With an exciting future ahead, new business dean studies up on the past
By Ed Brennen
As the new dean of a growing business school that’s on the verge of moving into a gleaming $47 million facility, it would be easy for Sandra Richtermeyer to focus all her attention on the future.
But as Richtermeyer dives into her first year as dean of the Manning School of Business, she’s making a point to connect with the school’s past and present to make herself a better leader in the years ahead.
“I’m really glad that I’m here in this older building, where the school’s been for a long time, because it gives me a true sense of our culture,” Richtermeyer says, gesturing to her third-floor surroundings at Pasteur Hall, where blueprints of the soon-to-be-completed Pulichino Tong Business Center lean against a conference room wall.
“This is our skin, this is our home right now, and it really helps me to see what people are used to,” she says. “I can see where faculty connect — which hallway, which watercooler, which office — and see what the student experience is like when they come to us for help.”
This isn’t the first time Richtermeyer has helped shepherd a business school into a new home. She went through the process in her previous role as associate dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where she spent 12-plus years before joining the Manning School in July.
“It’s a big deal,” Richtermeyer says of the planned spring 2017 move to the 54,800-square-foot Pulichino Tong Business Center, which will feature 10 modern classrooms, dozens of faculty offices and a state-of-the-art trading room. “There’s a lot of excitement, and I really want to capitalize on that.”
To do so, Richtermeyer spent her first few weeks as dean meeting face-to-face with as many student groups, alumni and community members as possible.
“I’m very much in listening and conversation mode,” says Richtermeyer, who is visiting all first-year classes and working with lecturers Ralph Jordan and Deborah Finch to find ways to increase involvement in student organizations. “A lot of our students work and are busy, so we need to make it easy for them to jump in and participate when it fits their schedule.”
As an avid Twitter user (@SRichtermeyer), the new dean plans to connect with more students via social media. “Students need to read their emails,” she says, “but we need to be able to reach them through other means.”
Richtermeyer also got a crash course in the business school’s history this summer from its founder, Stuart Mandell. “I want to understand the really important foundations of our history,” Richtermeyer says, “and make sure we respect the past as we get excited for the future.”
Richtermeyer was born and raised in the least populous state in the nation, Wyoming, in the capital city of Cheyenne (which, for the sake of reference, has just over 62,000 people — or about 44,000 fewer than Lowell).
“It’s a wonderful place to grow up,” says Richtermeyer, a fourth-generation Wyomingite who tries to return home to see family as often as she can. “My Wyoming roots taught me to be strong and independent … very goal-oriented.”
She says that goal-oriented nature is what led her to pursue a dual-degree in management information systems and accounting from the University of Wyoming. Realizing she needed a bigger pond to grow as a business person, Richtermeyer moved to Denver to become a CPA and earn a master’s degree in information systems from the University of Colorado Denver.
She also began teaching two nights a week at a community college, an experience that would alter her career path.
“I would come home at 10:15 at night after teaching back-to-back classes, and I would be really happy and energized,” she recalls. “I was thinking, ‘I really like this. I love being able to help these students.’ But I knew If I wanted to make a career out of it, I needed to get my Ph.D.”
So Richtermeyer moved to the University of Colorado Boulder, where she earned an MBA in 1992 and a Ph.D. in accounting in 1997. Soon after, she was hired as an assistant professor of accounting at her alma mater, the University of Wyoming, where she earned tenure.
Rob Manning '84, the business school’s namesake who co-chaired the dean search committee with Francis College of Engineering Dean Joe Hartman, says Richtermeyer’s love of teaching set her apart in the interview process.
“A passion for teaching is the most important aspect of the job,” Manning said when introducing Richtermeyer to the school’s advisory board in April. “The research and all the programmatic things we do are wonderful, but at the end of the day, what makes the Manning School of Business great is that our professors change these kids’ lives. And Sandra understands that.”
Richtermeyer says she was drawn to UMass Lowell by the impressive momentum created by its leadership, as well as by the instant connection she felt to the school’s culture and people. She is very appreciative of how interim dean Scott Latham (now vice provost for innovation and workforce development) helped her prepare and transition into her role.
“He’s been such a help to me,” says Richtermeyer, who was also drawn by the university’s clearly defined strategic goals and metrics for success. “That’s really rare in a lot of places, so it’s really exceptional to have such a great plan in place, wrapped around great leadership and amazing faculty.”
Throughout her career, she has been actively involved with a variety of professional organizations. She’s on the global board of directors for the Institute of Management Accountants and is on the board of the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO), a thought leadership initiative that releases guidance on improving internal control, risk management and governance in organizations of all types.
“Being actively engaged with the professional community helps me understand what corporations and organizations are looking for when hiring students,” says Richtermeyer, who has delivered presentations to business audiences on six continents. “It has really given me that global vantage point that I need to effectively run the type of business school that’s going to take our students forward and prepare them for the global business community.”
She also has an insider’s perspective on the first-year student experience. Her son, Luke, just began his freshman year at Ohio State, where he’s making mom proud and studying accounting.
“As our students were coming in this fall, I was thinking this is exactly what he’s going through right now,” says Richtermeyer, who hopes her son becomes as actively engaged on his campus as Manning School students do here at UMass Lowell.
“It’s the beginning of a new era for us,” she says, “and it’s a great time to be a student in the Manning School of Business because you get to be part of building that community.”