By Liz Crimmins
Professor Tom Drennen, professor of economics and environmental studies, follows his passions around campus whether it be sustainability, economics, or finding practical solutions for students of the future. Drennen is the chair of the entrepreneurial studies program and launched the new Master of Science in Management program. The following is a selection from the Herald’s recent conversation with him regarding his professional interests and hopes for the new program.
The Herald (TH): What course do you consider to be most reflective of your academic specialty?
Tom Drennen (TD): My specialty is Environmental Economics– specifically, ECON 212 and ECON 348. I want to show students how to find solutions to complex environmental issues by using economic principles. For example, any technological solution you come up with will only work if the economic principles align with it; it’s more than just coming up with a technology, you must have the complete package to make something work. Something I am proud of that a lot of my students say is that in other courses they discuss problems, but in my courses, we also talk about solutions. I’m very solutions-based and give students the tools needed to create solutions rather than just recognizing problems.
TH: What inspired you to start the master’s program?
TD: Last summer, when comparing HWS to her previous institution, President Jacobsen noticed that we were lacking the fifth-year masters programs that other schools had, and she asked me to spearhead it, so I got it done. I was intimidated because I had to get approval from the entire faculty as well as from the state. The coaches on campus were also a big proponent in making it happen this year because they had athletes who wanted to come back for a fifth year, so having this pool of students pushed us to make it happen.
TH: What did the process look like from an entrepreneurial standpoint?
TD: A year ago, President Jacobsen and I created a rough outline and announced our goal to the faculty. We received feedback from faculty and staff which created new ideas. One important result of these discussions was the introductory course “Management Strategies for a Changing World” with focuses on key issues such as diversity, equity, inclusion, sustainability, and ethics. We created one course to break down these topics and discuss how to build an inclusive workplace. We look at where is HWS on that scale, examples of notably inclusive companies, and the shortcomings of other companies. For sustainability, many companies are setting major goals, like Amazon creating a plan to be carbon neutral by 2035. In fact, an HWS Economics alum is one of two Amazon employees responsible for pulling that off and he will be coming to speak to the class. We also have several alums in finance working with the large up-and-coming investment category called ESG (environment, social, and governance) funds. In the future, we may find that people will be less likely to invest in companies without these structures. Therefore, to keep this cohort at the cutting edge, we must understand these developments and be forward thinkers.
TH: What is your hope for this cohort?
TD: On day one I told them “I’m invested 100% in this program, and this program only works if it gets you into the career that you wanted, that’s how we succeed. So, we have to work together alongside career services to make that happen.” This cohort is mostly made up of philosophy, history, and media and society majors, which is cool because the philosophy student answers an ethical dilemma question much differently than an economics student, creating a much richer experience. I will continue to emphasize that this is a master’s program for anyone with a liberal arts degree who wants to learn the basic skills they need to be successful and dynamic managers and I hope to ensure that we stay a diverse cohort each year.
TH: What is one piece of advice that you would give to our COVID students?
TD: COVID is going to be a defining moment in your lifetimes because it changed everything. A lot of people are not going to go back to the office, and we are going to figure out different ways to do things; and that’s what’s exciting. Too many of my students when I ask, “what do you want to do with your life” respond “I know I don’t want to sit at a computer 8 hours a day,” so this is opening more possibilities. I always tell students: I want you to find your passion. If you are in a job that you don’t care about, you are wasting your time. If you figure out what you are passionate about, we can figure out how to make it happen.