us, but it’s just fun to be in that kind of environment.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: You know, I want to give a shout out to the Poole College and to Dean Buckless and his colleagues. Because I think the real thing that has changed at NC state, yes, we’ve, we’ve been entrepreneurial for a, a long time, we’ve spun out some amazing companies, and we have a strength in engineering and science and math and– and, and that generates a lot of the intellectual property, that generates, you know, the– that’s the fuel for the startup engine.

But what really has changed in the last few years has been the collaboration across our, our university. And, and I want to give Lewis Sheats and, and Dean Buckless and his colleagues a lot of credit for reaching out across the university for building bridges to other colleges and to other programs; like in engineering, and our college of textiles, and just all across the university.

And that really has been a mindset that, you know, we’re better together than we are apart. And the notion that our students actually need to benefit from that collaboration. And it’s fun when you see student groups across campus working on entrepreneurial problems and you realize they’re from four different colleges. And they’re bringing different sets of skills to the questions of the startup or the ecosystem they’re working in.

And I believe a lot of that started with, with both the program that was developed early on in engineering, and separately in the College of Management. And those leaders reaching out to one another and say, “We need to build this together.” And it’s made a big difference. You know, it’s another example where when you work together and you take different units, you can create the sum of the parts as better than the individual organizations.

And it’s one of the reasons why we’ve now been recognized nationally as a top 10, uh, entrepreneurship program in the country. Because we’ve, we’ve been doing this a long time, but we, we just needed to be better organized and then shine a better light on it. And I’m grateful for the leadership in PCOM for doing that.

Dean Frank Buckless: And just to add, you know, it really, for our students, again, it gets them prepared to go out into the business world and work better. Because they’re going to be worth– they’re working here with people with very diverse backgrounds, experience, and knowledge-basis, which really makes them more competitive in the marketplace.

Jenny Hammond: We did have Lewis Sheats on a couple of weeks ago. He and Vivian Howard did a podcast with us, which was a lot of fun. But he made a point to, to say that, you know, in a lot of university cultures, the business schools kind of are, they do their own thing. They don’t typically interact with the university campus and cross-collaborate, but Poole’s very different. Why, why is that so important?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: You’re absolutely right. And I’ve, I’ve been associated with other universities where the, the B school was, uh, special.

Jenny Hammond: Right. Quote, “Special.” Yes.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Yeah. And I think that Frank’s starting comments at the beginning of this podcast were, uh, in his statement about what he and his colleagues were so proud of in the college, was how connected it was within the university and, uh, utilize the strength of NC State to build unique strengths for the College of Management. That’s because of people like Lewis Sheats, it’s because of Dean Buckless and his colleagues of making sure that PCOM, “The Cool Poole School,” as we call it is, uh, connected to every aspect of the university. I’m biased on this, but I believe it’s made PCOM better.

And I know it’s made the university better. I can’t imagine it being any other way. And I can’t imagine why a business school or a law school or any other school associated with a university that tends to think more about an industry or being more professional, they often are called professional schools, you know, why they would try to isolate themselves? The work at the interface of disciplines is the most interesting, the most difficult, because you’ve got to learn each other’s language, but also the most rewarding. Because it’s what companies do.

Dean Frank Buckless: You know, and I would add, Jenny. I mean, honestly, the reason I’m here at NC state was I saw that opportunity when I came here. And I thought that could be a huge differentiator. You know, and it’s, as Chancellor Woodson said, “We’re stronger together than we are separate.” And, you know, you need to figure out. You know, we’re in a great region. We’ve got some other great competition in our region. And, you know, I liked that because that helps us to merely think about what’s– what or where can we differentiate and be successful.

And you know what, what’s our strength? And, and our strength is in the science, technology. And fortunately, in our economy today, that’s the growth area, you know? So that’s– so, lining up our college to be a part of that, we’re going to just make great– greater opportunities for all our graduates and our community.

So, to me, that was the fun thing. I didn’t want to go be, be the same old as everybody else. I want to do something different. And I thought this university was a place you could do that.

Jenny Hammond: Well, let’s face it. They’re living the “Think and Do” spirit every day, which is pretty cool. So, let’s pivot for a second Chancellor Woodson. I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t kind of bring up COVID at some point in this conversation today, but some would say in the last 12 months, due to the pandemic, universities have struggled to make an impact.

On the other hand, we see colleges, such as Poole, working across disciplines to find a way to support research that impacts the everyday citizen. I imagine you have seen a lot of that too. What is your take on the wins from living through the pandemic for the last year and how has it influenced your thoughts on the role of a university?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Well, uh, first of all, let’s just acknowledge for all the listeners, this has been a challenging time for all of us. And so, we’ve worked hard to, uh, to keep the university strong. And you know, every area of NC state, we really have three primary missions: education, engagement with our community, and discovery.

We reactivated research at NC State more quickly than anything. So, our labs got back going early in the pandemic and they did it successfully. I’ll give you a couple of examples of things I’m proud of in ways that I see the university continuing with all of those missions during the pandemic. Let’s start with yesterday, yesterday, and I’m not sure when this will be listened to, but yesterday I was with the governor for a big announcement of an economic development project here in the triangle.

And I was invited to be there because the university, NC State played a big role in this expansion of Fujifilm Diosynth in the region. And in conversations there, the governor pulled me aside and thanked me profusely for the faculty in the Poole College of Management for the role that our colleagues in logistics and supply chain had played in helping, uh, the Department of Health and Human Services think about the vaccine rollout in the state.

So, I mean, that’s a very tangible example of Rob Handfield and his team in supply chain and logistics, working with industrial and systems engineering and Julie Swann, and bringing that expertise to the, to the state when they need it most. And so, that’s just one shining example of how the work of the university continued on during the pandemic and revealed itself to be as important as ever because of the pandemic. So, just one of many examples I could give you of how important our efforts have been during this time.

Jenny Hammond: Dean Buckless, just to elaborate on that. You know, I’ve been fortunate to kind of sit at the table with you in, in making some really difficult decisions this year, as we’ve kind of had to pivot in a lot of different ways. What would you say, you know, perhaps a positive or two that you’ve seen come out of this pandemic for the college?

Dean Frank Buckless: Well, I mean, one we’ve learned how to engage our students better in different formats. And it really broadened it across, you know, our college. We were already very good in the virtual space for our graduate programs. And you know, now we’ve really come up with, I think, uh, new approaches that we’ll be able to engage our students better moving forward.

You know, I look at how our advising, you know, and that’s a critical part for making sure our students do graduate on time and graduate, you know, in the areas that are going to create good success for them. We’re doing better at providing that service to our students in this COVID-19 time than we really did before.

Uh, we’re, we’re seeing it where they’re, you’re coming to their sessions, uh, you know, they’re not canceling. They’re getting the right information, so they make the good choices that they’re going to help them in their career. So, we’ve seen in that side. And, you know, back to what, uh, Chancellor Woodson was talking about. I’m really proud of how our faculty have stepped up to really make an impact on our community in this very challenging time.

You know, the chancellor talked about Rob Handfield and we have Stacy Wood who also has worked very hard to help think about, how do we make sure that people get this vaccine so we really, you know, we get back to normal? Or what the new normal is going to be as fast as we can. You know, and we have Mark Beasley, who’s helped, you know, organizations to think through what are areas we need to be looking for to make sure we’re prepared?

And we have a great future. So, you know, so there’s just so much that I think we’ve taken. And that’s going to be important I think for all of us is, we need to really make sure we take the good we’ve learned now and keep doing it moving forward.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: I want to follow up on something Frank just said. I mean, you know, we have learned a lot during this pandemic and one of the things that the pandemic reinforced for all of us is how important our community is for our students, for our faculty, and our staff. And, and it’s been hard to create and maintain community during the pandemic, but we’ve learned a lot about ways to do that more effectively. That will serve us well after the, the virus is long gone. Or at least under control. And so, we’ve got a group and I’m sure this is true in PCOM, you know, working hard to think about what have we learned? How are we going to apply it? I’m sure every corporation in America is doing this, you know, how’s our workforce going to be impacted going forward?

What have we learned about the way our workforce can operate in this kind of environment? And what part of that are we going to bring to benefit the university going forward? And I’m glad you mentioned Stacy because you know, her work has been– I’ve seen it in newspapers all over the country, because of her analysis of the human factors that contribute to willingness to take the vaccine or not. And Rob Hanfield is a great example of someone that, you know, is always serving the community. So. It’s good stuff.

Jenny Hammond: Phenomenal faculty in Poole College, for sure. Shifting gears again, I want to kind of talk a little bit about the landscape in which we are in right now with the university. So states, including our own, are challenged to meet the many funding needs.

Universities are understanding the importance of growing their own food, um, now more than ever, right? So, we’re about to wrap up the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of NC state. What is your vision for the use of these funds and how can we as a university continue to support our own initiatives down the road?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Well, let me start with one of the first observations I’ve made when I got to NC state, was it, we weren’t competitive with our peers in terms of the size of our endowment. And so we made endowment a priority during this campaign, and it’s really been a huge success for the university. But the goals were, and remain, using those funds to support our students, to make sure we have the funds to recruit and educate the best students in the country, regardless of their financial means, to recruit and retain the best talent and our faculty, to build and support outstanding facilities and, and programmatic support.

And we, we talk about the Poole College of Management. Well, that name is there for a great reason, because of the wonderful generosity of Lonnie Poole and what he’s done for the college. So the needs are the same. I mean, we’re focused on helping our students be successful, putting the resources to work toward that end, putting the resources to work, to, to endow professorships so that we know we have challenges on the salary side. So, endowed professorships are always a means for us to recruit and make sure that we have the support necessary to keep the best talent here.

And, and that’ll be true going forward. I mean, we talk about the success of the campaign and we’re very proud of it, but you know, the needs continue, and we’ll keep focus on doing everything we can to make sure we have the resources to support our students and our faculty at NC state.

Jenny Hammond: Dean Douglas, I’m curious if you had any follow-up on that. We’ve had conversations in the college, um, you know, certainly we’ve got graduate programs that our revenue drivers that help support other programs. How critical is it that we continue to nurture those and build these opportunities for students?

Dean Frank Buckless: Chancellor Woodson was talking about, uh, our rankings, uh, you know, in, in entrepreneurship and how, well, if at the undergrad and graduate level now, you know, we’ve really moved up. We would not be able to do it without that support because it allows us to give and provide these immersive experiences to our students that would really be hard to do otherwise.

So, I mean, it’s really helped again, just elevate us. Uh, and as Chancellor Woodson indicated, you know, Lonnie Poole was a big, big factor. Lonnie and Carol, big factor in helping us get that movement. And we’ve had other significant donors who weren’t even graduates of our college, but yet saw how we were trying to differentiate ourselves and believed in what we’re doing. Then gave us that money to make those investments. You know, to me, one of the key things that the support does, it allows us to get the investments we need to move to where we need to be in the future for our students, for our faculty, and for our community.

So it’s been critical and it’s going to be critical because we’re all challenged on this dimension and we all have to figure out how to be more innovative and creative, quite frankly, in how we go about doing what we’re trying to do, which is, Chancellor Woodson indicated is, is to make sure we are free, you know, to have a great — a great educational experience for our students, right?

We are engaging with our community and making sure that, uh, you know, we’re, we’re making, a– creating a vibrant community. And we’re discovering the knowledge and approaches that are going to move us into the future.

Jenny Hammond: This next question is really for both of you, and certainly Dean Buckless from your perspective from Poole College. And Chancellor Woodson, just your experience as a chancellor working across campus. What are you hearing from industry as the skills that our students need to have for the future? Maybe the jobs we don’t even know about yet. What are those? And how are we preparing our students to meet those needs down the road?

Dean Frank Buckless: You know, I think you hit it right on the head there, Jenny, when you said the jobs we don’t know about yet. We don’t know what those jobs are, so what are the skills, you know, that our graduates need to make sure they have so they have a great career? And you know, what I hear is innovation, creativity, good problem-solving skills. But also, you’re going to need good people skills and good communication skills. You know, all of those are going to be important, but you know, what I think what kind of underpins all of this is, we got to make sure we have graduates that have a curiosity and are always willing to learn and grow and are connecting concepts and ideas.

Uh, cause that’s where I think they can really differentiate themselves. And they’re going to have to be resilient. You know? So that’s what I’m really hearing. And these aren’t easy skills to help our students develop. But again, through the philanthropy we’ve had and, and through the, the immersive experiences, we’re giving those, our students, those opportunities while they’re here.

So, they’re really, you know, and, and that’s what I hear a lot from employers. Our students are really ready to be productive day one and give them a return on their investment in our people immediately, which is a great thing to hear. And again, they’re going to create great opportunities for the long-term.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: I certainly agree with everything Frank has said, but you know, one of the things that I see as a great opportunity for higher education broadly defined, and, and Frank mentioned it early in this podcast where he talked about, you know, the pace of change and the need for skills to keep pace with that change.

So upscaling of the workforce is something that every company that I interact with is really thinking about. How do they take the talent that they’ve already invested in and help them develop new skills so that they can continue to be impactful to the corporation? And I believe universities like ours are going to have to figure out how we play in that space.

And it’s not just the degrees that we give to our students. It’s uh, the continuing education, their certificate-based programs, the badges and credentials that we could work with the private sector to develop. Maybe even tailored to a specific company. So, I believe that the universities that are listening to their corporate partners and are really thinking about how to help them create opportunities for people that they’ve already invested in, that they’ve already hired, and give them the skills and talent that they need to continue to be successful.

And we’ve– were in a great space to do that. I mean, we’re in research triangle, we’re in, uh, one of the fastest growing metros in the country. We’ve got companies all around us hiring great graduates from the Poole College of Management, from our engineering school and, and et cetera. But we want to make sure that we, as, as Frank said, that we continue to interact with those graduates, help them remain relevant, and remain useful, and productive for the companies that have hired them for upscaling for future careers.

So, I’m really excited about how we bring our academic talent at NC State together to think about, you know, how do we meet those needs? And, and do it in a, in a way that continues to differentiate NC State as the “Think and Do” university.

Dean Frank Buckless: No, I’d just like to add, you know, Chancellor Woodson, you know, reminded me, one of the things I didn’t realize when I came here that really, I think has been powerful, is that industry engagement we have. And having our students work with them, we see quicker, what are the real skills and what are the deficiencies?

What are the areas we need to focus in our curriculum? So we’re, we can adapt faster, uh, to what we’re doing to make sure that again, we’re really impacting. And that really has been a huge differentiator for us, I believe. And it’s fun because you know, it, it allows us again to make sure we’re doing the right things for our students.

The other, you know, thing I’d like to say is, you know, I think in the higher education we have to really rethink about, you know, our programs, I don’t think programs are going to last as long. We have to be more adaptive and quicker and more agile, uh, to what we’re doing. Because again, the pace of change is just so fast.

So, and the knowledge and the skills are just changing so quickly. So, we’re going to, you know, we’re going to have to really rethink how we can be even more agile. You know, and I think we’re in, again, a much better position because of our industry engagement. We can be more agile, uh, but that’s going to be important, I think for all of higher education.

Jenny Hammond: We’re going to focus a little bit on research, which you both are very vocal about and the importance of it. At NC state, Dean Buckless, as a business school, one would assume there’s not as much in the way of research that takes place because we’re a business school. Um, however, Poole college has a reputation of having some of the most funded research of any business school in the country. Why is that? And why is it so important for perspective students, faculty, and donors, to know that information.

Dean Frank Buckless: In a lot of ways, like, to me, and, and Chancellor Woodson talked about this, you know, we, we, this “Think and Do” mantra of NC state, which I love. And I, and I think it really does tell us what we are– help us to, to know what we are and what we should be doing.

Well, you know, if you think about grant funding, it is all about taking the “Think” and then bringing it to market and applying it in, in a way that’s going to create better opportunities. So, so to me, it’s just living out the “Think and Do” of NC State. Uh, and again, it’s, it’s, it’s connecting us with industry. Uh, you know, with giving our students the opportunity to be engaged in this thought leadership. In this creation.

And, you know, part of the reason you want to come to a school like NC State versus some other schools that aren’t as, as research focused as us, is we have people that are leading edge with knowledge and concepts. So, you know, what better place to learn the newest, best ways to currently do things. And the more we can do that with industry engagement, and grant funding helps us to drive that, then the more, again, we’re going to prepare our students and we’re going to, you know, help our community.

Jenny Hammond:  I put my admissions hat on from my previous career. I mean, I know for recruiting MBA students, one of the appeals to NC state has always been that they feel that they could learn something in the classroom one evening and immediately apply it the next day.

Chancellor Woodson, I want to ask a, I don’t want to say they’re soft questions, but maybe they’re soft questions. As a chancellor, you get to see just about every aspect of this university. I’m sure most of it is good, but there’s probably some areas that maybe aren’t as wonderful, but, what excites you?

What gets you up every morning to want to continue to do this job and what, what’s happening right now on the campus of NC State that you’re, you’re passionate about and you’re, and you’re telling others that are learning more about the university?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: You know, one of the great things about leading a university like NC State is that, you know, there’s so much to be excited about. And every day is different. This is a great job for somebody that has Attention Deficit Disorder like I do, because I get to think about a lot of different things. And, you know, for example, this week, my passion for the connection of the university to the industries that we support has been rekindled by all of the economic development activity we’ve been involved in.

I mean, we’ve seen two big announcements in the triangle in the last day and NC State played a pivotal role in both of those. And so, interacting with the CEOs of those companies, interacting with, you know, people in state government about recruiting talent and recruiting corporate talent to the state, it’s been a great reminder for me this week about that critical role NC State plays. But you know, you may be surprised to hear me say this, but I’m excited about the challenge that we’ve, we continue to overcome with this virus and what it says about resilience and perseverance for our students, our faculty, and our staff. And how that is likely in my view, going to translate into a reawakening of our university.

Not that we were asleep before, but you know, you talk about, you know, I was reading everybody right now is trying to speculate on what’s the economy going to do. Everybody’s worried about inflation, everybody’s worried about a big boom. You know, I think we have, we’re going to have a big boom in education and it’s a boom that, uh, NC State is ideally suited to benefit from because, as Frank pointed out earlier, because of our connection to the industries that we serve and our ability to stay focused on what the needs of the community are.

Jenny Hammond: Chancellor Woodson, great leaders are often not willing to take credit for some great success. Most people would say you’re very approachable. Uh, you’re warm, funny, students love you. When you think about your time here at NC State, what do you want people to say your legacy will be?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Oh, I hate that question, Jenny.

Jenny Hammond:  I had to throw it in there. I had to throw it in there.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Look, I think every leader, at least I hope, I mean, this is the way I’ve always thought about it, is you want to leave the place better than you found it. And, uh, you know, I’ll leave others to decide how it’s better than it was found, but there’s a lot for all of us to be proud of.

You know, we’ve tripled our endowment, you know, the research strength of the university has grown dramatically. But I think the thing that I guess I’m proud of than anything is, um, I think the brand has gotten stronger. And that’s everybody’s responsibility. And as I think Frank said it, you know, a bit tongue and cheek, you know, we do have some competition in the region.

Jenny Hammond: A little.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: How many, how many places can you be in America where except, maybe Boston, where, you know, you have the only R1 universities in North Carolina are within 20 miles of each other. But they create the research triangle. And, uh, you know, it makes it interesting because you’ve got– um, we’re all in the same media market, we all see, read the same stories, and we’re all fighting for oxygen.

So I’m, I’m proud of the enhanced visibility. This has always been a great place. I mean, I knew it to be. That’s why I’m here because I’m a plant scientist and NC State is among the world’s best in my area of science. I’ve known faculty here for throughout my career, but I also knew, and one of the reasons I came here, is because I believed it was better than it was perceived to be.

And I wanted to play a role in trying to elevate its brand. And if anything, um, I guess I’m proud of that.

Jenny Hammond: We’re proud of you.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Thank you.

Jenny Hammond: One last question for both of you. As leaders in your individual areas, how would you say that you live out the “Think and Do” spirit every day?

Dean Frank Buckless: I really, that spirit attracted me to attend NC state because, you know, I, I wanted to make sure what I did was relevant and impactful.

And, and to me, that’s what the “do” part really says, right? I mean, I’ve always, you know, I guess you go into academics because I liked to be able to think and be creative and and investigate things. But I also want to see that there’s really, you know, an impact with, with whatever ideas and concepts I come up with. You know, the way I live it is I’m always trying to look out there, you know, what are the changes going on in our world?

You know, what are the opportunities? How can we be a part of that and take advantage of that and position so that, uh, you know, we’re going to create some great opportunities again for our students and our community? So, in some ways, you know, I think I had the same problem our chancellor does in that, uh, you know, I love the different things that come at me.

You know? If I had to do the same thing every day, I think I would just go crazy. Uh, and in this job, you know, there’s stuff coming at you every which way every day. But to me, that’s, you know, if it was easy, that wouldn’t be fun. It’s, it’s those hard challenges to me are the fun thing. And, and trying to figure out how you can solve them.

And, you know, and not every day we do. You know, I have to pick myself up and get up again and say, “All right, that didn’t work. So let’s try something else.” And, you know, that’s so that’s, to me, I guess how I try to, to live that out.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: I’ve always been attracted to, you know, the applied disciplines, the, the disciplines in the Academy that where the work that you do has immediate relevance to, to people’s lives.

And, you know, that’s true for a lot of things. It’s true for medicine. It’s true for, you know, business, it’s true for engineering. So many fields that, that NC state has people working in. So, I mean, like Frank, I, I think about, you know, everything is, um, is a challenge and is a problem, and we need to find a solution to it.

And getting to the solution as quickly as we can is what brings– moves the university forward. We’ve talked a lot. We’ve used it. I use it every day in my vernacular. And I’ve heard Frank say it many times. You know, this “Think and Do” mantra, our alumni love this, but you know, we, we didn’t always talk about it that way.

And, early in my tenure here, when we were working on the last, the current strategic plan, the one that’s ending, you know, we were around a table talking about “Think Tanks” and how none of us really would be very excited to work in a “Think Tank” that’s always just, you know, consulting. You go in and you consult with a company and then you leave, and you don’t know if anything happened or not.

You know, I think Brad Bolander said, “Well, we actually want to be a Do Tank.” And, and, you know, so some of those early conversations about, you know, bringing this mindset of solving real problems, but using the best scholarship to do it, it’s the fun part of the job.

Jenny Hammond: So Woodson, I lied. I actually have one more question for you. It’s a fun one. Um, and Frank got to answer this one earlier in earlier podcasts, but we’ve been asking all of our guests and it’s appropriate, I think is for the chancellor for you to think about this one but go back to Chancellor Woodson before he was chancellor, when he was 21. If you could go back and look at your 21-year-old self, what advice would you give to yourself? I’ll tell you real quick. We asked this question to Vivian Howard. She was hilarious. She said, I would tell my– Oh, she said, “I will tell myself to chill the heck out. Just like that. And I said, “Yes, that’s what we would do.” I’d be curious though. What, what would, what would you have said?

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Wow. You know, when I was 21, I was a, what? A junior and in college? I was so focused on getting prepared for graduate school because I decided early in my academic undergraduate career that I wanted to be a professor. Uh, I know that’s kind of weird. I didn’t– had no idea what a professor was when I went to university because I grew up in a small town.

So, I think, um, what I’m may have asked myself, or, or told myself is to be really, very flexible and very open to opportunities. I mean, I’ve taken some different paths in my career. They were all opportunities that came along, but maybe along the Vivian Howard line, you know, I’m not sure about chill out.

I’ve always been pretty chill. Music helps with that. But I would have tried to make sure that I was a little more flexible in the way I was thinking about my future because at 21, I had it all mapped out. Of course, it didn’t turn out the way I had it mapped out, but I had it mapped out.

Jenny Hammond: And that’s great advice. A lot of our students and alumni can appreciate that, but everything’s hindsight, right? When you think about it. So.

Chancellor Randy Woodson:  Yeah.

Jenny Hammond: Well, I really do appreciate your time today. Both of you, Dean Buckless, Chancellor Woodson, and I think there’s some great nuggets in here that people can take away. And I think we are extremely fortunate to have two leaders that live every day the “Think and Do” spirit and are passionate about what they do. And I think we’re in better hands at NC State because we have the two of you leading. So, thank you so much.

Dean Frank Buckless: Thank you.

Chancellor Randy Woodson: Thanks for all you guys do.

Jenny Hammond: All right. Thank you to everyone for listening. For more information on the Poole College of Management at NC State, visit poole.ncsu.edu, or follow along on social media where we’re @NCStatePoole. You can learn more about the strategic goals of NC State @ncsu.edu, as well as follow along on all campus happenings @NCState.

And you can keep up with Dean Buckless on Twitter at PCOM_Dean. And if you like the show, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating and review. This podcast is a production of Earfluence. I’m Jenny Hammond and we’ll see you next time on the Poole Podcast.

Full Episode Transcript

The Poole Podcast is hosted by Jenny Hammond, and is a production of Earfluence.

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