Innovation with Vision

Innovation has been at the heart of Campbell University’s business program since the school added a business curriculum in 1892. Within just four years, the business program had become so entrenched into Buies Creek Academy and expanded its business offerings so much that the academy was renamed the Buies Creek Academy and Commercial School to represent both liberal arts and business curriculum. 

Seventy years later, the business program revolutionized the way banking professionals were trained by offering the nation’s first undergraduate Trust and Wealth Management degree. In 1983, the business department became its own school within the university and offered undergraduate courses along with an evening MBA program – the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business.

Today, the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business has found a new dean who matches its innovative spirit: Dr. Kevin O’Mara.

We sat down with Dean O’Mara shortly after he arrived on campus to learn more about him, his plans for Campbell Business, and why he chose Campbell. The following is an edited transcript.

Why Campbell Business?

The remarkable thing about Campbell is that it is the perfect size. With about 3,000-4,000 undergraduate students on campus, students from different disciplines are able to work together and know each other. The business school is roughly 800 students — that’s 200 students in each class every year — with minors, concentrations, unique and niche majors, and full-fledged graduate degree offerings. 

Typically, business programs with 800 students do not have that kind of depth or breadth in their curriculum. Campbell not only is able to offer those opportunities, but it also has a solid infrastructure in place.

We have staff that is focused on student success, alumni engagement, and job placement. With Raleigh, the No. 2 city for business and careers according to Forbes magazine right down the road, Campbell possesses a very nice combination of opportunity, growth, and innovation.

What does innovation look like to you?

I think innovation and creativity go hand in hand. Kyung Hee Kim, faculty at the College of William & Mary, published a paper entitled The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. This paper discusses the concept of losing creativity as children grow up and enter adulthood. The research finds that school-aged children score higher on creative thinking tests in kindergarten than they do as they progress through their primary education. 

Essentially, we are training our citizens to be less creative as they get older because of a misguided belief that creativity doesn’t have a place in adulthood or only for those in a “creative” career.  However in the future you need creativity more than ever!

Survey after survey of corporate CEOs reveal that innovation and creativity is either their top, or among the top three, strategic priorities. And it’s not so much that you are the creative person coming up with the idea but can you get others to be creative? Can you inspire innovation and lead creativity? That’s a skill set. That can be taught. That’s what we want to teach and showcase. That’s what will make our students different.

One of the first things a business student learns is how to perform a SWOT  (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis on a company. What do you view as strengths and challenges in your new role as dean?

One major strength is the new president. I don’t think I can stress enough how important it was for me to meet President J. Bradley Creed. I like his style. He’s from Texas, and I like Texas [having spent a few years after college working in the oil industry in Texas]. I see him as someone who has a real feel for how he wants to grow the university. He appreciates the history of the university, its mission, and those that preceded him.  But he is also focused on building something substantial in terms of the educational experience of all Campbell students. I like the idea of building on a well-established foundation, so his vision appeals to me.

Campbell is obviously quite dedicated to the region and to serving the underserved, which is a noble undertaking. I like how many North Carolinians Campbell enrolls. Not only are we in North Carolina, but largely we are from North Carolina.

Another strength and opportunity is the large number of alumni in the Research Triangle Park region. The number I heard is over 7,000. That is a potentially powerful force for obtaining internships, jobs, and engagement with the real-time projects of our business students.  My sense is they are very proud of their Campbell degree and they want to be involved. With that many alumni in our backyard, in a dynamic, growing city where we want a presence, we want to develop those connections and relationships with our alumni base.

One challenge I anticipate is the depth of faculty. We are fortunate to have dedicated and outstanding faculty on staff but we could use more, particularly in a few potential growth areas.  We need to make sure we have the capacity to grow our programs and have the resources to match our vision.   

What do you hope to accomplish in your first year?

I want students to become more engaged both in the classroom, the community, and regional businesses.  I hope to do this by making connections and integrating Campbell Business with the other schools on campus.

Innovation requires multiple perspectives so collaborating with the other schools will benefit all of us. Each school can provide unique knowledge and their own perspectives. We have certain capabilities here, as businesspeople, which are useful to other disciplines on campus. Collaboration across schools will make Campbell very unique as a university. 

I also intend to encourage our faculty and students to take advantage of the deep knowledge of industries all around us. If we can get connected to those in other parts of campus and with the business community, we can share resources and offer a differentiated education experience for our students.   

Interview conducted and edited by Leah Whitt, Staff Writer
Photos by Lynsey Trembly