From shorthand to supply chain: College of Business
A CSU @ 150 Story
by Rachel Koon
published June 4, 2020
The College of Business may be the youngest college on the Colorado State University campus, but business education has been part of the university almost since its founding 150 years ago.
The first business-oriented courses were offered in 1895, almost 75 years before the College of Business was founded. Business education has experienced a number of transformations since then, but the fact that such courses were offered to students 125 years ago places business squarely within the original land-grant mission of offering practical education to all who wish it and disseminating research and knowledge to the community for the benefit of all.
From courses to college
Before there was a College of Business, classroom instruction in the Commercial Course continued with traditional methods.
The first business courses at the Colorado Agricultural College were part of a “Commercial Course” that taught basic skills to students seeking careers as bookkeepers and stenographers. When the Colorado College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts began offering its first “official” business courses in accounting, shorthand, and typewriting in 1944, not much had changed – the business curriculum still essentially consisted of classes for women who wanted to become secretaries.
The evolution from secretarial courses to a full-fledged business college was a slow one. Colorado A&M began offering a two-year secretarial accreditation in 1950, but it would not offer a bachelor’s degree in business for another six years. The School of Business formed two years later, in 1958, but the College of Business wasn’t established until 1966, almost 10 years after Colorado A&M had become Colorado State University.
As early as the 1950s, faculty were working with the new computer technology that would create the basis for the College of Business becoming a leading innovator in online education.
Founding the College of Business in the turbulent mid-1960s was no small task. Don Dobler, the first dean, had to contend with the monumental social issues of the period – anti-establishment sentiments, the women’s movement, civil rights conflicts, the perceived corruption of big business, the Vietnam War, and much more – as well as the fact that many believed business courses belonged at vocational schools or community colleges.
“It was terrible,” Dobler said in a 2013 interview. “It was not a good time to start a business school.”
Despite these formidable hurdles, Dobler and a dozen faculty members took on the challenge, building the college on the philosophy that business, practiced with integrity and skill, can solve complex societal problems and make the world a better place. That foundation remains at the heart of the college’s current mission and vision — Business for a Better World.
The temper of the times aside, demand for business education was apparent from the start: Enrollment in the new four-year degree program jumped from 41 to 164 in the college’s first year. In those early days, the curriculum was still largely focused on “secretarial” skills such as typewriting, correspondence and wage management, but there was an increasing focus on foundational business concepts and concentrations that still exist in today’s college: accounting, marketing, finance and data processing.
Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was the guest speaker at the first Business Day in 1979, a program managed for more than 30 years by Gladys Eddy, who was instrumental in transforming the clerical training program at Colorado A&M into the Colorado State University College of Business. Other high-profile speakers included Gen. Colin Powell, H. Ross Perot, and Malcolm Forbes.
Dobler’s vision created a credible, innovative college of business. His early – and ongoing – commitment to providing an excellent education was rewarded in 1970 with an unconditional accreditation from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business – an unusual achievement for a first-time applicant. The college has maintained its AACSB accreditation since that time, which reflects the rigor and quality of the education offered.
In 1975, Dobler helped develop the distance MBA program, which was the first of its kind in the country. In those days, recorded program materials were distributed to local employers, and students would gather together in conference rooms to watch classes and then mail completed homework assignments to the instructor.
“By accomplishing this, we proved we could take education outside the building and still deliver it effectively,” John Weiss, former director of Graduate Programs Recruiting and longtime employee of the college, said in a 2016 interview.
Dean Richard Pegnetter, who succeeded Dobler and served as dean for the decade between 1986 and 1996, continued building the college’s reputation for innovation and excellence. He helped the college earn funding and respect beyond Fort Collins by encouraging faculty to engage in academic research.
“Pegnetter came in, saw that other business colleges gaining attention and notoriety were known for their research, and knew we needed to pick up the pace as far as academic research,” Weiss said. “He really began to turn the college not only into a premier teaching institution, but a premier research institution as well.”
Rockwell Hall West
Pegnetter is also remembered for finding the college a home on campus. Initially housed in the B-wing of the Clark Building, the college had no room for growth, lacked meeting space for student clubs, and faculty were forced to teach in classrooms spread across campus. Pegnetter advocated for a permanent home for the college, and in 1994, his efforts resulted in a new headquarters: Rockwell Hall.
Rockwell Hall, originally built as a women’s residence hall in 1939, was an improvement over the Clark Building, but the college’s continuous growth meant it almost immediately needed additional space. The Classroom and Technology wing, completed despite the historic flood in 1997, added more than 25,000 square feet of space for classrooms, multimedia facilities, offices and a distance learning lab.
Technology and innovation were particularly important to the college’s third dean, Dan Costello, who served from 1996 to 2002 and took the college into the 21st century. Costello recognized that technology was imperative to instruction and in graduates’ ability to market themselves. He lobbied for changes such as personal computers that provided direct access to instructional services and encouraged faculty to use them.
Costello was also instrumental in bringing the still-flourishing online MBA into the digital age, moving it from mailed VHS tapes and DVDs to the fully digital online program it is today.
In 2002, Ajay Menon was appointed the fourth dean of the college. Menon continued his predecessors’ belief that business has the ability to make a positive difference in the world, and his 13-year tenure was marked by a period of sustained growth and success.
“Our mission, we say, is we are in the business of transforming lives,” Menon, now president and CEO of the Colorado State University Research Foundation, said in 2016. “Business can make a difference. Business and private enterprise are the solutions to the human challenges of our time.”
Menon increased entrepreneurship efforts, renewed the college’s focus on social justice issues, and shepherded it into a period of sustained growth in enrollment and funding. During his tenure, 90% of the college’s graduates were able to secure jobs or other placements within 90 days of commencement, a statistic it maintains today; graduate enrollment grew 116%; and the level of private funding for the college went from less than $230,000 annually in 2002 to an average of $2.5 million per year up to 2006.
Menon, who had served as the state’s first Chief Innovation Officer under Gov. John Hickenlooper, also spearheaded the construction of Rockwell Hall West. In the early 2000s, when it was clear that the college needed additional space to support its continued growth, Menon secured funding for the $17.5 million project, including more than $1 million provided by the student body to help fund the construction. Crews broke ground on the 54,600-square-foot, LEED Gold-certified building in 2008, and construction was completed in 2010. Rockwell West added more classroom and office space as well as key business tools such as Bloomberg terminals and a NYSE stock ticker for student use.
“The college community brought the wisdom and talent; [as dean] I’ve simply removed the obstacles, opened avenues, and channeled efforts in positive directions,” Menon said.
The next 50 years
Dean Walker talks with students during Ram Welcome at the College of Business.
When current Dean Beth Walker was appointed in 2015, it felt as though the college had come full circle. Walker prioritizes research, investments in innovative learning technologies, increased diversity and, most importantly, the college’s foundational “business for a better world” mission.
With a half-century-strong foundation in place, Walker sees her job as building on the college’s goals of increasing access, excellence and impact while increasing cross-disciplinary skills, teaching triple-bottom-line concepts and helping students, alumni and partners see the ways business can be used to create change – all while adapting to the needs of the next generation.
“We know that we have to approach education differently for Gen Z,” Walker said. “Students want to attend a business school where they can unite purpose and profit and use their degree to make a positive impact on the world. Our Business for a Better World mission is a perfect fit for their aspirations.”
Although the college, CSU and the world all look quite different than they did back in 1966 and will undoubtedly look dramatically different 50 years from now, Walker and the faculty, staff and students of the college remain true to Dobler’s original vision: that responsible, ethical business is fundamental to solving the world’s greatest challenges.
Read more stories about the College of Business in this series celebrating the 150-year history of Colorado State University.