Dennis Guseman had his work cut out in 2003 when he took over as the dean of the College of Business Administration at California State University, San Marcos.
The program had gone through eight deans in 13 years and had been targeted and audited by the CSU chancellor's office.
Statistically, the odds were against Guseman to successfully rebuild the troubled college and to last in the position -- his predecessor stepped down after a year-and-a-half.
The new dean, with more than 30 years of experience as a professor of marketing, had to make a plan and overhaul the system. He had to maintain confidence among colleagues and staff and to redeem the College of Business Administration's (CoBA) reputation. The college's future depended on its ability to connect with North County's business community.
Guseman didn't waste any time.
"I wanted to bring some stability," he said, "and to get everyone working in the same direction."
While many on staff were "concerned about internal politics rather than teaching students," Guseman said, he changed in-house processes, put rules and procedures in place to make effective decisions, and increased the level of trust.
He looks for trained and knowledgeable staff members that also care about their students. "The key is hiring people who have a passion for teaching," he said.
Now, staff is united in its focus as a resource to the local community, "helping existing business grow and remain strong," Guseman said. The program aims to support up-and-coming leaders and "keep them in San Diego," he said.
Each semester, Senior Experience teams go out and "make a difference in the companies and nonprofit organizations that they do projects for," wrote Guseman in an e-mail.
The mandatory program for business students provides an opportunity to integrate coursework with real-world problem solving. Teams of four or five graduating students are set to work on projects submitted by the businesses.
One Senior Experience team revamped the Vista Community Clinic's procedures to reduce the average amount of time it took to see patients from more than two hours to just 40 minutes, Guseman said.
Vista-based Dimension One Spas, unsatisfied with a $25,000 customer service video made by an outside firm, employed a Senior Experience team. Guseman said Dimension One was so pleased with the team's takeover on the project that they now work together to produce films on a wide range of topics.
The team completes about 100 projects a year, according to the dean.
"The Senior Experience teams make a difference," he said.
Guseman, in a further effort to unite today's business leaders with those of tomorrow, created the Dean's Advisory Board, which includes local executives such as Michelle Bartok, president and CEO of Innovative Body Science Jeff Ritchie, vice president of EDCO Waste and Recycling Services, and David Vigil, senior vice president of corporate development for Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM).
Things have changed for CoBA. As dean, Guseman has managed to turn the college around with clear expectations and a committed staff. The program's students work directly with local businesses, addressing problems and creating successful marketing plans. North County leaders now look to CoBA for solutions and for future partnerships.
"I'm all about making a difference," Guseman said.
Chung Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.