Dean for a Day Puts Student in Charge of Montana’s Leading Business School

December 1, 2017

If you could be dean for a day, what would you do? University of Montana College of Business senior Nikki Gabrielsen got to answer that question on Nov. 29, when the winner of the college’s second annual Dean for a Day competition swapped roles with Sprunk and Burnham Endowed Dean Chris Shook.

“It was the most incredible experience,” said Gabrielsen, who is originally from Havre, Montana. “I learned so much.”

Dean Gabrielsen’s day as leader began with staff introductions and briefings in preparation for afternoon meetings, followed by a presentation to Missoula accounting firm Boyle, Deveny, and Meyer.

“It turned out to be an awesome experience,” Gabrielsen said of the presentation. “One of the best learning experiences from the day came out of the thing that I was the most nervous about.”

Her day rounded out with a donor lunch with alumni and UM supporters Dave and Suzanne Peterson, and more meetings — with faculty chairs and directors, a contractor helping to build a new student study area in Gallagher Business Building, and UM Provost Beverly Edmond. For Gabrielsen, who said she wanted to be dean because displaying women as leaders can influence girls’ perceptions of what they can accomplish, meeting the provost was another highlight of the day.

“She’s another really strong woman in a leadership position,” she said. “We had a lot to talk about; we had a lot in common. I think she’s got some great ideas. She’s a very inspiring woman.”

As for Shook’s student experience, classes such as business law and organizational behavior filled his day. He took notes for Gabrielsen, participated in her group work project in one class, and was pleasantly surprised when the professors called on each student by name.

“They get to know the students a little better than at some other schools,” Shook said. “It’s definitely one of the benefits of being at UM.”

After class, Shook made a stop at the College of Business Student Success Center for some advising. A highlight of the day was visiting with the Montana Code Girls in Frenchtown, Montana. Gabrielsen, a management information systems major, volunteers to mentor the group of middle school girls who are interested in coding and app creation. Attending with Shook was Tom Stergios, senior vice president at ATG in Missoula, a firm that hires many UM business graduates.

“It was encouraging because they were fun, very energetic, and it would be interesting to see how technology takes a role in their lives or future careers,” Shook said.

Dean for a Day began a year ago as a way for Shook to better understand the student experience and for students to gain leadership experience. The contest also has an important community-building aspect, Shook said, explaining that everybody has a right to an education and to be accepted. Giving students opportunities to feel engaged and connected can help them continue and complete their course of study at UM, he added.

“We’re really trying to build community in the college and make everybody feel like they have a place here no matter who they are or what they believe in,” he said.

The journey to the dean and student swap began in October with a college-wide competition in which first-round applicants submitted an online form. Three finalists each created a video, which students and followers in the community helped choose through online voting.

Photo: Shook, left, as a student, and Gabrielsen as dean.