Meet the new business school dean at Marin County's Dominican University of California
Yung-Jae Lee is the kind of educator who responds to a colleague's challenge (“This problem might be too tough for your students”) with the exclamation, “That really pushed my buttons!”
What usually then follows is a course of action to prove the person mistaken. Thriving on a professional challenge is part of what Lee is all about.
That was the reason he moved on, after 21 years at St. Mary's College of California in Moraga, to take the position of dean at the Barowsky School of Business at Dominican University of California in San Rafael.
“I had launched successful programs and did what I wanted to do,” Lee explains. “You like to go where you think you are needed, and Dominican needed my background and my talent.”
Lee, who assumed the post in August, has just finished launching a new degree program at the business school - a Master of Science in Business Analytics. Students will get the tools to organize data so it can be accessed, analyzed and then communicated about effectively to solve real world business problems, the university states. This MSBA course is the first of its kind in Marin and Sonoma counties.
During Lee's years at St. Mary's as associate dean of graduate business and global programs, and interim dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration, he was responsible for five graduate programs that led to accreditation and re-accreditation by the Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. He intends to do similar things at Dominican, estimating that the Barowsky school will have its accreditation by the end of 2020.
After the business analytics program is up and running, Lee plans to initiate a master of science program in accounting. It will be a one-year degree with a boot camp at the beginning so that people who do not have an accounting background can have a pathway.
“I will disrupt the market by offering the degree at a competitive price, with the result at the end of the program that everyone has a job. As a small private school with connections, we have no problem placing our graduates,” Lee says.
Disrupter? Not always
You might say Lee, 58, is a disrupter in the best sense, but it has not always been so.
His undergraduate degree was in English from Korea University, a private research university in Seoul. He was good at math, but preferred the humanities and social science track and took political science courses of interest.
“What I was trying to do is find the best job in Korea, maybe sell Samsung products around the world,” he said. “But I didn't have the high level GPA or the quantitative skills these kinds of companies wanted. I settled for something less than the ideal job, but then I wasn't satisfied. I like to move around and meet people and make things happen.”
So in 1988, Lee decided to study for his MBA in the United States. He sold his small apartment and came to the University of California at Irvine in Southern California with his wife, Soon-ok Lee. The plan was to return to Korea upon completion of his master's degree in operations management.
That is it was the plan until the afternoon his professor, Bruce Lamar, called the soon-to-graduate Lee into his office.
“He told me I was his best student and did I want to do a Ph.D. under him?” Lee said. “I was shocked and said, ‘No' because I needed to get out of school and make money. But when I got home and told my wife, she said, ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Go back and tell him yes!'”
Lamar's response to those protests of unworthiness have stayed with Lee as a baseline of his own education philosophy.
“My professor insisted that I was the top performer in my class and that I could learn the bit of math I needed to continue. He gave me books to study on my own and trusted my ability to do a doctorate in applied mathematics. This was a man who somehow believed in me more than I was believing in myself,” Lee said with a hearty laugh. “That was the turning point.”
An educator needs to believe in students no matter what their background. Lee is even proposing that admission to the new business graduate programs be based on an interview alone. He has seen that gathering letters of recommendation is often a barrier to students; it takes so much time that they drop out of the process.
“I can figure out how much an applicant knows in an hour of conversation,” he said.