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Business School’s New Associate Dean Takes Interdisciplinary Approach

Percival Focuses on Wider Collaboration for Both Faculty and Students

Jen Percival chats with a student in the dean's office Photo by Ed Brennen
Manning School of Business Assoc. Dean Jennifer Percival chats with junior Amy Ward at the front desk of the dean's office.

By Ed Brennen

In her first year as associate dean of the Manning School of Business, one of Jennifer Percival’s key roles has been to foster interdisciplinary collaborations with faculty and students from the other colleges.

“My research is on that side, so that’s where I’ve been spending a lot of my time and energy,” says Percival, a native Canadian who joined the Manning School last summer after 13 years at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Working with her counterpart in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, Assoc. Dean Deirdra Murphy, Percival has already helped coordinate new seed grants for joint research projects that bridge the worlds of business and health sciences. Drawing from $20,000 in joint funding from Manning School Dean Sandy Richtermeyer and Zuckerberg College Dean Shortie McKinney, the initiative recently awarded the first three mini-grants (of $4,000 each) to three faculty teams.  

“The idea is that by the end of this summer, the selected projects will be to a level where, next year, they could apply for larger grants from outside the institution,” says Percival, who also worked with Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Research Administration and Institutional Compliance Anne Maglia on reviewing the proposals. “We’re taking a very strategic approach with how we go about building in that capacity.”

Percival, who earned her Ph.D. in management sciences from the University of Waterloo, shared a few thoughts on the value of interdisciplinary research, as well as on her transition to the Manning School.
Jen Percival in her office Photo by Ed Brennen
Jennifer Percival joined the Manning School this year after 13 years at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Q. Why is interdisciplinary research, like this mini-grant initiative with Health Sciences, so important?

A. I think it’s important for two reasons. One, a lot of innovation comes from the interdisciplinary approach. And two, more granting agencies are looking for these types of collaborations, where you also have an industry partner so the research team can look more holistically at problems and come up with creative solutions. In health care, there is so much overlap between the medical side and the business side. You have to have people from across that spectrum to find feasible solutions moving forward. Now that we’ve started this collaboration with health, I hope to grow collaborations with education, computer science and more. 

Q. After 13 years at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, including the last six as associate dean, why did you decide to move to the United States and join the Manning School of Business?

A. A big reason was professional growth. UOIT was a startup institution that I joined in Year 2, so I had grown up on that campus and knew the place inside out. It was time to explore different ways of doing things at a school that was more established. I really connected with Dean Richtermeyer during my interview, and I liked the trajectory of the school. I like that UMass Lowell has a tradition, a big alumni base and community support, but there is also a lot of change and activity and innovation happening. So it was really finding that fit where I could make an impact and have some fun trying new things, but also learn from the history and tradition that’s here.

Q. What are some of the goals that you want to help the Manning School accomplish?

A. We want to put more focus on internships and co-op opportunities for students, on bringing companies in and understanding who we are. A lot of companies are working with engineering and science, but they also need business students in these industries. We’ve had several companies come in this year — Dell, Boston Scientific — and they’ve all hired our students. As people find out the difference our students make, their work ethic and the collaboration they’re doing, that will really help differentiate them from graduates from the other schools.

I want to get our students more involved in business competitions. Those are showcase events – the judges are all industry leaders – and the more we can get students in front of those leaders and doing well at these competitions, the more this will drive recognition for the school. Those who have gone to competitions have done really well. From the students I have met, I would take our students and match them up against pretty much any that I’ve seen. They have an amazing amount of talent. 

Q. Can you talk about some of the research that you’re working on?

A. Right now I have a partnership development grant that’s pending approval on online education. It’s from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a Canadian granting agency. We’re trying to build a global network to look at online education growth. I am leading the node in the U.S., with colleagues in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Ireland and one in the Caribbean. We want to look at different indicators that will help identify whether or not an individual is prepared to engage in an online community for an educational reason. We want to examine how to make online classes feel like communities, getting away from videos and text and moving into some of these interactive collaboration spaces. How does that change how we have to teach? And what type of skill set do we need to do that effectively, both from the faculty side and the student side? It’s a very big undertaking that involves a lot of analytics, education theory, social sciences, and then the business perspective.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to help faculty here write some new grants. As a business school, we haven’t been focused as much on external on grants. Helping create that type of culture is definitely part of my to-do list in the next couple of years.
Q. How do you spend your time outside of work?

A. My husband and I have three kids – boys in the sixth grade and third grade and a girl in first grade. Right now, I’m leading a basketball development program for 27 first- and second-graders in our town of Groton, teaching them basic skills. Basketball helped pay my way through college. I played in high school and then I started officiating when I was at the University of Waterloo. I worked my up through high school and then college women’s games.

My husband started teaching networking and IT security this semester at Middlesex Community College. We also moved into a new house and adopted a puppy, so it’s a busy time.